I pinch my pennies year-round, but I refuse to skimp on Thanksgiving. It's not a matter of flash or greed or gluttony, just a core belief that the fourth Thursday in November represents our rapidly fading country at its finest - calmly secular, harvest-based, seasonally-minded, in love with company, fellowship and rich foods.
As always, I attempt to top the previous year's efforts by unveiling a new batch of concoctions, few if any tried before, and all grouped around a specific theme. I enjoy the traditional turkey-potatoes-cranberry spread, but find myself unable to continually fall back on the tried and true. This year, I'm not even deigning to carve Ben Franklin's favorite flight-challenged fowl - I've moved on to the world of the goose. Others may cry foul (ouch) and argue goose is more the proverbial Christmas bird, but I believe traditions exist to be broken, or at least to be maneuvered around.
Last year, our dinner was themed around those European nations existing somewhere above the 55th Parallel - Scandinavia, Scotland, Russia, bits of Germany. This year, I've cast my gaze a bit farther south to the sun-blessed Mediterranean lands. The dishes I've selected, therefore, are all a little less severe but still autumn/winter appropriate (even southern Italy turns chilly in late November). And at least one favorite from last year has managed to squeeze its way onto the table once again. What can I say? I do take requests.
* Starter *
Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon, with whole-grain rye bread, Colman's mustard and homemade pickles
(I've cured my own salmon, gravlax-style, in the past. But not this year.)
* Main Course *
Oca Farcita - Stuffed Goose
(Italian specialty, from the Milan region of Lombardy. The stuffing will consist of prunes, roasted chestnuts, filberts, salsicce sausage chunks and apples. The noble bird will also be draped with bacon slices.)
* Sides * (always the best part, in my humble opinion)
Catalogne Racante - Autumn Dandelion Crumble
(More Italian goodness. From the Adriatic coast of Apulia, a dish of dark bitter dandelion greens baked with garlic, tomato and capers, drizzled generously with olive oil.)
Navets Glace - Glazed Turnips
(French preparation from the Loire Valley. I find turnips to be among the most surprisingly tender and sweet of root vegetables if prepared properly, and I'm hoping this combination of butter, rich stock and sugar coaxes out the flavor. If not, I'll drizzle it with maple syrup. Either way, we win.)
Raw Grated Beets
(A true wonder food, with seemingly endless restorative properties - this finger-staining member of the amaranth family requires nothing more than peeling, grating, mixing with apple matchstick slices, and drizzling with safflower oil.)
Jansson's Frestelse - Jansson's Temptation
(OK, far from the Mediterranean - this one's from Sweden. But it proved so popular last year I had to return. A wonderful and unlikely variation on tried-and-true sweet potato recipes, this creation layers yam slices with chopped anchovy fillets and onions, before mixing with cream and butter flakes. The result is a heavenly-soft dish that alternates the sugary potatoes with a welcome salt tang of sardines. I know, it sounds unlikely - everybody last year requested seconds).
Jane's Roman Bread
(I'm not the only gifted chef in the household...)
* Dessert *
(Of course. Courtesy of Melissa. One does have to observe some traditions, after all.)
Pere San Martin al Vino Rosso - Winter Pears in Red Wine
(Italian specialty from the Aosta Valley. Simmered with cloves and rich red wine, drizzled with sugar, and most likely moistened with fine brandy, if I have anything to say about the matter.)
* Digestives *
Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
(Wonderful whiskey from the West of Ireland, smoked with the ubiquitous peat from the region's many bogs - a campfire in a glass, a wonderful discovery from last summer's excursion to County Clare.)
Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Nog
(The real thing. Made, as the label says, "with real dairy cream, rum, brandy and blended whisky". I've been saving it up for weeks.)
The wife talked me out of a dish of caviar this year. She claims I was the only one last year who enjoyed it, and that I was laying it on a bit thick. Upon further reflection, I have to admit she was right. I do lay it on a bit thick.
Enjoy and revel in our most glorious federal holiday!