Friday, November 20, 2009

More Than Just Turkey

Although the turkey is often the centerpiece around which Thanksgiving dinner is made, there is more to Thanksgiving than the turkey. At many tables it is the side dishes that star. What side dishes make their way to the table is often a combination of tradition, ethnicity and innovation--but not too much innovation.

One of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving is being part of a group of female cousins whose job it was to place handwritten slips of paper naming each side dish in the serving dishes on the dining room table. Of course, that was a ploy to keep us from being underfoot; but we took our job seriously while jostling for prime position for our personal favorites.

When I was growing up there were basically two ethnic groups that mattered. You were either Italian or you were not. My mother was the only one of her siblings to marry an Italian, so Thanksgiving was somewhat of a mixture of Italian and American dishes. My mother always made her stuffing with sausage, garlic, parsley, raisins and pine nuts. But her sister made an American version. No matter. We loved just about everything--except the turnips.

Later on when my mother relinquished her cooking duties to me, we shared Thanksgiving dinner with my father's brother and his family. My Aunt Helen and I divided the cooking each year. There was always a large platter of antipasto, a large tray of lasagna, a succulent turkey with all of the trimmings and the desserts.

Now a days the group is smaller and blood relatives few. The antipasto and the lasagna have been eliminated, but we still celebrate with family every year--our best friends. L and I have been sharing Thanksgiving dinner for the past six years. It's a routine that is anticipated, comfortable and fun. We share the cooking and each prepares family favorites. I make L's cream of mushroom soup, roast the turkey, make the cranberry sauce, make my family's stuffing and the corn muffins. L makes the mashed potatoes rich with cream cheese and heavy cream, candied yams, her mother-in-law's carrot souffle, her family's stuffing--and the only wiggle room here--some type of green vegetable.For dessert I always bake an apple crostata, a pumpkin pie and something extra. Sometimes pumpkin cheese cake bars; sometimes cranberry upside down cake; and this year pecan bars.

This year there will be ten of us. Besides L & J and one of their daughters, each of their mothers will be here along with my mother and our son and his girlfriend. We will toast to our good fortune to have one another and enjoy our feast. Cennt'anni!

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