GUEST POST: It’s Not Nice to Fool with Thanksgiving Dinner

       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.)


31 responses to “GUEST POST: It’s Not Nice to Fool with Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Love, love, love your post! I’m keeping it pretty traditional for my in-laws this year but I’m struggling a bit. 🙂 I’m sneaking in a brie appetizer and green beans with cranberry vinaigrette and walnuts but I’m leaving out the cranberry chess pie and pumpkin white chocolate cheesecake in favor of traditional pumpkin and apple pie (but with a crumb topping, of course!). 🙂

    • Thanks Alaina! This means a lot coming for you. 🙂 I think subtle tweaking is the key and your tweaks look wonderful. Now, I am going to The Cooks Next Door to look for the recipes.

  2. Oh I love this guest post! We have a very traditional, very southern meal every year at Thanksgiving, but somehow (read by adding booze) I have managed to tweak just one little dessert each year (pecan pie to Bourbon Pecan Tart last year, pumpkin pie to Vanilla Bourbon Pumpkin Tart this year) and have transitioned us from the dreaded canned cranberry sauce to homemade sauce (liberally doused with cointreau during cooking). I think the secret was providing something familiar (insert staple dessert) and something new. Good luck to you, because it’s taken me years!

    • Who can argue with adding booze? Now that’s a tweak everyone can live with! Both of the tarts sound divine! And so does the cranberry sauce. My husband insists on the sauce from the can – it must keep the ridged can shape or it is not acceptable – so we often have the canned and homemade.

  3. Well done!

    I raise my Cafe Royale to you! (Sugar cube in the bottom of demitasse cup with hot coffee poured over it, an oz of bourbon gently floating on top, and set a blaze. Stirred with a chocolate covered spoon, to put out the flame.)

    Here is to all the foodie-wanna-be-chefs out there that go the extra mile to make every meal memorable (not necessarily good memories!) and for always putting in the most important ingredient: LOVE!

    Great post! BTW, can I get the recipe for your kumquat cake in a pool of crème fraîche foam? hahah.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


  4. From one foodie-wanna-be-chef to another happy Thanksgiving, Staci! I appreciate the drink recipe and your kind words! And, yes, love is the secret ingredient. 🙂

  5. I love this post. I love to try different foods as long as someone else is cooking, 🙂

    I will admit I am a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. As long as we have our traditional items, I am all game for the extras that sometimes end up becoming regulars.

    My mother in law slaves over her homemade pies that are only to be found at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but if the box brownies and plain pumpkin pie are forgotten, there is sure to be a riot!!

  6. Great blog post Angela! Kudos to you! I have to admit that I am a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving. It’s the ONLY holiday that I feel isn’t centered around commercialism (except for the buying of food) but celebrates a coming together over one of my favorite things FOOD.

    I do however, like to spice things up a bit with different liquers and flavors. And I too, throw in the occasional gourmet, time consuming, completely frustrating recipe or two.

    When cooking for the masses, I’ve learned to stick to the traditional meal. More food prepared in earnest and simplicity feeds the masses and keeps them happiest.

  7. I have not really thought about the lack of commercialism in Thanksgiving, Anna, but you are right. That makes it even more special.

    It is such a contradiction though . . . a food holiday, a time to indulge and try out those over-the-top recipes I have been hoarding all year . . . but most want what they have eaten since they were kids. It’s cruel I tell you. Cruel! 🙂

  8. I am blown away by you. I have no idea what I’m cookin but it won’t be fancy…:)

  9. I rarely prepare traditional Thanksgiving dinners (and even when I do, I put a spin on most [if not all] of the recipes) … but that is who I am and my guests understand and appreciate it, especially when I bring them all into the fold whether it is helping devise the menu, or asking them to prepare a recipe, or having them choose a wine. This is the first year in 20 years that I am not hosting, and I know that my regular guest who IS hosting is not serving a traditional meal either. Thanksgiving has not lost its meaning to us, but it is the catalyst for our annual tour de force gourmet extravaganzas. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    • Tom . . . I see we reside in the same state. I would love to crash your Thanksgiving and bring my apple tart with almond cream with me. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well!

  10. Angela R, great post! After years of “training” by my family I have learned not to mess with the Thanksgiving menu. I now understand this particular meal has an emotional and sentimental value for them..and if I am honest me for too.

  11. LOVE it!!! You are amazing!! We are traditionalists with Thanksgiving as well, not only for the food but for the entertainment as well. Each meal is followed by football and then a family viewing of National Lampoons Xmas Vacation!! ~Erin

  12. I love it Erin! It has been a long time since I have watched “Christmas Vacation” – I don’t think I will ever forget the cat scene though. “Elf,” “Bad Santa,” and “A Christmas Story” are staples at our house. Have a wonderful holiday!

