Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thanksgiving Variations

The Boston Globe food section a few days back did a story on chef's improvisations on Thanksgiving themes. Here, some further, Noshstalgic thoughts on this topic -

For many families, Thanksgiving dinner is a more than a Noshstalgic tradition - it has become a ritual or even a fetish. No variation is permitted. The list of compulsory elements turkey, stuffing, potatoes (often more than one kind), cranberry sauce, a family heirloom recipe or two that makes their Thanksgiving theirs alone, etc. can be long. And, sometimes - at least for the cook - the joy of the holiday and gathering can become mired in the inevitability of the proceedings.

At Chez Noshstalgia - here in the home of someone who's seriously dedicated to preserving culinary tradition - we try hard to approach Thanksgiving as a fresh opportunity for invention every time. We have tended to view the rigorous form of holidays like Thanksgiving as a platform for a special kind of variation. The trick is to somehow hit the compulsories with just the right degree of imagination and flair to satisfy traditional expectations and excite people with something new, delicious, broadening, and (though novel) profoundly comfortable all the same time.

The other thing about Thanksgiving here, is that while we always have family about, we often include others as well. And even within the family, our ethnic diversity gives rise to a big range of traditions and tastes. There may be no other occasion where thoughtful consideration of ones guests is more important in composing a menu.

On a number of occasions over the past few years, our guests at Thanksgiving have presented a challenging array of allergies or other dietary restrictions. Celiac - no wheat, no gluten from any source. Eggs - allergic. Nuts and nut oils of any kind - lethally allergic. Chestnuts - not sure they say, but the word nut sounds possibly lethal, so no thanks.

Here's where the turkey ended up on a couple of such occasions:

Tuscan Roast Turkey with Polenta, Sausage, and Mushroom Stuffing
Roast Turkey with Cornbread, Butifarras and PX Sherry Macerated Figs Stuffing

I confess, those butifarras with figs went on to become something of a fetish around here. Making those sausages and soaking those figs really gets me going.
Same thing has happened with a mango/cranberry chutney side that started out as a response to some menu exigence or other. Funny how invention is the mother of tradition.

What to do this year? Feeding about 20 this year - and about the most traditional 20 I know. Hmmm -

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