I want to know: Who decided that we should spend an entire month preparing for just one meal? That's what Thanksgiving is, after all. One big meal. An important one, yes, a meal full of tradition and joy and fellowship, but still just one meal. I count at least 89 more meals in November — what about them? There are a couple problems with this all-Thanksgiving-all-the-time stretch in November. The first problem is the most ironic: For all the talk of Thanksgiving recipes, we probably already know exactly what we're cooking that day. If there is one meal bound in a cast iron-clad fist of tradition, it's Thanksgiving. Give up Mom's rolls for something new? Grandma's sweet potatoes? No way! We might sneak in a slaw or a fresh dessert, but in many ways, Thanksgiving is the simplest meal of the year, with recipes we know nearly by heart. As Regina Schrambling put it in her funny and all-too-true 2008 grouchfest at Slate, Why food writers secretly hate the November feast, "We whip ourselves into a lather trying to make Thanksgiving trendy, but no one really wants to mess with the hoariest menu."The other problem is those 89 non-Thanksgiving meals. While I do enjoy planning the Thanksgiving feast, today and tomorrow's meals are more pressing. November is a time when the whirl of activity speeds up, from holiday planning to projects at work, and nourishing oneself is even more important as the days grow chill and busy. I am grateful for the fullness of life that November brings — the vibrant colors of autumn, the glorious foods in season: Brussels sprouts, bok choy, late eggplant, kale, Kabocha squash, tart apples and sweet potatoes are spilling into our laps.
So let's talk thanksgiving instead of Thanksgiving — thanksgiving for these foods, and for the daily pleasure of nourishing ourselves and our families, even in the midst of the pre-holiday whirl. We know that Thanksgiving itself will always be a hot topic, and we will bring you more help and details on throwing this big feast (I do admit that no matter how many times we do it it's still fun to talk about) but for now, let's put Thanksgiving gently back outside the door and look at nourishing ourselves today.
Here are a few meals and recipes that I am enjoying as the weather grows chillier. It helps to always have a pot of soup in the fridge, an easy meal to heat up and slurp after a long day at work. I have been making many batches of these simple whole wheat muffins — tasty and nourishing for the mornings. And I love the vegetables that are so abundant at the markets. Last Saturday I splurged greedily on Brussels sprouts, collard greens, Asian eggplant, tiny turnips and apples. These hearty vegetables are so simple; just a roasting pan and some salt are all you need.
And just to be clear: I'm no Thanksgiving grinch. I'm so happy planning my own feast right now. I just don't want to forget to enjoy the rest of this beautiful month. Here's my own pre-Thanksgiving menu; I'm thankful for every bite of it.
• Quick, Easy and Moist Whole Wheat Muffins - An old favorite in my house. These are tender and moist, and if you keep them well-wrapped they stay tasty all week. The whole wheat in them makes them a little heartier than your average muffin.
• Steel-Cut Oatmeal - Hearty and filling, made ahead of time and portioned out in jars for easy reheating throughout the week.
• Basic Oven Omelet - A simple dish of baked eggs with herbs or other mix-ins, quick to make and good for reheating.
• Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup (Ribollita) - This may be my personal favorite soup. I add a little bacon to the otherwise vegetarian recipe.
• French Onion Soup - This is another fall favorite in my house; it's so satisfying and delicious.
• Hot and Sour Mushroom, Cabbage, and Rice Soup - A cure for the common cold, and just about any other minor ailment.
• Collard Greens Stew with Chorizo and Garlic - We eat this with pasta, rice, polenta — whatever is around.
• Hashed Sprouts with Hazelnuts and Fried Capers - After simple roasting (and indulgent braising in cream) this is my favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts. They stand alone as a side dish, or you can put them over pasta.
• Creamy, Smoky Whipped Rutabaga - This rutabaga is just heavenly — an ode to one of fall's less appreciated treasures.
• Squash Braised in Cream - This is a good way to turn squash into a satisfying meal all by itself. It's rich and hearty, and even good for breakfast (plop a poached egg on top, or just eat dusted with cinnamon). You can also use it as another polenta topping.
What are you cooking and eating in these days before Thanksgiving? What foods are you most grateful for this time of year?
(Images: Faith Durand; Leela Cyd Ross; see linked recipes for full image credits)