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Mike Redmond Column

Please refer to the Mike Redmond Column main page for columns published in other issues.
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 Dishes Evoke Suspicion, Not Thanks

Thanksgiving is hanging out there on the calendar as it always does, presenting a problem for which I have long labored - unsuccessfully - to find a solution:

How do you put together a dinner that sticks to tradition and brings something new to the party? How do you satisfy the demands of the people who must have the same foods on the table year after year, preferably in the same dishes and in the same locations on the table, while branching out into unexplored culinary territory? How do you shake things up a bit without causing a family ruckus?

This is the sort of thing that keeps me up nights. Now, I know what’s going through your minds. "Don’t be such a wuss," you’re saying. "Just add a couple of new dishes to the traditional ones, and before long they’ll be part of Thanksgiving for generations of your family."

You don’t know my family. We’re not picky eaters - well, most of us aren’t - but we are opinionated ones, with long memories. A single culinary miscalculation could live forever in family lore as "That Time Mike Tried To Get Us To Eat Something Horrible At Thanksgiving."

You think I’m kidding? I have a sister (who shall remain unnamed) who is still trying to live down the time she tried to substitute Mormon Funeral Potatoes (a sort of frozen-hash-brown casserole with cornflakes - yes, cornflakes - on the top) for the regular mashed variety. Bad idea. For one thing, we’re not Mormons. For another, it wasn’t a funeral. For another, they were - no offense to my LDS friends -- just horrible. But the point is, that was 1979 and people still talk about it every Thanksgiving.

She’s not alone. I’ve made this sort of miscalculation, too. One year in the 1980s I was in charge of the dressing, and just for kicks added toasted pecans to the bread cubes, celery and onion. Now my brother P.D. (who shall not remain nameless, because he threw such a fit, the big baby) pokes through the dressing every year just to make sure I didn’t sneak any nuts in there.

I can understand it, up to a point. The traditional Thanksgiving menu seems to be hard-wired into us. I’ve talked to people of all descriptions about this, and what strikes me is how, aside for a few cultural embellishments and the occasional vegan, the foundation of all the meals is the same: Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing or stuffing, and cranberry sauce. And people are adamant that they must remain that way.

Understand that I’m not talking revolution here. I’m in no way interested to mess with the classic Thanksgiving dinner by substituting guinea hen for the turkey, or funeral potatoes for the real ones. I’d just like to try a few new side dishes, that’s all.

But our table is already crowded to the limit, so to do that would take space from someone else’s favorite. I nominate the green gelatin salad, another Mormon favorite. What is it with my family and all this Mormon food?

Anyway, my brother insists on having the stuff every year, so a new side dish would have to be so spectacular that the rest of the family loves it and drowns out his whining and complaining.

So far, I haven’t found such a dish. But I’ll keep looking, because I think Thanksgiving is worth it. Someday I’ll find it, too - a dish that knocks the socks off everyone. They’ll talk about for years because it was so good. And for that I will be truly thankful.




© 2007 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.