We had, or at least we aimed for, a modest Thanksgiving feast. “Modest,” like most terms, is relative. In our case, that meant scaling back to an absurd overabundance of food, instead of the usual preposterous superabundance. The Thanksgiving menu is a hard one to narrow, if you are fortunate enough to be only meaningfully limited by the number of waking hours you are willing to stand in the kitchen. As the holiday nears, I bookmark this recipe and pin that one, thinking of branching out here or there, but the fact remains that there are absolute non-negotiables on the menu, so you can’t really kick up your heels without edging into superfluous territory. You may not, for instance, replace the regular mashed potato with some alternate rendition. You may supply an additional starch, yes. But if you fail to provide the basics, be prepared to hear about it.
Our modest goals this year were informed by many relativities (as is always the case with relatives), and one absolute, this being the first Thanksgiving since my oldest sister died. There turns out to be good reasoning behind the step-up in follow-up on the part of the Hospice team during the holiday season. A friend who recently lost his dad called over the weekend, entirely confused as to why–since he had applied his prodigious thinking abilities to understanding all the factors that might influence how he felt about heading home for a holiday to a childhood home that was now minus his father–he still felt so terribly, paralyzingly sad once he got there. “But I understand all that!” he railed as we talked it through. “I knew that! So why am I still so sad?”
I think it is probably a lot easier to be a muskrat or a lemur than a human. We have the thumbs and the metacognition and all the appliances and gadgets to use them on, sure, but we always forget to remember the limits of the thinking process. Can’t go over it, can’t go under it–Oh, no! Got to go through it! We forget to stay still when we are tired, to eat when we are hungry, and we ignore all manner of other useful elements of a self-care plan that instinct could dictate for us.
At the eleventh pre-Thanksgiving hour here at our house, I unearthed two pounds of pearl onions in the fridge, and recalled that it was my husband’s attachment to their presence on the table that had prompted me to buy them. Buried as they were in storage by kale and leeks and so forth, they had not made it onto any of the lists tacked up in the kitchen, and I was loathe to get very many pots dirty preparing them. For reasons of time and other limitations, I wanted something very simple. I steered clear of the internet looking for inspiration (no chorizo, sriracha or slow-smoking was of interest), and was on my way to Bert Greene to see what he had to say. You can generally prepare for what he has to say by buying a pound of butter, a pint of cream and some ham, so he is not an everyday muse but a wise man for the holidays. But en route I stopped over at Crag Claiborne and an old copy of the original New York Times Cookbook that my husband found for me at a tag sale. Mr. Claiborne wanted me to make a bechamel sauce, and that just wasn’t happening, but he also gave me this little insight:
I had been searching for days for a way to prevent weeping, and here it was all along!
It was the work of a few minutes to boil the little darlings in their peels, slit the ends and pop them into a baking dish. Taking a page from Mr. Greene, I napped them with cream. He loves to sluice and also to nap. I can be very, very soothed by just meditating for a moment on the phrase “nap with cream.” It sounds like an excellent way to spend the afternoon. I sprinkled on some very nice salt, a hearty grind of black pepper, and then. Well. You see, I have been given a little bottle of truffle oil. I learned once, the very hard way, that if you save and parse it for special occasions only, it goes bad and then you have wasted it. There is a really good lesson to be learned in there. So I sluiced away, freely, with the truffle oil. Truffle paste, which kindly people also sometimes give as presents, can suffer similar deterioration in storage and would work just as nicely, dotted around (meaning you will have a little less for your scrambled eggs, but that’s probably a worthy trade-off). Then a Bert Greene-style grating of aged gouda (any hard, dry, salty cheese, like parmesan, would do) sailed over the top, and what a lovely, simple thing began to come together:
I baked it about 35 minutes at 375, until it was golden and gorgeous, and all was well. Or well enough.
Even with all the other dishes vying for attention, these disappeared, dish scraped clean, in a matter of minutes. On a table not so laden with butter and other fats, I think they would be especially welcome. And they could not be much simpler to prepare, even to prepare ahead.
We sat together, and we ate, and we were as content as it was possible to be, in this manner making way–we can only hope–for more of the same. I hope your holiday was peaceful and abundant in all good things.