My mother claims that her secret vice is reading cookbooks and cooking magazines. I allow a moment of silence while we all sneer. What kind of secret vice is that?
I am currently searching through my large collection of cookbooks and cooking magazines — which I read brazenly in full view of everyone, even on the Stairmaster at the gym — for inspiration for Thanksgiving. True, Thanksgiving is several weeks in the future. However, I have a few special challenges.
First, I have to cook healthy food, without ruining the holiday for everyone else. The guest list includes people who will be relieved to see healthy food, people who will feel pressured, upon seeing healthy food, to eat that even though they were looking forward to a feast, and people who will sigh loudly at the very sight of healthy food.
Thanksgiving has some advantages here. Turkey, cranberries, and lots of vegetables are the traditional holiday fare. It’s all the butter, cream, sugar, and cheese that we add to these things that mess it up. Oh, and the pies.
Home magazines at this time of year have lovely artistic photos of tables full of things like roasted parsnips and turnips with pureed herbs, but we all know that the boys don’t want to eat that stuff. I did find a recipe for an apple-plum crisp with a crust made of egg whites, almonds, and oats. The Poster Queen, when I asked whether she thought it would be a good pie alternative, assured me that it would not be like Thanksgiving if I served that. The solutions are clearly either to take Thanksgiving off from healthy eating, or to develop enough self-discipline to allow me to prepare the favorite dishes without eating them.
The second challenge is my responsibility to my dishes. Some of those dishes only get to come out of the china cabinet a few time a year. The silver epergne is lucky to get out of the pantry twice in a year. Can’t you just see it, yearning all year long for the moment when it gets to hold artichoke custards in tiny phyllo cups? And the punch bowl and cups see activity even less often. How can I disappoint them? Well, it is really more that I want to use all my dishes so I can feel that it is not wasteful for me to own them. I have the perfect dish for those roasted parsnips.
The third challenge is that I have new guests coming. I am very excited about this. These relatives have been very kind and hospitable to #2 daughter, and here is my chance to return that hospitality on her behalf. But I do not know these people well, and have indeed only met two of them, and that some years ago.
#1 daughter had Thanksgiving dinner with her in-laws last year and called me afterward to say it was not like Thanksgiving at all. The food, while I am sure that it was delicious, just wasn’t what she was used to. We made her a Thanksgiving dinner when she visited for Christmas, to make up for it. But without knowing what one’s guests consider the essentials of the holiday meal, it is hard to meet their expectations. I had Thanksgiving dinner with their side of the family a few decades ago, and it included macaroni and cheese, roasted potatoes, and pretty sweet potato things with concentric circles of pineapple and marshmallow which no one on my side of the family would touch. Perhaps I can add one of these things to the menu.
On the other hand, attempts to provide people with familiar foods can turn out badly, too. My in-laws used to put a jar of peanut butter on the table for me. It was some sort of symbol of American food or something — there was certainly no way for me to eat it with their delicious food, even if I had wanted to.
Hmm. Back to the cookbooks.