Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite holiday. There’s no gift buying or wrapping, little decorating except the table, and it’s all about the food and wine. I’ve cooked for two times twenty and I’ve cooked for two, loved both and everything in between.
This year, with distanced or small Thanksgivings on tap for many folks, it could be the time to pull out all of the stops for a dinner-party style meal complete with several small courses and wine pairings. What if you dig out grandma’s china and crystal, throw on a table cloth, light the candles, and go big? It’s not something easily possible when there are 15 of you including 2 toddlers who eat nothing, a newly-vegan teenager, and aging parents (low sodium, please), but it is doable and entertaining for four who might share the cooking. Yeah, so that’s one idea.
But maybe, just maybe this is the time to give yourself a break. Go the easy route. Grill a turkey breast, buy a pie and rolls at the bakery, and then throw one of my one-pan Thanksgiving sides into the oven so the house smells like total holiday. Instead of dinner taking 3 days to accomplish, it might take all of an hour or two — leaving the rest of the day for movies, music, cards, novels, or even football games if you must.
Wine? American wineries only, please. Easy answer: Gruet (NM) Sparkler for starters. Oregon Pinot Noir (I’d add Cristom and Ken Wright) and Washington State Riesling for the meal. There are even American port-style bottles for the dessert course if you’re still able to imbibe.
I find there’s nothing like a sheet pan to make dinner oh-so-simple. So here are two recipes that bring together traditional Thanksgiving food and flavors — think tender potatoes, crispy onions, buttery butternut squash, buxom Brussels sprouts, toothsome thyme, succulent sage, and fresh green beans — ok, i’m done! — that will gently remind you of meals-gone-by with none of the hassle, angst, or sweaty foreheads. Follow a vegan or vegetarian and/or gluten-free diet? I’m not sure this wouldn’t serve as a main dish following a small bowl of spicy pumpkin soup (use veg broth and skip cream) and accompanied by a wild rice and cranberry salad. Making a turkey breast or Cornish hens this year? Cook one of these dishes a day ahead, store in fridge well-covered, and reheat while your bird rests. Just add a bowl of cranberry sauce! However you’re dishing it up, try one of these:
garlicky roasted butternut squash, potatoes, and green beans
- 1 pound EACH peeled and trimmed butternut squash and unpeeled russet potatoes cut into 1 ½” – 2” pieces
- 2 medium red onions-peeled and cut into eighths
- 6 cloves garlic-peeled and left whole
- 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 ¼ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper, divided
- 12 small (6 large, torn) fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
- 1 lemon cut into fourths
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne or crushed red pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Toss squash, potatoes, red onions, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the salt, 1 teaspoon of the pepper, sage, rosemary, thyme, and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil together in a large bowl. Turn out onto a greased rimmed 1/2 sheet pan. Roast in oven for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the green beans, reserved tablespoon of olive oil, reserved ½ teaspoon salt, reserved ¼ teaspoon pepper, lemon wedges, and cayenne or crushed red pepper to the bowl and toss well.
- Remove sheet pan from oven, toss root vegetable mixture, and scatter the bean mixture evenly over the top of the root vegetables. Roast another 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are both all tender and crispy. Taste and re-season if necessary.
- Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
parmesan roasted butternut squash, brussels sprouts, and potatoes
- 1 pound EACH: unpeeled russet potatoes cut into 1 ½” pieces, peeled butternut squash (cut into 1 ½” pieces), and well-trimmed Brussels sprouts (cut in half if large)
- 2 medium red onions- peeled, and cut into 1/8’s
- 6 whole cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 teaspoons EACH: dry thyme and kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon EACH: dry rosemary, dry rubbed sage, and fresh ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – 3/4 ounce – added near end of roasting
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Set rack at center.
- In a very large bowl, toss together all ingredients except the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Turn out onto a greased rimmed ½ sheet pan and spread out evenly, arranging Brussels sprouts cut side down. Roast 30 minutes, tossing half-way through to ensure even cooking.
- After 30 minutes, remove pan from the oven, sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Return to oven to roast for another 10 minutes or until vegetables are both tender and crispy. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Rent/Watch “Home for the Holidays“ Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr. , Anne Bancroft, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Steve Guttenberg, Claire Danes, David Strathairn. 1995. Directed by Jodie Foster. After losing her job, making out with her soon to be ex-boss, and finding out that her daughter plans to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend, Claudia Larson (played by Holly Hunter) has to face spending the holiday with her family. She wonders if she can survive their crazy antics.
Rent/Watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, William Windom, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon, Dylan Baker, Carol Bruce, Olivia Burnette, Diana Douglas. 1987. Directed by John Hughes. Steve Martin and John Candy star in John Hughes’ classic tale of holiday travel gone awry. Neal Page (Martin) is an uptight advertising executive trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. When his flight is rerouted to Wichita, he reluctantly partners with Del Griffith (Candy), an obnoxious yet loveable salesman. Together, they embark on a cross-country adventure that includes various modes of transportation, hilarious mishaps, and unforgettable rental car shenanigans.
NOTE: They don’t crank out Thanksgiving movies every year, but the two above are oldies worth watching — maybe more than once.
It’s so easy to dream of the days gone by
So hard to think of the times to come
And the grace to accept every moment as a gift
Is a gift that is given to some
What can you do with your days
But work and hope
Let your dreams bind your work to your play
What can you do with each moment of your life
But love ’till you’ve loved it away
Love ’till you’ve loved it away. (refrain)
There are sorrows enough for the whole world’s end
There are no guarantees but the grave
But the lives we have lived and the times we have spent
Are a treasure too precious to say
(refrain repeats 2x)
With Covid-19 raging and the long election campaign over (Thanks, God), it’s time for giving thanks and coming together. I’m not quite sure how, but I’ve a sense that our 24-hour news cycle and politically-polarized radio stations have played a huge role over the last 4 years and longer. We don’t even listen to or watch the same things. But first: I’m focused on literal healing as we’re dying by the thousands.
I’m sending health and breath to you as you ponder about how to give thanks this year and dream of feasting,