While there are some basic practices to roasting a perfect turkey, all too often we are chained to (“capital T”) Tradition. I know I’m whacking a sacred cow at the mere suggestion that we might be weary of roux-based gravy and uninspired by cornbread, but the weight of all that history can be stifling. Each year, it’s easy to get a little nostalgic and misty-eyed thinking about bygone years and the person who served the traditional meal, so we make the same things again and again. Tradition is very often what makes holidays feel special and imbues them with that sparkly, Hollywood movie feel. My problem is that somewhere along the way Tradition has trumped Taste. Each year we doggedly do the bird and fixings the exact same way because that’s how (insert nostalgic relative’s name here) did it, and each year, the turkey either turns out the same (and it’s bad) or the same (and it’s boring). I love tradition as much as the next person, but I love (the other T word) Titillation even more.
In Same Time, Next Year,George and Doris, played by Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, are married to other people but meet for the same weekend each year for over twenty years. While their interactions are sometimes unexpected and sometimes challenging, they are always satisfying. As a result, a deep abiding love develops. It’s possible to have this same kind of enduring relationship with turkey and have both the romance of the familiar old flame, while each year igniting something new and sexy. Simply treat the bird as your own once a year weekend affair.
Food should excite and inspire. The mark of a great cook is someone who can take tradition and turn it on its head while also retaining the elements that make the dish classic. This year, if you’ve been feeling like you’re going through the motions and the Thanksgiving meal is the culinary equivalent of carrying a bag of boulders up a hill, have an affair! While commitment is a beautiful thing and nothing says it better than our national annual commitment to the consumption of nearly 45 million turkeys each year at Thanksgiving, it’s possible, as with any long term relationship, to fall into a rut.
Prepare for Thanksgiving the same way you’d prepare for a weekend fling. Instead of buying something sexy, try a sexy new ingredient to up-level grandma’s classic Jello salad. Use origami paper on your turkey frills instead of dad’s newpaper. Dry brine the bird. Fill it with apples and onions instead of stuffing. Use even more butter. Add applejack or cognac to your gravy. What you’re trying to do is find a variation on a classic taste or technique. Scent the cranberry with nutmeg or mint. Rice the potatoes instead of mashing them. Whatever you do, pick something that turns you on. Your guests, like the beloved, can sense your enthusiasm and love.
So go ahead, have an affair! Inject a variation or two to sex up your own classics and create the kind of longevity that will have you anticipating the same time, next year.