EDITOR’S NOTE: Republished from Thanksgiving 2014. Bone appetite, folks.
I am going to change your life in the next 869 words. It’s starts with this touchstone: Thanksgiving dinner sucks.
It doesn’t have to. Despite what people in NYC think, Colorado is the nouveau nexus of the foodie world. Now of course New Yorkers will spit up their dishwater-coffee when you say that. New York, however, is a city that gets all noisy about how to pronounce “How-stun” Street, retelling it like your great-uncle works into untold conversations the time he rode an elevator with Kay Ballard. New Yorkers brag about commuting in underground cattle-cars that reek of urine. They think Sam Adams makes the best beer on the planet. It’s best to humor them, lest they all move here.
But we know better. Colorado knows that things like tomatoes, peppers and peaches love heat and sun. They hate humidity, rainy summers and smog. Cattle and sheep that eat grass without having to wander all over Texas to find some produce a far superior steak and roast than cows force-fed corn and hormones in a muddy pen full of dung. And when it comes to adding skill to better ingredients, chefs in Colorado have broken away from a food world focused on theatrics because they’ve grown bored with flavor and texture. And that brings us back to Thanksgiving dinner, which sucks.
Let’s start with the main course: Turkey. Anything that is “better” when you soak it in saltwater, cover it in bacon, drown it in butter, baste it with broth and cram it full of herbs, just in hopes of having it taste less bland, dry and tough than the sponge it really is, does not deserve the starring role in your annual, “Night Before Christmas Shopping Eve” soirée. Most historians agree that earlier Thanksgiving dinners were dominated by venison, corn and goose. Turkey came later because it was a plentiful, cheap bird that lived in the wild in most parts of the country. But that familiar fowl is no more like the Volkswagon sized bowling balls in you grocer’s freezer than a tea-cup poodle is to a wolf. You have to do creepy things to modern turkeys in your kitchen sink that would get you arrested in some states. The only thing that can cook a behemoth like that — and keep your family from missing out on Black Friday cheap-flat-screen-TV fights at Wal-Mart because they were indisposed by a wee bit of stubborn entrail bacteria — is heat and time. And what makes farm-raised turkeys taste like carpeting? Heat and time. There you have it.
But even if you get a reasonably sized bird and deep-fry it, or even if you sort of like dry, tasteless, chewy meat, the rest of the dinner is equally a disaster.
Green bean casserole? Please don’t inflict this on people. If your friends say they love it, they’re lying. Green beans are almost interesting when they’re picked very young and immediately blanched for just seconds and teased with a little butter and salt. But canned or frozen so that what little flavor they once had is then masked with canned soups, salt, sour cream, salt, those nasty, greasy fried onion things, salt, nuts, canned chow mein noodles (a felonious assault on your palate all by itself) salt, breadcrumbs and a little more salt? That’s not food, dude. Your family eats it to mop the taste of the floury, internal-organ gravy out of their mouths.
That brings me to this repeat offender: Jell-O salad. Any kind. All kinds. Gelatin is the meanest thing science ever did to humans. It is not the product of chefs and cooks, but the invention of a generation, an industry and a mentality that brought us DDT, Pine-Sol and the Atom Bomb. Granted, in the most skilled kitchens and with the greatest care, gelatin can be transmuted into the rare delectable aspic or souffle. But in the hands of your sister or cousin, armed with fat-free Cool Whip — whatever the hell that is — Miracle Whip, stale pecans, mercilessly canned peaches and pineapple that never did anything to anybody, cottage cheese, colored marshmallows, various boxes of instant pudding, and the most galling element of all, shredded carrots, well, let’s just say courts have stood in the way of punishments that aren’t so cruel.
To be fair, a couple of things that traditionally make it to the Thanksgiving table are worthy of the occasion: mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Even my brother, who loves Vienna sausages on saltine crackers and prefers Totino’s pizza over the best pies in Denver, cannot ruin mashed potatoes. I’m not talking about anything that comes from a box, can, tube or plastic container. Just russets or reds, boiled and befriended by some butter, salt, pepper and milk, make the whole world and Thanksgiving dinner a better place. If you’re talented and understand just how much horseradish, roasted garlic or even basil keeps from becoming a nuisance, then all the better. And for dessert, winter squash made into a sweet custard resting in a buttery crust is an autumn natural, that day or any other.
And that’s where I’m going to change your life. The solution to all of Thanksgiving dinner’s woes are revealed in the answer to these two easy questions: If Thanksgiving dinner is so fabulous, why is it we only suffer through it once a year? And on your birthday, on your anniversary, at graduation, on the night of your wedding, when your best friends in the whole world come over, is this what you would choose to eat?
I didn’t think so. So do yourself, your friends and your family a huge favor. Order tamales today. Call the butcher to get that prime rib. Eat those steaks you miss from this summer. Have pork tenderloin roasted in rosemary, pears and balsamic vinegar. Have a pancake dinner. Anything but that repugnant bird. Unless of course you really like it, and then you’re probably from New York City.
And off to shop for the stuff to make my famous cranberry-salsa-and-melted-ice-cream relish, I’m outta here.