Tired of doing things the same way every year? Try out something a little different.
Nope, we’re still not ready for Thanksgiving. Not quite. Kat or I will be making another trip to the store this evening to gather the final bit of supplies we need to get us through the weekend. Once we’re all home Wednesday evening, none of us are planning on leaving before Saturday at the earliest. That means that, in addition to everything for Thursday’s dinner, we need to make sure we have other food and supplies for the rest of the weekend. Having everyone home all day is challenging.
When we think of Thanksgiving we tend to think of tradition. Much is made of what they did or didn’t have 400 years ago, and then family traditions fall on top of that. Some people run in early morning races so as to prove their insanity. Other families spend time helping to feed the poor and homeless, which is a noble gesture requiring that one must have children who listen and obey. I have no idea what that is like. I have even met people who spend the day in protest. They find something to fit on a placard every year. I’m just assuming they’re all being unlawfully mistreated at Standing Rock this year.
For me, however, there are really only two traditions that matter. The first is to make sure there are enough leftovers so I don’t have to cook on Friday. I’ll cook the hell out of Thursday, but Friday I’m sleeping the entire day. The second, however, is to not follow tradition but to do at least one thing different; something that we’ve never done before. There are a lot of ways to be different, of course, but they generally fall into three categories: a different place, a different food, and different people. Let me give you some examples.
A Different Place
For us, this will be the first time Kat and I have stayed home for Thanksgiving. We usually would go to her Mom’s for the holiday, but Little Man’s birthday is this week as well so we’re doing birthday/Thanksgiving over there on a different day. This means we get to just enjoy/endure each other on Thursday. Big Gabe, my 18-year-old, said he’s pretty sure this is the first time he’s not gone anywhere for Thanksgiving, and he may be correct. He wasn’t born yet when I was on this roll of doing exotic meals for the holidays. Any other time we were at one grandparent’s house or the other. So, just the idea of staying home on Thanksgiving is a bit awkward and certainly different.
Over the years, though, we have utilized some other non-traditional locations as well. Back when our entire extended family would gather in Wichita, no one had a house big enough to even begin holding us all. So, we rented enclosed facilities at different city parks as long as at least a couple of our parents were still living. The facilities would include stoves and ovens and sinks so we could cook those last-minute items that are only good when fresh. Meanwhile, there was always plenty of room to toss the youngsters outside so they could run off energy and build up an appetite for the meal. After Poppa got to where he couldn’t make the trip, we used the great room of the retirement facility where they lived, invited others there to join, and had a wonderful time sharing Thanksgiving with older people who had nowhere else to go.
There are plenty of options if one just looks around a bit. Some, you do your own cooking. Others, someone else cooks for you (though those options tend to be more expensive). Either way, if you don’t want, or for some reason are unable to do the traditional family thing and the traditional family place, look around. Try someplace different. You might discover a whole new tradition that’s even better.
I mentioned above about going through a period where I insisted on preparing exotic foods for the holidays. I drove my family nuts with that one. Both sides were always very traditional and they just couldn’t wrap their heads around not having turkey and dressing and green bean casserole. In fact, my former mother-in-law actually brought green bean casserole with her one year because she knew that I wasn’t going to fix any and could not stand the thought of a Thanksgiving without it.
Here’s the thing: you don’t want what they had at the first Thanksgiving. It was dry. It was gamey. Even the vegetables didn’t taste anything like what is on our tables now. So, just throw out that whole idea of a “traditional” Thanksgiving menu and have some fun with it. We’ve had duck (which no one liked as much as they thought they would), we’ve had cornish hens (look,everyone gets their own turkey!), and we’ve even had venison (just don’t play a video of Bambi for a couple of weeks). There are plenty of options.
Where the fun comes in, I think, is with the side dishes. Sure, we can have potatoes, but let’s prepare them differently for a change. This year, I’m leaning toward this recipe for slow cooker loaded potatoes. First off, it’s highly customizable. If your family is made up of vampires, leave off the garlic. Double down on the bacon if you wish. You could also toss in some olives and sun dried tomatoes if you’re feeling adventurous. The end result should be much more appetizing than yet another round of mashed potatoes.
I’m also considering this recipe for honey roasted butternut squash. Of those attending our home dinner on Thursday, half don’t like sweet potatoes. So, it doesn’t seem fair to leave them out and I know that at least two of them love butternut squash. This recipe is really simple to put together as long as one has a good, sharp knife. Butternut squash isn’t the softest veggie you’ll ever find. Alternatives like this really liven up a Thanksgiving menu without really risking upsetting expectations.
Finally, try something really different in the bread department. Of course, a lot of people use cornbread stuffing, but there’s still this expectation for some kind of roll or pull-apart bread. One year I got really adventurous and made challah, which the family enjoyed. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much counter space to give a full loaf of braided bread a place to rise. We’ll likely go with something from a local bakery. Just make it different than the store-bought Hawaiian rolls that are way over priced.
My parents taught us this one. Regardless of which holiday it might be, if we were fixing a lot of food, and my Mother always fixed enough food for a small army, we invited other people, and almost always people who we didn’t know. We never had a bad holiday when we did this. Never mind any religious differences, though the year we had an atheist at the table was interesting, never mind the cultural differences, the addition of new people always made the holiday better.
If you have been paying attention to the pictures we’ve used for this article, you’ve noticed all but one have a preponderance of tattoos. For reasons I have yet to understand, there are still a lot of people who find ink offensive. I don’t get it. That concept is almost always based out of ignorance, as is every bias. When we are celebrating our ability to over-consume while nearly a third of the world’s population is starving, we have a moral obligation to set aside our ridiculous opinions and reach out to people who are as different from us as possible. Build bridges, not walls. Invite that fussy neighbor. Pick up that friend of a friend whose name you can’t remember but you know will be alone. Hell, bring home a stripper. Strippers have to eat, too.
One of the reasons suicides go up during the holidays is because people who have been alone for far too many Thanksgivings just don’t want to go through another one. Try swallowing your fucking pride for a change. Invite someone different. You’ll both end up with a reason to be Thankful.