Take a Moment

November 20th, 2011 · 15 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Rituals, Thanksgiving

My guess is that by now, most of you have a pretty good idea what your Thanksgiving menu is going to look like and who’s in charge of what. Or if the menu isn’t set, you might be in the middle of a reply-all marathon with your family like me. Uncle Phil – you’re on cheese duty, right? Grandma’s got the bird. Papa – How about a few bottles of that Norton Ridge Chardonnay again and some of that hummus from the Lebanese place for nibbles? NO ONE BUY BRUSSELS SPROUTS! Andy just bought every sprout harvested in the Hudson Valley last week. Do we have enough butter? Eggs? Olive oil. Aunt Lynn- You’ve got kosher salt in the kitchen right? I love stuffing my face on Thanksgiving, but I think I may love planning and discussing and cooking part of it even more.

So as far as the food goes, you’re probably in good shape. The stuffings and sides are figured out. All the pecan pie ingredients are sitting on the counter, next to the bag of cranberries and the turkey baster and the special serving platter. It’s likely that the contents of the fridge is in precarious balance, and that your kid stood there for five minutes trying to find a place where the milk might fit.

But what about when you sit down? Have you thought about that part? Not the serving pieces and the place settings, or the way you must time the potato gratin to be ready when the turkey is, but the moment everyone’s food is loaded onto the plates, forks perched for consumption. Have you thought about what you’re going to do then?

I guess you could go ahead and eat. But then a day’s worth of cooking, a week’s worth of planning and reply-all-ing, is gone in 15 minutes. Twenty tops. The question is: Have you thought about how you might get the kids — and everyone for that matter — to participate in the moment and to appreciate what the holiday is about?

With six kids under 10 at our family’s Thanksgiving table, we are not always so good at this. Toasts can be hard. We’ve tried to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for, but by the time you’re at the 16th speech, the gravy has gummed up and the toddlers are gearing up for holiday-level tantrums. So this year, if I can get my act together, I might try to do what Andy did for me one birthday I was celebrating without the kids. Since they weren’t going to be with us — it was going to be a late night — before the meal he had them fill out short fill-in-the-blank questionnaires about me (“The most important thing she told me about life was…” or “Three adjectives to describe Mom are…”) then placed the results on my dinner plate. I got some nice gifts that birthday, but their words on those pages were right up at the top. Something about the specific prompting and the act of writing down (as opposed to speaking in front of a large group) made them write with abandon and express things I can’t imagine they would have told me in the backseat on the way to ballet. Or even at the dinner table for that matter. Here are a few examples:

So what kind of questions would I write for my nephews and nieces on a Thanksgiving questionnaire? Here’s what I’m thinking:

The moment I felt luckiest this year was when….
If I had to pick three adjectives to describe this meal it would be….
When I’m really old and 35, I hope my Thanksgiving table is…
If I could invite anyone to sit with our family this Thanksgiving it would be……because….
If I could write a note to the cook (or cooks) thanking them for what’s in front of me, the first line would be…

If I can get a few answers out of them and then read convince them to read one or two aloud at the table, my guess is that it will be like waving a magic wand across the plate. The food will no longer be Turkey with Sides. It will be Thanksgiving Dinner.

PS: Just in case you haven’t figured out the menu. Here are few good sources from around the web. My friend Jen sent the link for Martha Stewart’s slideshow of 71 Pies and Tarts to her brother and father and told them each to pick one. (They chose pumpkin pie and maple-bourbon-pecan. How. Freaking. Good. does that last one sound?) I thought that was such a fun idea.

Thanksgiving Dessert Slideshow at Martha Stewart

From Food52: Seven Salads To Cut the Heavy Hitters I’m also very excited to play around with their promising new Holiday Survival App.)

Crowdpleasing wines (in all price ranges) from the nice folks at Dinner: A Love Story.

Slideshow of Sides from the New York Times Dining section. How good does the crisp potato cake look? And Bittman’s green mashed potatoes?

Eight potato gratins from Saveur.

