With one day left until Thanksgiving, I’m starting my holiday cooking and baking in earnest – and feeling a lot of gratitude for food and recipes and ingredients and results. Simply having enough food to feed my family is one of those categories I’ve termed the massive blessings, but food to have fun with falls into the category I’ve been ticking off during this pre-Thanksgiving countdown: non-esssential but tremendously appreciated blessings for which to give thanks.
I feel so fortunate for the delicious and wonderful food all around me, both the food created in my kitchen and the food that comes into it. Even with an increasing societal priority on locavore shopping, I can’t resist celebrating the variety of delicious things we have access to both locally and beyond. Apples, oranges, peaches, bananas, avocadoes. Arugula and romaine. Garlic, grapefruit, plums. Amazing varieties of cheese, from the creamy to the pungent to the savory. Salsa seasoned with plenty of cilantro; guacamole with lime juice and salt. Chewy whole wheat bagels studded with seeds and sprouts. Artisan breads, better than those I bake myself no matter how many different ways I try. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, for baking and eating. Edamame, barley, adobo sauce, for dressing up soups and chili. Coffee beans, dark and slippery with oils, to be transformed in the morning into hot rich coffee.
In the summer, fresh creamy ice cream from the popular stand down the street and seafood from the docks in Maine. Black bean burgers and swordfish steaks off the grill. Blueberries and blackberries from the bushes right here on the farm. In the winter, grilled cheese sandwiches with caramelized onions, big pans of homemade macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate chip cookies. On vacations, regional foods to sample and new tastes to explore. Dishes I haven’t mastered myself but can buy wonderful samples of right near home: curries, sushi, scallion pancakes, Thai noodle dishes. Take-out choices the kids love to eat on Saturday nights: hot pizza with cheese sizzling across the top; greasy tasty Chinese appetizers; subs bursting with the varied textures and fresh flavors of cheese, tomatoes, pickles, mayonnaise. Celebratory desserts: birthday cakes, cupcakes, ice cream sundaes. Fattening-but-fun snack food for Superbowl parties and poker nights: homemade chili con queso, hot artichoke spread, layered taco dips.
But back to today, the day before Thanksgiving, a holiday whose traditional dishes are not among my favorites overall but still fun to make once a year. Today I’ll prep the stuffing and cranberry sauce and make pumpkin pie, fruit crisp and the kids’ favorite chocolate mousse pie (essentially whipped cream flavored with chocolate swirled in a graham cracker crust. I myself wouldn’t mind if I never saw another one as long as I lived, but it’s their favorite holiday dessert, and I do like having special culinary traditions just for them). Earlier in the week I made several logs of Cheddar cheese wafer dough, which I can quickly slice and bake tomorrow. At some point between now and then I have to home in on a plan for roasting brussel sprouts (confirming how to spell brussel sprouts wouldn’t be a bad idea either). Other family members will bring traditional mashed potatoes and Rick’s favorite Thanksgiving vegetable of mashed carrots and turnips (as I say every year, I’m fine with having that on the table as long as I don’t have to prepare it or touch it).
We certainly don’t need all this food. We’re lucky to have enough of anything at all to eat. But what a bonus blessing that so many magnificent tastes and textures exist. In this well-known picture book Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, Frances ends a brief phase of eating only bread and jam with a multi-course picnic lunch. After she reels off the many items on her menu to her friend Albert, he says, “I think it’s nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice.”
“So do I,” responds Frances.
I couldn’t put it better myself.