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