We call it the Seven Minute Meal.
Weeks of anticipation. Extended conversations about flight arrangements, room preferences, menu demands and requests. Hours of preparation and cooking.
And it’s all scarfed down in less time than it takes to chop the celery.
There were times — many years, in fact — when I lamented the disparity between time done and time served. The Norman Rockwell painting of a family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner bore only a passing resemblance to my clan. Sure, we had the turkey, an abundance of side dishes, and a sideboard adorned with all manner of desserts. And yet, we are so not Rockwellian. We are loud, opinionated, and often inappropriate. (Well, maybe that’s just my son, David.)
So I repainted the canvas. And by shedding a vision of how things ought to be, I embraced the way things are. If this sounds like a new-age mantra, so be it. The actual dinner is but the final step in a long process — an ongoing celebration, if you will. It begins with anticipation and is followed by conversation. It culminates in preparation, and, yes, there is a meal at the end. But Thanksgiving, my thanksgiving, begins well before we sit down for the dinner.
This approach has proved useful to me with events both large and small. Inasmuch as most of our time is spent in contemplation or preparation, why not imbue that time with meaning? Find something, anything, to enliven the experience. Share the adventure with someone. Or, better yet, step out of your own bubble and lend a hand to folks in need.
Outcomes at Thanksgiving and in life are so often not in our control, but the process is. When we get so caught up in the end result, we lose sight of the actual moments of our lives. If we long for the grand finale, we don’t hear the songs that are playing right now. And what a shame that is!
So I try to find joy in the means to the end. I honor our quirky family traditions. We massage Dijon mustard all over the turkey to keep it moist and flavorful, and we always roast it in my grandmother’s blue oval pan. We never skimp on the mini marshmallows that top the mashed sweet potatoes. Every year we introduce a new vegetable side dish, and, sometimes, after much debate, it becomes part of the repertoire, such as the Brussels sprout and apple slaw, dotted with sweet raisins and dressed in a honey vinaigrette. Our table is incomplete without the cylindrical jellied cranberry sauce, plopped straight from the can, or the stuffing loaf, adored by some and reviled by others. And let’s not forget the desserts: apple-cranberry pie and pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars with brown butter icing, chocolate peanut butter tartlets, and toasted-coconut layer cake with mounds of vanilla frosting. Sometimes creamy rice pudding speckled with cinnamon is called for, too.
My canvas is splashy, with bright, brash colors and dark, richly hued tones. It will never be mistaken for a Norman Rockwell painting. But it has been painstakingly and lovingly drawn.
And who knows? When we sit down to eat, we might even make it to ten minutes this year.
This is a utilitarian, not very glamorous dish — an alternative for folks who don’t enjoy stuffing from the bird’s cavity.
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons poultry seasoning (or a combination of dried sage, thyme, and rosemary)
1 teaspoon salt (if using a salt-free poultry mix)
2 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
1 15-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained (or creamed corn)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (or pistachios, chopped)
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 cup milk
1 cup dried cranberries, optional (they give the loaf a kick)
2 tablespoons roasted sunflower seeds, optional
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a loaf pan. In a medium skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add onion and celery. Cook for five minutes, until vegetables are tender. Stir in seasoning. Remove from heat. Add bread cubes, corn, and nuts to onion mixture and stir to coat. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, and baking powder. Melt the remaining butter in a measuring cup. Add milk to butter. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the eggs to the milk and butter and pour into dry ingredients.
Stir until flour is absorbed. Mix in dried cranberries, if desired. Add onion mixture to cornbread batter. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle roasted sunflower seeds on the top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.