Thanksgiving: my favorite holiday
In my invitation, this is how I described Thanksgiving to my Israeli friends:
For those not especially familiar, Thanksgiving is a secular American holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. We take a moment out of our lives and give thanks for all we have – and eat massive amounts of American food (hope you like green bean casserole and pumpkin-marshmallow bake). In theory, we mark the date of the “first Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims shared with the Indians in Massachusetts in 1621 after having survived the first difficult year in the New World. For a good overview of the history of Thanksgiving see: http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/a/thanksgiving.htm. It’s like Passover, but for everyone and anyone. I think it should be an international holiday.
They don’t quite get it, but it’s still important for me to do. As for the meal, I never cease to be amazed at how disgusted everyday Israelis are of pumpkin pie. I basically made a quintuple recipe – two double-stuff pies (one pictured above) and 2 dozen pie-cupcakes. Three-quarters of one pie got eaten, along with a small handful of mini-pies. Half of our twenty or so guests were American, so you can see how little and unadventurous the palates were. The apple pie went over a bit better – the prettiest apple pie I’ve ever made, actually – and most people don’t seem to know it’s easy to make. Well, almost all pies are easy, depending on the filling. Just mix up whatever you want to cook and pour into the crust. Apple pie, being made entirely of apple, is usually just made up of apple slices, a bit of sugar, and cinnamon. Pumpkin pie, so easy to make in the US with canned pumpkin, is infinitely more difficult when you have to go out and buy your own pumpkin, core it, cut off the rind, boil large chunks, and then press and blend the cooked meat – all before mixing in the actual pie ingredients. I will use the word homemade here quite frequently, because it truly was – nothing canned.
Surprisingly enough, my homemade sweet potato marshmallow casserole was a big hit, although they did not understand why it wasn’t in the dessert category. I suppose nobody can say no to a dish covered in marshmallows. The child in us all simply jumps out of our skins. My family’s recipe calls for the sweet potato mash to be mixed with a large can of pineapple chunks (syrup removed first) and sprinkled heavily with cinnamon, before being topped by our preservative-packed confection.
The turkey was divine! Again, Israelis are stunned and impressed at the buying and cooking of a whole turkey. Now, Israelis, you must understand, eat a lot of turkey. More than most countries. But the form it takes is almost exclusively in cold cuts and schwarma, if you can believe it. Even huge cuts of meat for roasting are pretty rare. I’ve never seen a roast in Israel. The closest is goulash with big chunks of meat. So you can imagine the oddity of a whole bird. I brined mine for about 15 hours (it was about a 16-17 pound bird) in homemade brine I improvised around an Alton Brown recipe. My brine-broth contained crystallized ginger among other exotic things. If you’ve never brined a bird – DO – it makes a huge difference in the juiciness, tenderness, and intensity of flavor. Of course butter helps enormously too, and herbs under the skin along with it. The stuffing was as usual Martha Stewart’s chestnut stuffing, a recipe my sister and I have favored for years. Lots of butter, sage, cups and cups of chopped chestnut, and high quality bread. I’m still eating the leftovers quite happily.
In any case, in any case. Thanksgiving was a hit at our home – my sister and I are very proud of 2011’s feast.