“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein
It’s two days before Thanksgiving and the beginning of what can be one of the warmest or loneliest times of the year in America, depending on whether you’re surrounded by people who care about more than themselves or not. First of all, let me say that Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays, however this day took on an extra special meaning in November 1998 when I went into labor unexpectedly on Thanksgiving eve, and this beautiful baby, Danielle Michael Black, was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1998. ❤️ (I ran across this photo when I was searching in my storage units for the special china, crystal and flatware). Priceless!!
My mother and her sister, my Aunt Harriet, were there for support. We were living in TriBeCa, (a lower extension of Greenwich Village) at that time. So I took Mama and Aunt Harriet with me to Chelsea Market to shop for the freshest vegetables and other accoutrements for our Thanksgiving dinner. I was unable to finish preparing Thanksgiving dinner after I went into labor. I’m so grateful that my Mama was able to finish the Thanksgiving dinner I’d started. She brought dinner to me in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day!❤️
Thanksgiving was founded on the idea of families and friends traveling to a central location to celebrate with the generations and feast off the fruits of their harvest, hunt and labor. Today with families and friends being more spread out, people find themselves having celebrations with “framily” (friends who are like family) during this time, a.k.a “Friendsgiving.” Call it what you want, this holiday is about food and camaraderie more than any other. Still, we know every Thanksgiving there’s the chance that someone will say or do something that strikes a nerve with someone else and things can get cray cray! That’s when the bigger person absolutely needs to find a smooth and disarming comeback that butters the other person up and melts his or her heart.
What’s on your Thanksgiving menu this year? Root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots are in season and make wonderfully nutritious additions to the holiday meal. Vine vegetables, such as pumpkin and squash also complement the menu with their mildly sweet earthy flavors and smooth creamy texture. This a good day to focus on some the dishes that can be made ahead of time; perhaps you can roast, mash and refrigerate your pumpkin or sweet potatoes to have them ready for the pies. Roasting them in the skin brings out a richer flavor than boiling them in water. Consider adding Apple-Butternut Squash Soup to your menu, such as this one from marvelous Martha Stewart. No matter how you spice it, butternut squash soup is a sophisticated start to any Thanksgiving meal. You can make the stock, cook the squash ahead of time and refrigerate them a few days before Thanksgiving, if you love the process of cooking. If you don’t enjoy cooking that much and/or have a job that pays you more than being a home cook, then by all means, buy that refrigerated vegetable or chicken stock and pre-peeled and pre-chopped butternut squash; because we know America was founded on the idea of free will and choices. In the same spirit, check out the snazzy spatulas like this one designed by Questlove for Williams Sonoma to raise money for NoKidHungry.
Homemade cranberry sauce is another Thanksgiving dish you can make in advance. It’s so easy and delicious, and young children who like to cook really enjoy watching this chemistry experiment! Combine a 12 oz bag of cranberries with 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice, 1 tsp grated orange zest, a cinnamon stick, couple of cloves (optional) and 2/3 to 3/4 cup of sugar. Lightly boil on medium heat, stirring until berries pop. Continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how much texture you like in your cranberry sauce. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. When it comes to some things, I believe nuts (especially pecans), can make cranberry sauce even better, Remove sauce from heat and add dried cranberries and/or pecans if desired. Chill until congealed. This can be held in the refrigerator for up to a week or more.
Do you make dressing or stuffing? In our family we like cornbread oyster dressing with the turkey. You can make the cornbread for your dressing today and refrigerate it until Thursday, when you can add the rest of the ingredients to make the dressing. This is one of those recipes, like French Toast, in which old bread is a good thing! Just know this cornbread should be savory and made with a recipe that does not include sugar or any other sweetener. Oysters make all the difference, and this year I’m getting my oysters from The Northeast Oyster CSA, so they’ll be super fresh and flavorful, and I’ll be supporting local farmers at the same time!!
Southern Cornbread and Oyster Dressing
As far back as I know, my paternal great grandmother, Alpha Kate, from Lowndes County, Alabama started the family tradition of making Cornbread and Oyster dressing for Thanksgiving. No one ever got the exact family recipe down in writing, but my mother and I have tinkered with several recipes to create a version that gets rave reviews. In the South, we call this side dish “dressing” instead of “stuffing,” because it’s a southern tradition to cook it outside of the turkey, allowing the turkey to cook more evenly and reducing the risk of bacteria from undercooked meat and animal by-products.. Dressing is typically a little richer than stuffing, from more eggs, cream and butter, and gets a nice crispy crust on top.
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of butter
4 cups of crumbled cornbread (older is better)
4 cups of Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned Classic Stuffing
2 cups of chopped onion
2 cups of chopped celery
1/2 cup of minced fresh parsley (2 tsp of dried parsley)
1 tbsp of fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper (more if desired)
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of chicken broth
1 cup of turkey drippings
2 dozen (or 2 pints) of shucked oysters with their liquid
Mix crumbled cornbread, Pepperidge Farm Stuffing, onion, celery, parsley, sage, thyme (optional), salt and pepper. Add eggs, cream, chicken broth, oysters with their liquid and melted butter. Mix lightly and set aside until the turkey is done (or refrigerate overnight, if made in advance). Before baking the dressing, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 inch dish. Melt 12 tablespoons of butter and set aside. Bring pre-made dressing mixture to room temperature and mix in turkey drippings after the turkey is done. Pour the dressing into the buttered baking dish and cook for 45 minutes to an hour or until it is firm and brown on top.
“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”
Today is also a good day to shop for wines. There are a variety of rich and bold flavors on the Thanksgiving table, so it can be a little daunting to choose wines that won’t compete with the food. This year my Thanksgiving wine picks are three classics – Champagne, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. More specifically, I’ll be serving the JCB Gala Rosé Champagne, JCB No. 81 Chardonnay and JCB No. 3 Pinot Noir (a rare Franco-American blend).
That’s it for now. Have a great week everybody and try to enjoy the process of getting ready for Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃 🍁 🍽
“The most beautiful way to start and end the day is with a grateful heart.”