I love Thanksgiving.
It is probably my favorite holiday after Christmas and Halloween. For me, there’s nothing like the smell of turkey cooking in the oven and gizzards cooking on the stove filling up the house. When the kids lived at home, every Thanksgiving morning was spent running between the kitchen and the living room — cook a little, watch the parade a little, repeat often — while one or the other of them would come in and help me for a few minutes before running off to play with video games or Transformers.
The fact that we spend between six and eight hours making a dinner that will be finished in a little over 30 minutes should never be a consideration, right?
For as long as I can remember, there have been the same recipes at our family Thanksgivings. First, it’s the Big 4 — turkey, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes — but then there’s always green beans and sweet potatoes on the table. The obligatory Sister Schubert’s rolls and pies (pumpkin and pecan, thank you very much) round out the meal with flair.
Then again, Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s house was a big affair. We’d have sometimes up to 20 people from four or five different families all gathered around three or four tables. Food lined every available counter for a buffet feast, and the dishes we were serving our kids were the same ones we ate when we were kids ourselves.
Nowadays, my boys get some say in what we eat for Thanksgiving. Each of them, and their dates if they have them, gets to pick one side dish. So, in addition to the Big 4, there will be up to four more dishes … if I don’t get a wild hair and decided to add something else as well. Sometimes, they even come and help me cook it.
Mostly, the boys pick macaroni pie (our version of macaroni and cheese), corn pudding, sweet and sour green beans and bourbon praline sweet potato casserole. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve introduced those dishes to.
A lot of families I know have one specific dish every Thanksgiving, and that dish is no longer on our table. Not because we don’t like it, but because of a misunderstanding.
When my ex and I were first dating, I lived in downtown Cincinnati right across from Music Hall. It was a great little apartment — two stories with a living room, kitchen and dining room downstairs, and a single bedroom and bathroom upstairs. With hardwood floors, built-in book cases and a coal-burning fireplace, it was the perfect urban single working girl home.
Naturally, I wanted to have people over and show off my cooking skills, so my ex and I decided to have a Friendsgiving the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Everyone was supposed to bring a dish from their family Thanksgiving, while I cooked the Big 4. Worried that our friends would show up empty handed, I decided to add another dish or two, just to make sure everybody had enough.
So, like just about every other household in America, I decided to add green bean casserole and one of those cranberry Jell-o salad things. I mean, that’s what everyone has, right?
An hour or two before everyone is supposed to show up, my ex comes over to help me. He takes one look at the table and says, “Oh my gosh, did you call my mom?”
Of course, I was a little confused. He was holding the green bean casserole and looking at me like I’d created some sort of gourmet delicacy rarely seen outside the deep dark jungles of Borneo. I was really confused by now because it was just green bean casserole — you know, the one with cream of mushroom soup and fried onions? I couldn’t figure out why that would be special.
I said, “No. Why?”
With every bit of earnestness, he looked at me and said, “How else did you get her secret recipe?”
When I told him it was published in every women’s magazine in the country from October through January, he looked confused. And, when I showed him the recipe on the back of the fried onions can, he looked deflated. He honestly thought that green bean casserole was his mom’s secret recipe.
From that day on, we called it green bean disillusionment casserole … and we never had it for Thanksgiving again.
1 1-pound box macaroni
½ cup butter (one stick)
salt and pepper
1 can evaporated milk
3 cups grated cheddar cheese, plus more for top if needed
Boil macaroni, until cooked al dente. Drain. In large bowl, season macaroni with butter, salt and pepper — enough that it tastes good. In a large casserole dish (13 x 9), layer half of the macaroni. Cover macaroni with 1 ½ cups shredded cheese. Repeat. In a separate bowl, combine evaporated milk and eggs. Pour egg mixture over macaroni. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake macaroni for 20 minutes. Stir to combine well. Add more cheese to the top, if necessary. Bake for another 20-25 minutes until crispy and golden on top. Serves 6-8.
2 cups canned or fresh corn
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ¾ cups milk
Blend butter, sugar, flour and salt together. Add eggs, beating well. Stir in corn and milk. Pour ingredients into a buttered casserole dish and bake for 45 minutes in a 325 degree oven. Stir well halfway through cooking. When done, the pudding will be golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the center will come out clean. Serves 6-8.
(Mixture can be prepared ahead of baking and kept in a jar in the refrigerator. Shake well and pour into baking dish.)