“The Perfect Thanksgiving.” There it was, splashed across the cover of Bon Appétit magazine. Set in large type over a picture-perfect platter of carved turkey was the promise, the challenge, the unattainable goal of kitchen perfection.
I wonder if readers are encouraged or intimidated by the magazine’s statement. The implication is that by following their recipes and directions, you’ll reach a culinary nirvana.
Frankly, I’m over perfection. There’s way too much stress and strain trying to get there, and the goal is too subjective and elusive. I don’t look for perfection in roast turkey or sweet potatoes, birthday cakes or steaks, wine or whiskey, not even in hamburgers and pizza. I’m more than happy to settle for good, interesting, and delicious. There’s a lot of wonderful things out there to eat and drink, but very little (maybe nothing) that’s perfect.
Thanksgiving is the big-deal meal of the year. It should be an eagerly anticipated joyful celebration. There’s general agreement of the menu, but lots of variation in the details. A lot of family tradition and personal preference comes into the mix. I don’t know how it came to carry the stressful burden of perfection.
Years ago when I was worried about Thanksgiving and how it would all go, I was counseled not to fret about it. “It’s not Thanksgiving without some chaos,” I was advised. There should be lots of people, a flexible timeline, and above all a relaxed atmosphere, according to my mentor.
I’m happy to embrace that idea. It doesn’t feel right if everything goes off without a hitch. It’s likely that the turkey will be over or under done. Just right is a pretty narrow window. Maybe someone forgot to salt the broccoli casserole, or maybe a guest doesn’t like broccoli (like the first President Bush) and just pushes it around the plate. The mashed spuds could be lumpy (some like them that way) or overcooked. The kids generally get a little crazy and are slow coming to the table. It’s all part of the fun.
What’s important is good company, good food, and some time spent honoring the traditions.
Let’s not forget to be thankful. After dessert, let everyone take a turn around the table saying something they’re thankful for. You may be surprised at the results. Let’s be thankful for the Thanksgiving meal, the cooks who prepared it, and the bounty we enjoy. Not everyone is so lucky.
Speaking of those people around the table, they’re usually a pretty nice bunch. The annual gathering has become an easy target for comedians who spin scenarios of strife. Politics, they say, can ruin the day and they may be right. But sports rivalries, generational differences, and cell phone distraction are all suggested as points of contention. Movies too, love to portray Thanksgiving dinners where good manners disappear.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Some normal courtesy and good behavior will insure a good time at the table. Thanksgiving isn’t the time to air grievances, settle scores, and review old slights. For an hour or a day, let’s all eat, drink, and be merry.
Thanksgiving cooking should be a group effort. When everyone makes or brings a dish, then all can take pride in what is served and feel good when the compliments are passed around. The more sides the better. A variety of flavors and cooking styles — some traditional, some innovative — is part of the fun. How else can you overeat?
Got some non-cooks in the group? Let them bring the wine, set the table, or clean up. Everybody has to do something.
As far as wine is concerned, almost anything goes. There should definitely be both a white and red. I favor lower alcohol styles to accommodate the early dinner time. They should be fruity with bright acidity to cut through the rich menu. Beaujolais and Riesling are some of my favorites. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir work as well. I’d stay away from high octane Zinfandel and big oaky Chardonnay. They’re good, but not for this occasion.
I flipped through that Bon Appétit anyway. There were some attractive suggestions for sides, interesting techniques for turkey, and delicious ideas for dessert. They all looked yummy. But perfect? It’s not for me to say.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.