As of Tuesday, December 8, 2015
“What are the ten most common foods served at Thanksgiving?” My son-in-law had learned the answers to this query after listening to the news, and now posed the question to us. We guessed the first nine correctly — turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, rolls, pumpkin pie, green beans, and glazed carrots. The tenth stumped us. We guessed wrong with yams, salad and peas. Finally, he revealed the mystery dish — winter squash. Back at their home, we checked our menu to see if we were common or unique. Our feast lacked rolls; our carrots, pulled that morning from the garden soil, were raw; and the pumpkin dessert looked more like a runny cheesecake than a pie. But we nailed it on everything else — including the beans. Not just green beans, but Green Bean Casserole, made with that all-American ingredient cream of mushroom soup.
This Thanksgiving was my first time assisting in the production of GBC. I didn’t know that French-cut canned green beans were the legume of choice, having assumed the casserole was made with fresh beans. I didn’t know it was essential to pour in some of the canned bean water before stirring the beans and soup mix together. I did know about the garnish of packaged fried onions, and sneaked a few before we shook them on top. I didn’t know something that looked so awful could taste so delicious — but it did. After eating it, though, I gave thanks that I didn’t have to have my blood tested for sodium. I’m sure I would have failed.
I was in a restaurant sharing my story about Green Bean Casserole to friends, when the owner of the business stopped at our table. She had overheard my story, and wanted to share a story about her Thanksgiving feast this year. It was typical — turkey, vegetables, dressing, etc., except for one item. A relative had asked if she could bring a salad. The restaurant owner was delighted by the generous offer. As the guests carried their prepared dishes into the house, the woman asked her relative what kind of salad she had made. The girl answered, “Snickers Salad.” Apples, bananas, cut up Snickers bars and Cool Whip were its only ingredients. Needless to say, there was a lot of leftover “salad” when the meal was over.
The rest of our Thanksgiving leftovers are but a delicious memory. The turkey carcass is in the freezer, waiting to be roasted once again and turned into delectable broth. In the meantime, we’re moving on to our next culinary project, gingerbread houses.
I initiated the ritual of gingerbread house construction the year I moved to Oregon. As a present to my brother and sister-in-law, I fashioned a cookie house to resemble their home, which they had lovingly designed and built mostly by themselves. A decade later I began sharing the tradition with my daughter. We baked a neighborhood of walls and roofs, purchased a mountain of candy, mixed frosting as stiff as spackle, and invited her young friends over to build candy-covered miniature houses.
Those little girls are now grown women. For many years the house templates have stayed hidden in the drawer and the molasses has remained capped. This year the gingerbread house tradition is being rekindled; our invited guests are my daughter’s boss and her 4-year old son. I’m excited — it’s been too long since we’ve made these cookie structures that look good enough to eat, but are anything but edible.
When the houses are done, I’ll move on to my favorite holiday project — baking cookies. I love to bake throughout the year, but during the holidays I set aside the common recipes and pull out the special ones — scrumptious buttery morsels flavored with nuts, dried fruits, aromatic spices and special chocolate. For 14 years, I’ve kept written records of the featured holiday cookies. Mocha Toffee Cashew bars appear in nearly every annual list. There’s almost always a batch of butter cookies seasoned with intensely flavored Vietnamese cinnamon, as well as treats made with local cherries, lovingly pitted and dried on a hot summer day in the past. Notes are scribbled in the margins. The Swedish Ginger Thins were “too sticky to roll out — made balls and smashed them with a glass.” Cranberry Caramel Bars were “Very gooey.” Apricot Butter Spirals get two stars. 2009 has one entry: “No cookies — H1N1 Flu.”
I’m thinking of making Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark Treats again this year. They’re thinner, more sophisticated versions of a Snickers Bar, made with dark chocolate and gourmet peanuts. I promise, though, to only serve them as a sweet after-dinner treat. Chocolate, peanuts, and heavy cream should never, ever, grace the walls of a salad bowl. Leave that job to garlic, olive oil, vinegar and fresh greens.