By JAY REED
I was happy to see that many of the social media postings on and around Thanksgiving had to do with getting together with family and friends — social media actually reported social gatherings this time around.
And being one who does enjoy seeing pictures of what people are eating, especially when it is rare or uniquely plated, all those food pics were a bonus. It wasn’t really that long ago that I would have had to drive across town to see the turkey that you just took out of your oven. The score of your traditional family football game — played in matching team t-shirts — would have forever remained a mystery to me. And that kid in the turkey costume? I doubt he kept it on long enough for anyone but the photographer to see in person. Now, though, I just scroll to see it all.
Over the past couple of decades, about the only Thanksgiving tradition our family has kept is to celebrate it. Just in that time period, we have lived in about eight different cities, in three different states and two different countries. I’m not even going to count the houses.
In that kind of life, Thanksgiving depends a lot on the immediate circumstances. When you’re living in Timbuktu and your nearest blood relative is somewhere outside of Orlando, Fla., you gather with friends. When there are no turkeys in Timbuktu, you fake it with a chicken. When the man at the Timbuktu Target finds a turkey “special for you” then charges ten dollars a pound, you fork it out.
(By the way, there is really a place called Timbuktu, though I have probably spelled it wrong. We didn’t live there, and there is absolutely not a Target, but the principles still apply.)
This year, we went outside the box again. Our usual familial crew went East, but we had Egg Bowl tickets and elected to stay put. When that was decided, Son began to ask who we were going to do Thanksgiving with — face to face social contact outside the immediate family seemed to be crucial to his holiday enjoyment. It wasn’t long before he commenced a conspiracy with a buddy of his to get together on Thursday evening for the yearly broadcast of the Pumpkin Chunkin’ contest.
What started out as a decision for all of us to eat pie together while the boys cheered on the flying pumpkins eventually turned into Thanksgiving dinner with Dr. Chemistry, his wife the Queen of Kiddos, their two boys and two graduate student families from Sri Lanka. In hindsight, it was a little like being overseas again — and we were right at home.
We started the meal off with some savory Sri Lankan cakes, made of lentils, onion, bits of curry leaves and fish chips. Not fish and chips. Fish chips. These were yummy little bites and, to boot, I got to check something off the culinary bucket list that I didn’t even know was on it. Love that.
To follow was a green salad topped with dried tropical fruit, which I thought was a great idea until I was warned by the Queen that she had also added some big flakes of coco-you-know-what. But, she redeemed herself with a creamy congealed salad with pears that I would have eaten loads more of had there not been a dozen other dishes on the counter behind me that also required a taste.
Quite a few of those dishes were what many of us would consider Thanksgiving staples. The turkey was so big the disposable roasting pan was about to give up the ghost, but Dr. Chemistry managed to get it up to the carving station safely. There was talk of trying to beat Alton Brown’s record of completely carving a turkey in one minute and eleven seconds, but cooler heads prevailed and all of his fingers are still attached.
Among the other standards were creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, buttery mixed vegetables, a pan of dressing and cranberry sauce (the jellied kind — my favorite). Sweet potatoes were also represented in casserole form, with just enough sweet and crunchy topping to complement the creamy orange-ness without overwhelming it. Alongside the old-timers were a couple of new things, at least to me. Homemade apple-walnut bread was fresh and hot out of the bread machine, and the garlic corn risotto was one of my favorite dishes of the day.
Our contributions to the potluck were a couple of family favorites, one new creation and an assortment of rolls. Son requested our holiday tradition of whole green bean bundles wrapped in bacon and doused with Durkee sauce. Corn casserole was added at the last minute so there would be at least one thing we knew Daughter would eat. The experiment of the day was cranberry butter, from a recipe I found in one of the magazines from the Sunday paper a few weeks ago. It was pretty good just as a spread on the rolls (we invited Mr. Bridgford and Sister Schubert to the party), perhaps even better the next day when I substituted it for the butter in a sugar cookie recipe. Now that’s a new way to use Thanksgiving leftovers.
The pies were legion. Apple. Blueberry. Pecan. A peanut butter cream pie that is somewhat hard to describe, but definitely made the cut for seconds. A Sri Lankan pudding of sorts made with coconut milk. (Others complimented it — I played it safe). And two pumpkin pies.
Apparently, multiple copies of that flavor were needed because of the game our boys were playing, requiring them to eat a bite every time one of the chunked pumpkins exploded prior to impact. (If that’s what they mean by crazy teenage behavior, I think I might be able to get through this after all).
Thanksgiving tradition re-invented. And a good time was had by all.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .