Thanksgiving is about food and family. It is also the greatest ritual slaughter the world has ever known, which is a fun new way to look at it. "Turkey Day" takes on new depth if you think of it as 46 million lives sacrificed to the gods as an offering of thanks. But for now, let's stick with food and family.
We've changed our Thanksgiving policy the last few years. I love Thanksgiving above most holidays, but it had gotten stale. Executing the same menu every single year wears thin, and "We've always done it this way" is among the worst reasons for doing anything. The Thanksgiving menu never varied in all the years I can remember between about 1986 and 2013: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pecan rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce, the "green vegetable" Mom always demanded but that no one, including Mom, ever touched.
Dessert was the first to vary, as I married a baker. And it was good not to have apple pie with ice cream! So a few years ago, we reinvented the whole thing.
Some years ago, one of my smart friends invented a new kind of Thanksgiving to celebrate her and her kids' first year in their new house: "Favorite Foods Thanksgiving." That year, the three of them had bacon, pizza, mashed potatoes, and ice cream for Thanksgiving dinner. I thought that was great. Liberation from the tyranny of turkey!
I tried to remain interested in turkey. I'd smoked turkey, fried turkey, even made turkey confit. Me and turkey needed a break, and the kids were old enough to contribute ideas. Every member of the family was consulted as to what they would like on the table. The rules were simple: Everyone gets to pick one dish, and from this mishmash we would build a great family buffet.
(The oldest of the children is on the way to being the kind of lawyer you want on your side, so we had to build in some minor rules to prevent collusion and lobbying, lest she spend two weeks reminding her 4-year-old how much they both love mashed potatoes, with an eye toward essentially getting herself an extra draft pick without imperiling the presence of mashed potatoes.)
We rolled this way for several years. Last year for Thanksgiving, the main dish was ribs and fried chicken. We put barbecue sauce in the gravy boat. It was awesome.
That said, I think it might be time to change it up again. Maybe this year I'll try for a different twist — traditional Thanksgiving components, reconfigured. Turkey tacos, potato croquettes, pumpkin soup, that sort of thing. Sweet potato pie, but with purple sweet potatoes.
We have largely removed alcohol from the menu at this point, which means there are a lot of extra calories to make up, but the "favorite foods" menu has become nearly as rigid as the Thanksgiving menu once was — ribs, dressing, mashed potatoes, pecan rolls, and baked brie have all been on the menu every year. This might be a sign that we have lost the spirit of Favorite Foods Thanksgiving, though one could also infer that it might be time to rejoin our fellow Americans in all eating the same thing as an offering to the Goddess of Gratitude.
Or maybe I just get bored easily. All of these changes also point that way. But that would make the staleness of Thanksgiving more on me than on the menu, and, y'know, it's my column. So: The fault lies with the menu, and I am off to Google things like "foie gras stuffing" and "turkey Rangoon" in an attempt to entertain myself two weeks hence.