view counter

My Thanksgiving Resolution

Think as well of the people as of the turkey

     Like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is America’s own holiday. Joining together in annual celebration, we renew their meaning and recommit ourselves to the values those high holidays represent.
     Thanksgiving hosts take very seriously their turn at continuing that honored responsibility. Time-honored as the elements of the feast are, we must each perfect them for our table. Perhaps each year there will be one thing new.
     The centerpiece turkey demands its own decision chart. Fresh and frozen birds abound, but will yours be organic, free-range, even — at much higher prices — a local, farm-raised heritage breed? Then, will you brine it before roasting? Perhaps bone it, a la Julia Child? Roast it dry or wet, in a turkey roaster? Deep fry instead of roasting?
     Perhaps, in keeping with the tradition of the feast, you’ll add game, a duck or goose? Perhaps, in Chesapeake fashion, a late-season rockfish?
      Stuffing is just as nutty a problem; I often use nuts in mine, sometimes chestnuts, as well as apples and celery. But will you base it on bread or cornbread? Will you add sausage or oysters?
     Side dishes make their own demands. Who can resist mashed potatoes and some kind of sweet potatoes? Shouldn’t you have corn, the Pilgrim’s salvation? Perhaps you keep up the Baltimore tradition of adding kraut to the feast? What green vegetables pair perfectly with all that starch?
     For all those reasons, we’ve made it a Bay Weekly tradition to begin the month of November with an issue devoted to the Thanksgiving Feast.
     This year Chesapeake celebrity chef John Shields lends us his favorite Thanksgiving recipes from Chesapeake Bay Cooking, a cooking classic just out in its 25th anniversary edition. Stewed in our native tradition, John’s recipes are not only delicious but also simple, as I can attest as I make them regularly to great family satisfaction. My innovation for this Thanksgiving feast will be his black walnut pie. 
     To help you add another Chesapeake delicacy to your Thanksgiving and seasonal menus, we also bring you Oysters Three Ways, the top prize-winning recipes — and stories from their chefs — at the National Oyster Cook-Off at the U.S. Oyster Festival in St. Mary’s County. 
     With all the goodwill we bring to each Thanksgiving, and all the critical and creative thinking that goes into each feast, why is it that the gathering itself is so stressful, dreaded and parodied?
      It’s not only the work. It’s the people. 
      So this Thanksgiving, I’m adding a human dimension to my planning.      Starting with myself, I’m doing daily exercises (including yoga) on opening my heart.
      Next, I’m thinking about my husband. He’s told me he’ll be very thankful if I’ll avoid scorching him with boiled-over emotion. Rebounding back to me, that means not letting any aspect of the feast, its preparation or cleanup get out of hand. So Bill, I’m making that commitment.
      Then come the people who’ll be sharing the feast. I’m going to be interested in them this year rather than ensnared by my reactions to them. Asking people about themselves is the right track, but in more opened-ended ways. My plan is to ask some variation of What’s been important to you since we last met? or What are you feeling thankful for this year? — then listen to the answers. That might even work on kids, after we’ve collected their electronics while hanging up their coats. 
      If religion and politics come up — and given Bill’s occupation, the latter is bound to — I’ll intervene by passing the potatoes — surely you’re ready for another helping? — and pouring more wine.
     Finally, after dinner is done and we’re cleaning up (if we host) or driving home, I’ll follow our mothers’ advice and say only good things in honor of the thanks we’ve given together.