Like most Americans, I’ve had a food obsession for the past week. OK, I usually do, but this has been excessive, even for me. Though I haven’t been home to Louisiana for Thanksgiving in almost a decade, a part of me still feels the holiday Cajun feast like a phantom limb.
For me, the quintessential Thanksgiving dish was my grandfather’s oyster dressing (stuffing cooked outside of the bird for the yankees among you) made with the perfect balance of oysters and gizzards, so the first earthymeatybriney bite gave way to a more substantial base of rice and pork. I realize that description isn’t appetizing to most of you, but of the memories I have of my grandfather, watching him tend this all morning for his family is possibly my favorite. Knowing his time was short, I asked for the recipe the last time we had a holiday meal together and, if I wouldn’t have to take out a 2nd mortgage on the house to prepare the dressing with a pint of oysters (at NJ prices), I’d make it every year even if I had leftovers for a full week.
Then there’s Uncle Phil’s cornbread dressing, heavy with chicken and sage, and a meal in itself if you’re not careful. One of the cousins usually contributes a roastÃ¢â‚¬â€venison if it’s been a good hunting season, beef if it hasn’t. My grandmother cooks the turkey which isn’t even close to the focus of the meal, since she also makes a huge pot of seafood gumbo, a ginormous cooker of rice, creamed potatoes, and smothered green beans (cooked down with onions, potatoes and salt pork or bacon until they give up the ghost). And that’s just for starters. As I move down the kitchen counter in my mind, I can almost taste the restÃ¢â‚¬â€hot rolls, buttered corn, eggplant dressing, shrimp fettucine, pork roast (or garlic roast surrounded by pork, depending on your view of it), ham, turkey gravy, and pork gravy (because why should you have to choose between gravies?)Ã¢â‚¬â€and imagine the miniscule servings I’ll take of each so my plate doesn’t buckle. So it’s a full meal, even without the desserts which usually have a full room devoted to them.
But instead of going home, Gil and I will spend the day with friends at their annual Island of Misfit Toys dinner here in NJ. They host a Thanksgiving dinner for all of the strays in their lives that’s a little different than I’m used to, with Turkish, Italian, and standard American dishes in a happy jumble on the table. It isn’t my tradition, but I love forging a new one with this family of choice (which I figure, is exactly what the holiday is about)Ã¢â‚¬â€celebrating the good fortune of having friends, family, and wonderful food in abundance.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And eat a little pie for me, would you?