There are a lot of great holidays. Christmas is an entire season now, complete with parties and presents and a sanctioned reason to drink eggnog. The Fourth of July is not only a celebration of freedom, liberty, yada, yada, but it is (usually) a really great long weekend at the peak of summer! Memorial Day is a bit somber, but it kicks off the summer with such great promise and hope. Never mind that your grand summer plans are going to end with you sweating your tits off in a blistering hot apartment somewhere drinking cheap White Zinfandel…in the last week of May, you’re kicking off the Summer of [Insert Name Here}!
For me, though, the best holiday is Thanksgiving. First, it is a four and a half day weekend, and that alone is worthy of holding the top spot in the holiday pantheon. But it is also a wonderful, family-centric day with much of the fun and none of the stresses of Christmas. For someone who never had much of a functioning family growing up, Thanksgiving stands for all of the things that I really wished for as a kid that I never got (that statement is a bald-faced lie…what I really wanted was an awesome haul at Christmas).
Thanksgiving is really the quintessentially American holiday. We appropriated most of it from Native Americans who saved their new white friends from starvation, only to die when the white people sneezed on them without covering their noses after dinner. The day is devoted to two things that Americans do better than anyone in the world: eating to excess and watching (American) football. Is there anything that speaks to America’s abundance more than having a national holiday devoted to eating and watching TV? It’s as if Norman Rockwell couldn’t capture Americana in a painting, so he invented a holiday instead.
Since this is my favorite holiday, and since so much of it revolves around food, I thought I would help you plan your holiday dinner. Hopefully, this will help you avoid the rookie mistakes that we sometimes make because we haven’t had a Thanksgiving dinner in a full year, and we are a little rusty. I’ve picked ten popular foods and ranked them. Frankly, you shouldn’t put anything on your plate outside of the top four on this list, but if you do, at least you will have a guide to help you allocate space as effectively as possible.
Also important to keep in mind: your opinions may differ. Another way of saying that is that “you may be wrong.” This list is non-negotiable, and it cannot be disputed. It’s science, people. This is as strong as the laws of physics, and we all know that you can’t argue with physics.
One note, I am leaving gravy off of this list. Why? Because, just as our Founding Fathers found certain truths to be self-evident, so do I find the case for gravy so obvious as to not require stating. Including gravy in your Thanksgiving meal is no more a choice than including oxygen: sure you could skip it, but the result would be an excruciating death by suffocation (or something similar).
Let’s get started!
10. Cranberry Sauce – “Myles! Cast ye eyes on hither swampland. It is awash in sour-tasting rock fruits…let us show our thanks to the natives by making that fish food into a grotesque, jellied bowl of slop!” – John Carver. (Source: William Bradford, probably.)
This is the worst Thanksgiving food, and there is not really even a close second place. This may as well be 14th on a list of 10. It serves no purpose other than adding a little color to the table, a role that could just as easily be filled by decorative plastic cranberries. Actually, the plastic ones would probably taste better.
How do you even eat cranberry sauce? Do you just scoop it up with a spoon like some bizarre rancid jello, or is it supposed to be spread on something else? If a food can’t even figure out whether it is a side dish or a topping, it needs to revisit its purpose on the table.
9. Vegetables (non-buttered or cheesed category) – Like Cranberry sauce, we put these on the table only because we were indoctrinated by our liberal elite third-grade teachers to eat a “balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat.” Well, hold onto your hats people, because I am blowing the lid off of another progressive conspiracy. That’s right, I am the Alex Jones of Thanksgiving, and I am laying it on your truth-style: vegetables are just there because Obama wants to fill your stomach with terrible communist food so you don’t have room for more pie!
My husband’s aunt once excitedly announced that she was bringing glazed carrots to Thanksgiving, as if anyone higher on the food chain than a rabbit would eat such filth. She’s lucky that I like her because someone with less goodwill would have gotten uninvited for that stunt.
8. Vegetables (buttered or cheesed) – I’m a pretty understanding gal, and I recognize that some people have bizarre and offensive dietary habits that I can’t really grasp. Like, for example, vegetarians. If you want to claim moral superiority by depriving yourself of delicious meats, more power to you. And if you want to go ahead and try to fool yourself into thinking that these vile weeds taste “good,” you are more than welcome. But, please, make your ruse seem at least moderately plausible and have the decency to drown them in cheese or butter. Nobody wants to eat cauliflower or squash or broccoli or carrots without some kind of delicious, animal-based fatty and creamy assistance.
7. Potatoes, Sweet – I know that I am kind of on a limb here, but I don’t love sweet potatoes. I don’t dislike them like I do the items above, but there is something about the texture and dessert-like sweetness combination that seems a little off to me. They get a lot better when covered with marshmallows and mixed with brown sugar, but to be perfectly honest, tree bark tastes pretty good with enough marshmallows and brown sugar. There is one bonus to sweet potatoes that keeps them above the 8th (read: inedible) spot on the list…they can be made into a dessert that still qualifies as a vegetable. That has to count for something.
6. Cornbread – Meh. We’re safely into the section of dinner that is just about filling up the plate at this point. There is nothing specifically wrong with cornbread, but there isn’t a whole lot right about it either (other than being acceptable as breakfast food.) It often requires copious amounts of butter to be at its best, and it doesn’t sop up gravy as well as less grainy bread would.
I think that part of my issue with cornbread is that, while it may have originated elsewhere, it thrives most beautifully when it is alongside heaping portions of Southern barbecue. It’s so good with southern food that it now seems out of place anywhere else now. It is the kudzu of baked goods.
