Birds Of A Feather
(Saint Joseph, MI) — As we nestle into our new extreme southwestern Michigan digs, the prospect of living "in the sticks" comes with its fair share of challenges. Never mind the tornado-force winds that blew through a week ago, which left us without power for hours and fearful of all the ferociously swaying foliage overhead. And never mind the omnipresent lake effect snow, some of which is supposed to dump nearly a foot of the white stuff at our doorstep for the holiday weekend. No, instead focus on SheFed's plan for a very special Thanksgiving reverie...
When it comes to food at the holidays, I’m a bit of a stickler. There are just some traditions I cannot ignore and insist upon, sometimes to Jeremy’s chagrin I suspect. Every year for Christmas I make batches and batches of peanut butter fudge, bake at least three varieties of cookies, and steam-can gallons of salted caramel sauce to give out as gifts at the office. On New Year’s Day we host a bloody Mary brunch with Hoppin’ John and sweet cornbread. (You can’t skip black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for heaven’s sake!) On Saint Patrick’s Day there is always a stock pot of corned beef and cabbage simmering on my cooktop. At some point during Easter weekend, I will make lamb, asparagus, and lemon pie for dinner and my Grandma Wava’s egg casserole for breakfast.
But the biggest tradition for me has always been Thanksgiving dinner. A holiday fashioned around mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing? Count me in! One year we went to Italy for Thanksgiving...12 spectacular, inspiring, and mind-opening days in Rome. The weekend after we came home I made a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings for just the two of us. I enjoyed turkey sandwiches for lunch the rest of that week.
For a few years, we chose to dine out on Turkey Day at a local restaurant that served all the sides family style and let each individual choose their main protein—turkey, salmon, prime rib, pork chops, or halibut. Jeremy’s never been a huge fan of turkey so this was ideal. He could get beef or pork and I could munch on my beloved turkey.
Last year, I had to have oral surgery two days before Thanksgiving. The doctor told me I’d likely be drugged up, not feeling too fabulous, and in bed for 48-72 hours. I don’t know what was more nerve-wracking...the thought of dental surgery and stitches, or the idea of not being able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. The pain meds made me incredibly loopy, both sleepy and skittish at the same time. I stopped taking the pills after one dose and found myself at the grocery store the next day, cart filled with side dishes from the deli. Green bean casserole (is there anything better than those damned deep-fried onions in the can?), sweet potato souffle, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, turkey gravy, and half of a fresh turkey breast. The check-out clerk was incredibly nice and chatty until I had to finally admit, “I’m sorry I can’t talk. I had oral surgery yesterday.” Turns out, that kind of talk will get you incredibly speedy service and free grocery carry out, no tipping accepted!
Once home, I loaded everything in the fridge, brined the turkey breast, had Saltines for lunch, and took a four hour nap. The next day I roasted the turkey breast and heated up the sides, feeling very much like a slacker for not making dinner from scratch. By cutting the turkey into tiny pieces, I found I could chew it, even with stitches in the left side of my mouth. But it all caught up to me and I was exhausted about halfway into dinner. And hurting big time. I ended up taking one of those loopy pills and going to bed early, leaving Jeremy all the clean up.
So this year was going to be my year to do Thanksgiving right. Redemption for 2012. No bruising, no swollen cheek, no mumbling at check out. Until Jeremy’s recent discovery that he can’t eat turkey. Whaaaaa? (Cue the sound of a stereo needle scratching a record!)
Well this has thrown me into a second Thanksgiving tizzy. I thought about roasting Cornish game hens, buying a tofurkey at Whole Foods, grilling cedar-planked salmon, or roasting up some pork. Maybe because we’ve just moved, and we miss living in downtown Grand Rapids, and we’re in a furnished house living without our belongings...but it just doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving to me. And now turkey’s off the menu. WTF? (Which might stand for Why ToFurkey?)
I’ve spent days culling through my recipes (I keep a file of things I’d like to make at various holidays), trying to find the work-around. And then it dawned on me, idiot girl, the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving, so why not just make up a bunch of fabulous side dishes? Chestnut soup, apple and beet salad, roasted Brussel sprouts with pancetta, olive oil pureed potatoes, and farro with cranberries and roasted butternut squash. Throw in bread and a pie from the bakery and it’s Thanksgiving. Also a bottle or two of wine, since I had to go all Amish-like last year and skip the booze, thanks to the pain meds.
We’ve got so much to be thankful for this year: Jeremy finding a job in which he thrives, while I just celebrated my sixth year at a job I adore; having our health, despite a few middle-aged aches and more than a few pounds to drop; having amazing friends who love us as much as we love them; living in a home that may not be ours, but it’s safe, clean, and warm; coming up on our 16th wedding anniversary with minimal bloodshed (it’s an accomplishment, trust us); and being able to afford good olive oil, chestnuts, and pancetta to make Thanksgiving dinner. Like everyone else, we take it for granted day to day, but we both know in our hearts we are incredibly lucky. As is one turkey out there somewhere who won’t be in our bellies this year.
Stay tuned for a few photos of our Turkey-Free Thanksgiving and please feel free to share some of your favorite holiday traditions, photos, and recipes!