  13. Great post! You’re far from a “foodie wanna-be chef” these days, you are a full-on amazing foodie chef! I admire your creativity. I’m mostly old school. Holiday meals are so steeped in tradition and bring back so many childhood memories, that messing with the menu does seem to smack of sacrilege. However, I’m all for adding new things to the menu and seeing if (over time and test) they can become the new standard. It’s one of the reasons I really don’t like going to anyone’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas — they have their own traditions, good for them, but where is my cranberry-port sauce and candied yams?! And did I mention that I cannot stand green-bean casserole?! You’re going to blow your guests away with everything old and some things new. Enjoy!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Alysa. Cranberry-port sauce sounds like a tradition worth starting. And, green bean casserole? I could write an entire post about green bean casserole . . . I am not a fan of the traditional one with canned beans and Durkee’s onions, but have found some incredible riffs on the recipe using real green beans, cream and mushrooms. Enjoy your holiday!

      • I’m going out on a limb here to say that I LIKE traditional green bean casserole. However, a few months back I made a batch from scratch with fresh green beans and fresh mushrooms and a bechamel sauce that I liked MUCH better. I didn’t make the fried onions, though. I bought some “fresh” gourmet ones from Whole Foods. That was some good eatin’, but I’d still belly up to the bar for the regular stuff. Then again, there’s not much I wouldn’t belly up to the bar for….

  14. Great post Angela!! Our immediate family’s Thanksgiving tradition centers around Tofurky which the hordes of Midwest relatives simply scratch their heads at. These are the relatives that still give us meat related gifts even after the umpteenth year of us explaining what being vegetarian means. But then, none of them have to worry about us hosting (i.e. ruining) Thanksgiving since most of them don’t have passports. We happily enjoy our Tofurky and other non-traditional delights north of the border while they revel in tradition south of the border.

    Personally, however, I do love all the traditional foods as much as I love our non-traditional tradition. Since the US and Canadian celebrations are on different dates, we can enjoy the best of both if we so choose.

    • Hmmm, Sara. We lead parallel lives. Both families are still puzzled by our vegetarian ways 20 years later! Except we don’t receive meat gifts. Maybe they are trying to lure you back to the dark side. 🙂 I am with you on a mix of old and new. That is something to celebrate.

  15. My mouth is watering. Will you join my family?

    Love your post! I think that after a certain age, people are either ready for a twist on the traditional or they are happily stuck in a rut. hope to never be among the rut-dwellers! In fact, I’m borrowing your bread pudding recipe.

    Oh, and remind me to tell you about the time it was Frank’s turn to bring beer to the family baseball game. Instead of Budweiser he brought…gasp….a variety of fancy imports! All beer hell broketh loose!

    • IMPORTS?! Blasphemy! 🙂 And, you know I would be happy to join your family. Alaina was kind enough to share the bread pudding recipe. It is on our menu too.

  16. This was great and I NEVER learn my lesson either! Last year it was the homemade cranberry relish with candied orange zest (flavored with Grand Marnier of course). It stood there on the counter while the canned crap went quickly. Before that it was the canned green bean casserole with the canned soup and the canned crispy onions that won oohs and ahs (instead of the green beans almondine ) and the year before that it was the green bean casserole made from scratch (complete with the homemade crispy shallot rings). I refuse to give up though! This year it’s going be a cranberry pear tart and pumpkin bread pudding. I will NOT give anybody the satisfaction that I “sold out” to whichever Pilgrim said “Don’t you have REAL green bean casserole??” at that first dinner by Plymouth Rock.

  17. Plain old pumpkin pie is my favorite Thanksgiving dessert. I only eat it once a year and I very much look forward to it. You know what’s funny…I couldn’t understand half the cooking words you used, LOL!

    David’s favorite thing about Thanksgiving is the DISGUSTING Cranberry sauce that falls like a lump of congealed lard on the plate. The one year my SIL tried to make some sort of “fresh” Cranberry sauce, David lost it. “She can’t mess with my CRANBERRY SAUCE!”

    I am a traditionalist and said to my mom this year “yes, we are eating low fat but there will be no screwing with our Thanksgiving dinner. Experiment at Christmas!”

    • Kim – you are hilarious! I hope no one screws with your Thanksgiving dinner (or there will be hell to pay – LOL). Scott completely agrees with David on the lump of cranberry sauce! Must pop and slurp out of the can . . . if it doesn’t it isn’t any good! Enjoy your pie and everything else on Thanksgiving!

  18. My dear friend Lori just shared this with me:

    “Ah! on Thanksgiving day….
    When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
    And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before.
    …What moistens the lips and what brightens the eye?
    What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?”
    ~John Greenleaf Whittier

    I hope everyone enjoys your Thanksgiving holiday . . . whether it includes pumpkin pie or cheesecake or bread pudding!

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