For me, there is no better holiday – American or otherwise – that beats Thanksgiving. And it’s not even that close.
Fourth of July would be a distant second – summertime, day baseball, barbecues and of course patriotism, independence, freedom and all those great things that the day stands for. Christmas would be third – wintertime, families gathering around Christmas trees, the spirit of the holiday is tough to beat.
After that, I become incredibly nonchalant about holidays. Oh, New Year’s is great, as it is another time to reflect on our blessings and make promises to lose weight, but the event itself is little more than an excuse to gather and drink (nothing wrong with that, but if you need a designated day for it, then you’re doing something wrong). I can appreciate the fun of Halloween for kids, but it’s just another day for me now. And then there’s a whole batting order of secondary holidays after that.
But Thanksgiving is the mecca for me, because in its nature, it is about simplicity. It is not about giving gifts or extravagance. It’s a great home-cooked meal and enjoying time spent. And, hopefully, it’s about doing what we can to provide some of that for those who can’t provide it themselves.
So in honor of the greatest holiday there is, here are my top 10 favorite items of a Thanksgiving feast.
1. Pecan pie
It’s the oddest thing. I am not really a dessert person – I’ll never order it at a restaurant – and I rarely ever crave for something sweet. So I’m not really sure why pecan pie is the No. 1 thing on my Thanksgiving feast list. It could be the influence of spending time in the South for college. Or maybe it’s that since Thanksgiving and Christmas are probably the only days of the year I eat pie, it takes on this enhanced romance with my taste buds. I don’t know. Anyway, I like mine on the less gooey side and with a hot cup of coffee.
There are a million variations of stuffing, of course, once you get past the bread part. Some add celery. Some add onion. Some add chestnuts. Some add sage or other herbs. Whatever it is, there is something about warm gravy over mashed up bread (why does that sound kind of gross but taste so delicious?) that makes Thanksgiving.
This has to follow stuffing. It just does. Gravy can be overlooked when there are so many staple dishes on the table, but I can’t let that happen. You can put gravy on anything at Thanksgiving (and I do). It’s also part of the Thanksgiving Day-After Holy Trinity (stuffing, gravy and our next item). If I was a Carl’s Jr. executive, I even would have opted for gravy instead of soap and water in this Super Bowl ad. Major misfire by the burger suits.
The only reason turkey isn’t higher up is because there are many other sources of protein that are better. Turkey is a little boring, it just is. But it’s synonymous with the holiday, and I probably would feel odd if we didn’t have it, so we can’t let it drop below No. 4. And, to be fair to the bird, I do respect and appreciate its versatility, and it makes a great sandwich on Friday.
5. Mashed potatoes
The simple kind, with a little garlic. The only downside to mashed potatoes is that they are a lot of work – peeling and mashing enough potatoes to serve this dish for a large crowd can make your wrists and forearms cry for days. But this is not for us – it’s for the Pilgrims. Do it for them.
So, there is something in turkey that, after you gorge for hours on endless amounts of food, forces you to pass out on the couch amid the hum of late-afternoon football and induces the best two-hour, drool-on-your-pillow nap you’ve ever had. I mean, what a beautiful substance! Is it possible to get this in powder form for post-workout protein shakes? What BALCO lab do I need to consult to place my order?
7. Homemade bread
Especially the kind my Papou (that’s grandfather in Greek) has been making for decades. Also:
STAR-CHY CARBS! STAR-CHY CARBS! STAR-CHY CARBS!
8. Assorted appetizers
This is the Thanksgiving box of chocolates. My family seems to “experiment” with something every year, which, you surely know, isn’t always the most inspiring word when it comes from the kitchen. This year, my sister is making bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with feta cheese. I believe in her (I think).
9. Pumpkin pie
I would feel wrong and anti-Pilgrim if I didn’t include this.
I would feel guilty and pro-bypass surgery if I didn’t include this.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody.
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