Remember that Chiffon margarine commercial from the 1970s? Oh, right . . . that was 35 plus years ago. Here it is for you youngsters and those of you who didn’t have a TV because you were raised on a commune:
Now, use your imagination and replace Mother Nature with an extended family from the Midwest. Okay. Now, hear the family say “It’s not nice to fool with Thanksgiving dinner!” in unison. Then lightning strikes me – the foodie wanna-be chef – down. Crash!
It started innocently enough. Because of my status as “foodie wanna-be chef,” I was enlisted to assist with the sacred Thanksgiving meal. Family member #1 (FM#1) who holds a position of great influence stated she wasn’t so crazy about pumpkin pie. I could not agree more so the plot to remove it from the menu was hatched. We still needed something pumpkin-y to divert attention. Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart seemed to fill the bill. It was pumpkin, but it was different (here is where I get myself in trouble). On that particular Thanksgiving Day, Family Member #3 (FM#3) asked if there would be pumpkin pie because FM #3½ must have pumpkin pie. I described the pumpkin-y dessert while following FM#3 to the door while she grabbed her coat muttering “No pumpkin pie? It’s Thanksgiving. How can you not have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving?!” And she was gone, off to roam rural Missouri for one measly plain old pumpkin pie.
Then, there was the devastating year of the brownie cornucopia. My carefully made apple cranberry cheddar crust pie, caramel nut tart and pumpkin-pecan cheesecake were eclipsed by a cornucopia formed from puff pastry filled with brownies from a BOX made by FM#10. “Phiff. BOX BROWNIES? How can box brownies compare to these different, from-scratch delights?” I thought. It ends up that they compared very well indeed as the whole family “oooo-ed” and “ahhhhhh-ed” over the cornucopia. It has attained mythological status in Thanksgiving family lore. “Remember the year of the corn-U-copia?” FM#3 says dreamily while sitting in front of a piece of my kumquat cake in a pool of crème fraîche foam.
Then there was the year I asked my husband what desserts I should make. He probably said, “How about an apple pie?” (meaning a plain old apple pie). I responded by saying “Oh, a sour cream apple pie with a crumble topping would be perfect!” He tersely replied, “Can’t you make something normal?!” Well, apparently I could not because I think I hedged my bets on a cranberry and almond caramel tart that year. As the caramel leaked out of the tart crust and flowed all over the cookie sheet, I wondered why I didn’t choose something easier . . . and normal.
I recently picked up a book called Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton that I read long ago. Flipping through, I landed on the chapter about frustration. De Botton used the Roman stoic Seneca to teach the reader how to deal with frustration. ”We will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful” sums up the chapter well. This is my new approach to cooking for traditionalists . . . this and compromising a bit . . . and wine, wine always helps. This year there will be pumpkin pie rather than a pumpkin tart or cheesecake. A few months ago I found a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (love them!) for pumpkin pie that I actually like. I will make pecan pie instead of a caramel nut tart (sigh). But, maybe an apple pandowdy (I guarantee someone will say “An apple pan-what-y?” when I tell him or her what I am making) for something a little different? Or vanilla and cider panna cottas? How about a pear tarte tatin with red wine caramel???!!! There I go again. Clearly, I have not completely learned my lesson.
One thing I have learned is people require certain things to be constant . . . one of them is the Thanksgiving feast. It’s something we depend on to be the same through war and peace; economic downturns and upturns; divorce and new love; and life and death. It is like Mother Nature – a comforting force to be reckoned with.
What is your must-have Thanksgiving dessert? Are you a traditionalist? Or have you tried to mix up the Thanksgiving meal somehow? What was the response?
(RouxBarb/Editor’s Note: This “Guest Post” brought to you by longtime RouxBarb inspiration and all around superwoman Angela R., who was introduced to readers in The Plate Project. We suffered briefly together around 15 years ago while working under ridiculous circumstances, and I’ve clung to her like a barnacle ever since because she is wildly talented and I always hope some of it will rub off.)