Thoughtful Thanksgiving host/ess gifts beyond wine
I was too distracted to write this post a week or two ago when it would have had more effect. (This is somewhat of a reprint with some additions.)
It happens that the traditional foods at Thanksgiving--turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, even cranberry sauce, vegetables, squash, breads, pie (pumpkin, apple, pecan, sweet potato) and ice cream--comprise my favorite meal.
This year we're going to our neighbors, and we'll be bringing roasted vegetables (who knew that by simply roasting them in olive oil, salt and pepper, brussel sprouts could actually taste really good?) -- a medley of potatoes, squash, and brussel sprouts.
I won't be baking pies (wasn't up to making crusts this year), but I am going to use the Washington Post recipe for Rosemary Biscuits. We'll see how that turns out.
The alternative was a Wall Street Journal recipe for Parker House Rolls, "Dinner-Roll Recipes That Rise to the Thanksgiving Occasion," but the biscuit recipe seems easier to double.
The New York Times ran a bunch of themed Food sections related to Thanksgiving. Last week's section focused on immigrants and how they've adapted to the Thanksgiving holiday and ritual with recipes of their own and modifications of traditional "American" dishes.
-- "Thanksgiving 2016 - NYT Cooking"
The Wall Street Journal provides other advice ("How to Have Thanksgiving Dinner Without a Family Blowup") for getting through the family meal as does this blog entry, "Tips and Resources for Better Thanksgiving Conversations," from the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. From the article:
1. Be an active listenerThe New York Times had a great piece by writer Ann Patchett, "Collecting Strays at the Thanksgiving Table," about her first attempt at cooking Thanksgiving Day Dinner in her otherwise empty dorm backed up by Joy of Cooking.
2. Keep an open mind
3. Be curious
4. Discuss stories rather than debating facts
5. Look for common ground
6. Try to end on a positive note
Since Thanksgiving is the kick off for the holiday gift buying season, it occurs to me that it's possible to develop a great new Thanksgiving tradition for "host" gifts that are food/foodways related, rather than a quickly bought bottle of wine (although the Wall Street Journal suggests prosecco and other bubbly wines, "Why the Best Thanksgiving Wine Is Sparkling").
1. A gift subscription to a regional food magazine. A gift subscription to one of the Edible Communities regional publications on the local food system would be great. They now have 83 affiliates in the US and Canada. Each magazine covers its local food scene, from farmers and restaurants to markets and recipes.
Cook's Illustrated, an independently published speciality recipe magazine.
3. Gift subscription to a regional lifestyle magazine that covers foodways issues. If you live in the South (Southern Living), in California/Pacific Northwest (Sunset) or New England (Yankee Magazine) these magazines are great guides about homes, regional traditions, travel, and food, with great recipes.
4. Books on regional foodways/cookbooks. There are a number of books published that explore regional foodways and systems, and I think it would be cool to come in hand with a great book on regional foodways. Darrin Nordahl's newest book, Eating Appalachia: Rediscovering Regional American Flavors, explores the Appalachian region. Writing primarily about (but not limited to) the Southwest, Gary Nabhun has written many books about food, cuisine, and agriculture.
A good local bookstore ought to be able to make recommendations relevant to your region. I'm still looking for a killer recipe for Brunswick Stew, a dish that both Georgia and Virginia claim as their own.
And, I never knew about Sweet Potato Pie until I moved to Washington and started eating in soul food restaurants. Or oyster stuffing, which is common in the Chesapeake Bay region and the Pacific Northwest, where oysters are grown. Or Mashed Turnips instead of mashed potatoes--they're really really good.
The Fight for Authentic Barbecue," New Yorker Magazine).
Relatedly, a week or two ago we were visiting friends in New York State, and the lady of the house is into pro-biotics (she makes her own kefir) and pickling. She had a book, the Art of Natural Cheesemaking, that looks really cool, which provides the right kind of guidance for being able to make your own cheese, and a wide number of varieties too. (Even though sometimes making a pie crust is more work than I want to do sometimes.)
5. Planning-related books on food and gardening. I was first introduced to Darrin Nordahl through his books on urban agriculture and transit. Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities, published by Island Press and now in its second edition, explores how to utilize public land as a way to grow food.
A community-focused illustration of Nordahl's thesis is presented in The Urban Garden: How One Community Turned Idle Land into a Garden City and How You Can, Too.
It explores the programs of Garden City Harvest, a non-profit in Missoula, Montana. They sponsor a variety of a farm projects, community gardens, school-based gardens, and CSAs, and the book discusses the impact of participation on individuals and the community.
(It's in the vein of The Town That Food Saved, about a very small Vermont town which is reorienting its economy around artisanal food production.)
Edible City has been out for a few years, and explores Greater Toronto's food system. It's a model for cities in how to cover this topic in a readable way, but focused on planning and policy.
(The book was published by Coach House Books as part of series called uTOpia, addressing various concerns in the Toronto region from a variety of perspectives. That series too is a model of the value of having local publishing houses focused on publishing titles relevant to their region.)
6. Herb planters. Or how about a set of seeds, planter and soil (planted by you) of herbs, a so called "kitchen garden" so that your host--after the plants have grown--has access to fresh herbs for cooking.
7. Locally-produced artisan food items. They can be specially produced items, locally produced wine, or even ice cream. For example, in DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Northern Virginia, bringing a couple half-gallons of Trickling Springs Ice Cream (my favorite flavor is Coffee Bean Frappe).
Virginia has a great variety of vineyards. (We're fond of Ingleside Vineyards in Virginia's Northern Neck, which is on the way to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.)
8. Besides bringing a gift, how about making a gift to a food-related charity in honor of Thanksgiving and in the name of the host/ess? Food banks and community feeding programs of various sorts are an obvious choice. Or farmers markets serving the underserved (like the Crossroads Community Market in Takoma Crossroads/Langley Park, Maryland). Or community kitchen/food incubators, like the one being developed in Takoma Park. Or programs working with youth like DC's Brainfood.
This Thanksgiving Invite a “Silent Guest” to Dinner," about how students at Ohio's Mount St. Joseph University are leading a "silent guest" food program fundraising campaign ("Students revive 'silent guest' tradition," Cincinnati Enquirer. Apparently it is modeled after a campaign in the late 1940s ("Feed a silent guest and help promote peace," Wichita Eagle. From the article:
After World War II, thousands of American households took in "silent guests" at Thanksgiving. The "silent guest" campaign of 1947-48 asked Americans to open up their hearts and share their Thanksgiving bounty. Governor Robert Bradford of Massachusetts, a descendant of the Pilgrims who started Thanksgiving, proclaimed the new tradition of feeding a "silent guest" at the holiday meal.
American families were asked to donate the cost of feeding their "silent guest" to a committee in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The "silent guest" donations from Americans led to CARE packages of food being sent to starving families overseas. This was crucial for many countries in Europe, who were still reeling from the destruction caused by World War II. Drought had struck in the summer of 1947, causing severe food shortages.
The food from the "silent guest" helped keep Europe afloat until the U.S. backed Marshall Plan to rebuild could kick in. As Secretary of State George Marshall said, "food is the very basis of all reconstruction."
Enjoy the day.