*artwork by SLD
Growing up with immigrant parents, Thanksgiving meant a couple of days off school. Some of my extended family embraced the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the side dishes (including a can of wobbly cranberry sauce) but at my parents’ house, the meal was fairly similar to what we ate anyway. We had (take-out) Peking duck and Chinese sides. But we ate duck twice a week so I never really felt this is the Thanksgiving I wanted to introduce friends to when I got older.
I remember once my dad actually tried to make a turkey. He had no idea the length of time it’d take to cook it. It came out raw and we just quietly went back to eating duck. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I began to have more “traditional” Thanksgivings. Every year I rotate through various friends’ houses and the spreads were exceedingly familiar to me- the turkey, the green beans, the mashed potatoes and what has become my favorite thing, pumpkin cheesecake. Once you have pumpkin cheesecake, it’s hard to go back to just pumpkin pie.
Last week at dinner, we talked about Thanksgiving and I suppose I never really thought about how other families incorporated their cultural traditions with the American Thanksgiving traditions. I loved hearing how one family made their turkey Cuban-style with mojo and onions. And another had Ghanian side dishes. Then it occurred to me one of my cousins did tell me they did a sticky rice stuffing.
This week, one of my good friends who works for the State Department is back Stateside. She’s stationed in Afghanistan and previously was in Iraq. I love getting her emails and photos. Her life is a grand adventure. But it’s not without its hardships and danger. As she’s traveling across country visiting family and friends, she’ll end up in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving this year. She told me she had reservations for one. At 10 p.m. At Joel Robuchon. I don’t know how I feel about that. While my family didn’t seem to have the most traditional Thanksgiving, we always got together. I have developed my own traditions through the years. Yes, I travel from table to table but I still get together with my extended family. Lately, we’ve been enjoying Korean BBQ during one of the days off but before that, we always reveled in a movie. Sometimes it’s an awful one (invariably staring Nic Cage) but if there’s a Harry Potter flick out, you’ll find the Minty cousins laughing at some dark theater in town.
One year, I was at a Thanksgiving and someone brought along a jar of sauerkraut. I happen to love sauerkraut so that was fine by me. Most of the group thought it was odd. But what is “traditional” now? Why couldn’t we have sauerkraut without thinking it’s weird? I saw Cham Bistro doing side dishes with a twist and loved the sound of it all. Now I want to go to a Korean American Thanksgiving. Purple sweet potato pie, cranberry gochujang sauce, jalepeno corn bread, stuffed kabocha squash with sticky rice. I hope they do it again next year as it’s too late to order for pick up now.
I thought about going to Las Vegas just for the night so my friend wouldn’t be alone but she seemed fine being by herself. I will see her on Saturday for the USC vs Notre Dame game. Turkey and football. Traditional, yes? We have a big day of tailgating, football and the after-party. I hope I survive.
In the meantime, for those who celebrate Thanksgiving at restaurants, one of the most interesting ones I saw is at FIG in Santa Monica. Chef Ray is doing a “Leftovers” menu where you can elect to have items a la carte or a more “traditional” menu.
One year, my ex and I actually cooked and brought along a side dish. We ran around Thanksgiving morning (we were stupid) and tried to find enough sweet potatoes for a dozen or so people. This involved going to three grocery stores but we managed to pull it off. I can only imagine how crazy it would be to cook an entire meal by yourself or with just a bit of help.
Bourbon Sweet Potatoes
- 3 pounds of sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Pumpkin pie spices – or a combination of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon
- chopped pecans (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan and combine all the ingredients except for the cubed sweet potatoes. Pour the sauce over the cubed sweet potatoes in a baking dish. Bake about an hour or until tender.
Or you could cook the sweet potatoes and mash them, spread in a baking dish and pour the sauce over. I’d serve with some chopped pecans.
I’m pretty sure we also had glasses of bourbon while all this was cooking. We had Knob Creek.