Smitten Kitchen’s Desserts and Sides Loving the look of that spicy squash salad with lentils and goat cheese.

Butternut Squash, Pecan, and Currants. Photograph by Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times

Happy Thanksgiving!

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15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Cecilia Madden // Nov 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    This is such a wonderful idea. I’m thinking it might be nice for willing adults too :)

  • 2 Kay // Nov 21, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Speaking of all things maple-bourbon, you have to try this cold cream sauce for desserts . . . like pecan pie. I did a test run last weekend (after seeing Ree Drummond make it on a ‘throwndown!’ w/ Bobby Flay). She has a new fan. It is truly delicous.

    Whiskey Maple Cream Sauce:
    1 1/2 cups whipping cream
    5 tablespoons real maple syrup
    3 tablespoons light corn syrup
    1 tablespoon whiskey
    Pour the whipping cream into a saucepan. Add the maple syrup and corn syrup and stir over moderate heat until thickened and reduced by about 1/3, approximately 15 minutes. Stir in the whiskey. Refrigerate mixture until it is cold and thick. Drizzle over warm pecan pie.

  • 3 Julie // Nov 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    What a great idea! Love your ‘fill in the blank’ answers on some of your other posts too.

  • 4 654carroll // Nov 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    “always tell me about your life (when something is wrong)” is so sweet it makes me want to cry. Remember your post about the Trillins, when Alice read the napkin note in the girl’s lunch, and what did she say, it was the secret to happiness? this always-tell-me line is like the boiled down equivalent of the secret to having kids.

  • 5 Karen McB // Nov 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I love this. Have been wondering how to inject some fresh energy into the dinner conversation among my dear but quiet and reserved family (the livelier ones will be elsewhere this year), and you’ve just inspired me. Thank you! Have a happy and jolly Thanksgiving!

  • 6 Lisa // Nov 22, 2011 at 7:21 am

    OMG – thank you for those questions!! My emerging idea is to use a roll of brown craft paper as a runner and write fill-in-the-blanks on it … but I had only gotten as far as “I’m most thankful for _________.” And “My favourite Thanksgiving memory is ___________.” So! Your post is especially apropos!

  • 7 Annmarie // Nov 22, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Love your blog! I have a thanksgiving challenge for you: Jerusalem Artichokes! My farmer friend just dropped off a pile of them. What to do..roasted…gratin…sautee w bacon?

  • 8 Jenny // Nov 22, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Annmarie- Try this one out: http://www.dinneralovestory.com/trust-me-on-this-one/

  • 9 Amy @ Chef Basket // Nov 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Your fillin the blanks is such a great idea to teach kids what Thanksgiving is truly about. I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!

  • 10 Rita // Nov 23, 2011 at 12:29 am

    This is a very sweet idea – even if all the kids are grown up. I also like the idea of a brown paper table runner. Think I’m going to do that. Happy Turkey Day to all.

  • 11 Anna // Nov 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    What an amazingly beautiful idea! I love it, and will file it away to use when my kiddo combo is able to write (and read).

    I hope your Thanksgiving spirit lasts all year.

  • 12 Kitchen Ninja // Dec 2, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I bought a “Table Topics” box this year in place of the what-I’m-thankful-for roundabout and it was a big hit. My niece and nephews especially loved it and kept using it for all our meals the rest of the weekend!

  • 13 Kristin // Dec 19, 2011 at 4:59 am

    Love the fill-in-the-blank ideas! I really want to know where the animal thanksgiving print came from please. I love that picture!

  • 14 King for Su // Jan 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Nice idea! I love the picture you chose for the post. Looking forward to your 2012 Thanksgiving post!

  • 15 Randee Donovan // Apr 28, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Hi! I am new to your site, and I’m in LOVE! Although there’s some hate too– I am constantly on line, going through old posts, old recipes, old pictures, and I’m falling a bit behind on my life.

    Regardless…

    Do you know where you found the picture at the top of this post? I just love it! Many thanks for your writing and all of the great info. And pictures. :)

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