5. Pies, non-Apple – There’s a huge variety of fruit, vegetable and nut pies, all of which are perfectly fine, and on certain occasions (read: NOT Thanksgiving) are at least the equal of apple pie. In fact, other than not being apple pie, I can’t really say anything bad about most of these pies. But let’s be perfectly clear here, no one ever used the phrase “It’s as American as baseball and strawberry-rhubarb pie.”
I like most fruit pies, and I don’t like vegetable or nut pies nearly as much. Pumpkin, rhubarb, sweet potato...meh, I could do without all of them. You know who likes pumpkin pie more than apple pie? Terrible people that probably also watch The Real Housewives and wear cargo shorts. I go back and forth on pecan pie, which should more accurately be called “bowl of sugar,” but I am keeping it here partially to troll the Southerners that hang out in these parts. Y’all get pretty nuts about your pies (am I talking to all of you, or just one? YOU’LL NEVER KNOW!!!).
4. Mashed Potatoes – OK, now we are in business. We first passed the inedible portion of the list, and we’ve now worked through the plate-fillers as well. At least 97% of the non-booze portion of Thanksgiving dinner is covered by the things from here onwards, and you can build an exquisite meal with only those items.
With mashed potatoes, we have kicked off the holy trinity of Thanksgiving dinner, the three musketeers that (combined with apple pie) make Thanksgiving dinner so great. The beauty of mashed potatoes is that they are so incredibly versatile. You want to roll with straight butter potatoes, hot milk, salt and pepper? BOOM! You can do that. You want to melt some smoked Gouda in there? You can do that too! How about bacon, cheddar cheese and scallions? I probably wouldn’t recommend that for Thanksgiving, but for any other day, it’s a meal on its own! Maybe you want red potatoes, with some rosemary and thyme…the possibilities are nearly endless! Also, I am getting really hungry.
Mashed potatoes are a vessel for so many things – gravy, butter, bacon, garlic – but all of those add-ons are not even necessary. The vessel is near perfect on its own, and if you know what is good for you, you’ll leave a big piece of your plate open for them next Thursday.
3. Turkey – The workhorse of the Thanksgiving meal, the turkey is the traditional star of the show and the centerpiece of the table and the plate. Is it less flavorful than, say, a rib roast? Sure, but it works better in this situation. We can’t have the meat part of this meal leaking as much juice as roast would, and we can’t have it overpowering the potatoes and the stuffing. Thanksgiving is best when it is in balance, and the light, earthy flavors of a perfectly cooked turkey are a big part of that.
Turkey is tricky, though. Of the key parts of the dinner, it is the easiest one to screw up, usually by overcooking. Or, I supposed by undercooking, although that would go a long way towards counteracting all of these calories…
A perfectly cooked turkey, though, with its crisped brown skin and a mix of juicy (I’ll skip the M-word out of deference to the 2/3 of the population that can’t stand it) white and dark meat is a thing of Thanksgiving beauty.
2. Pies, Apple – I’m a dessert girl. Anyone who knows me at all is aware of this. I may weigh something in the vicinity of 98 pounds, but you are unlikely to find a grown woman who enjoys junk food as much as I love junk food. And high on that list is pie! But not shitty pies like the vegetable ones we mentioned in #5, but the real thing. And on Thanksgiving, that means apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
Thanksgiving is about America, and America is as American as Apple Pie, dammit! Stop messing with the classics and just accept that it is already perfect.
1. Stuffing – Whether you want to call it dressing or stuffing, the king of Thanksgiving dinner is the stuffing. It doesn’t even matter what kind…cornbread as stuffing rockets up to #1 on the list. Potato stuffing is delicious. Stuffing with meat or without meat…it’s all great! There is no bad stuffing!!!
It is allegedly a side dish, but I think we all know better than that. Big Turkey has managed to run their marketing scam long enough for the Mainstream Media to call Turkey the centerpiece, but those of us who aren’t cowed by the elites know the truth. It’s all about the stuffing.
Stuffing is light and fluffy, and it tastes like all of its herbs and spices, but it also tastes like the turkey (provided of course that you cooked it inside the turkey and not in a dish by itself like a child molester would.) My mother-in-law, who was one of my very favorite people, made a sausage stuffing that was so incredibly good that I used to ask her to make extras so that I could eat stuffing sandwiches afterward. That’s bread, bread and bread, and it’s delicious.
It’s not entirely clear whether this is the specific reason that she was one of my favorite people, or if the two are unrelated. To get off topic briefly, I’ve been hearing horror stories about in-laws this week, which just reminds me how lucky I am to have married into a family that is an absolute dream for an in-law. My mother-in -law died four years ago, and I miss her almost daily, substantially more than I ever missed my own mother. I adore my father-in-law, my husband’s twin sister and her wife are two of my very best friends, and I never have a bad moment with his older brother and sister and their families, either. For a girl that never had much family worth having, I’m extraordinarily lucky to have married the one I did. And for that, I am very thankful.
That ties me back into the whole point of Thanksgiving. This is a somewhat light-hearted look at the food that we associate with Thanksgiving, but the holiday isn’t really about food and football. It is about being around your family or friends and taking stock of all of the wonderful things in your life. It gets easy for us to harp on challenges and ignore all of the things that make our lives so fulfilling on a daily basis, and Thanksgiving is a good time to stop and reflect on that before the holiday season kicks in for real.
So, when you sit down on Thursday and dig into the meal that you apportion exactly as I have prescribed here, I hope you can remember to think about most of the things in your life that you enjoy and ignore the annoying parts for a day. And, enjoy the pie!!!
Happy Thanksgiving from AFB and all the Misfits!!!
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.