Thanksgiving sans turkey

It was kind of a disaster, our Thanksgiving two years ago, but really, who didn’t have a disastrous holiday in 2020? We planned for an intimate affair, just the five of us and one boyfriend, but then Zoe and that boyfriend were exposed to COVID and so instead of coming and eating and laying around for a day, they stood on the front porch and waved and we blew kisses through the windows. We smiled as we waved but really, I felt very sad. A little later that day Paul, Luca, Elliot and I ate at a quiet table. There were no neighbors, grandparents, friends or otherwise. It was just us, and even so, just part of us. It felt like a regular old day, not a festive one, no matter how much stuffing and pie we ate. 

A year passed and we planned another COVID-era Thanksgiving, this one in a restaurant. I won’t say which restaurant because this isn’t a restaurant review but I will say it was the worst meal we ate in any restaurant, ever, which made two sad Thanksgiving holidays in a row. Even being together, all of us, with my dad and my sister, her significant other and all three of our children, could not make up for the gloppy, gray food and the poor service. Never again, we all agreed, would we eat a holiday meal in a restaurant. 

Now it’s 2022, and I feel blessed and happy — overjoyed, really — that my entire family will be together this holiday. It will be just us and possibly a few friends for a simple and good meal. My children and husband tell me that occasionally, I am too enthusiastic and too eager for our family gatherings. Sometimes, I cry when we are together because the love just bubbles up and spills over. My eyes fill and the tears flow. 

There will be no window waving and no bad restaurant food, but then the question remains: what to eat? We’re planning on a mix of old favorites (sausage stuffing, spiced cranberry sauce and pumpkin coconut pie) and a few new dishes, too. Paul and I have made the bold decision to not serve turkey this year. There is talk of a turkey shortage and high prices, so I polled everyone before making the choice to not serve it at all. Elliot told me that as long as there is sausage stuffing, he doesn’t care what else is on the table. We are all attached to our favorite Thanksgiving foods. Read on for descriptions of the newest additions to our table this year. 

I like salads and there is always a salad on our holiday table. It could be that the colors are so lovely next to brown gravy, white potatoes and pale shades of meat, or maybe it’s the whole idea of salad vindicating you for overeating rich, fattening foods. Either way, greens and vibrant vegetables are welcome. This salad has the unusual combination of beets and raspberries. I like the tart berries and earthy beets alongside salty cheese and buttery pecans. There’s a little bit of a lot of different textures and flavors here, and it’s all topped, very lightly, with a simple vinaigrette made with maple syrup. The dressing adds just a touch of sweetness. Drizzle a small amount of the vinaigrette on the salad, then serve the rest on the side; any leftover salad will keep better this way. 

There’s a recipe here for Paul’s pot roast and, though it’s his recipe and having it for Thanksgiving was his idea, I am congratulating myself for this bit of genius in our holiday planning. I’ll tell you, dear reader, the best part of serving pot roast this holiday: It’s all Paul. Meaning, he shops for and prepares, from start to finish, the entire thing. And when it’s done, there is a main course, a side dish, and a luscious, rich gravy. But wait, there’s more: this dish can be, and really should be, made the day before. It’s better when served the second day. Paul’s version of pot roast cooks up to a tender, fall-apart meat with soft, flavorful vegetables. It all simmers for hours in broth that’s lip-smacking and beefy, with plenty of onions and herbs. Save any extra to use as a base for soup. Leftover meat makes for excellent late-night sandwiches and I’ll put vegetables, meat and gravy over egg noodles for a simple dinner the next day. 

Lastly, I’ll be adding a cake to the Thanksgiving desserts this year. I decided to go all-in with shaking up tradition, so we’re having a cranberry-topped pumpkin cake alongside our pies. The cake is simple to prepare; it’s like pumpkin bread, only a little sweeter. There’s a topping that needs to be cooked on the stovetop, with chopped cranberries, plenty of sugar and spice, and a good glug of booze. That mixture is spread across the top of the batter and then swirled in, baking into a sweet and crisp topping that has all of the required Thanksgiving tastes. It’s also quite good with a strong cup of coffee the day after. My favorite kind of cakes are those you can eat and feel good about, at any time of day. 

The best part of celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday this year is that everyone we love best will have a seat at our table. I know that for many, after the years of COVID, the same is not true. It’s with grace and gratefulness that I’ll behold all of these people and I will, with abandon, eat cake and pot roast, mashed potatoes and green salad and most of all, let the tears spill over. 

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