’Tis finally almost the season. I wandered into the grocery store yesterday, hunting and gathering some cheap white wine for dinner, when I realized that my casual consumering was probably slowing down the serious shoppers. This was a Wednesday, a full 15 days before Thanksgiving, and there was full bore, intense provisioning happening. A dozen shopping carts were piled high with frozen turkeys, aluminum roasting pans, boxes of Stove Top Stuffing and clinking cans of Ocean Spray cranberry jelly. The lines stretched far away from the registers, snaking down a couple of aisles. I caught up with my queue near the top of the Bottled Water/Sports Drinks aisle, feeling like old Mr. Gower, the disgraced pharmacist from It’s A Wonderful Life, with my Chardonnay, a bottle of Tabasco sauce, and a bag of tortilla chips. I could feel the scorn of the other shoppers, who were balancing their weighty bags of potatoes, awkwardly wrapped hams, and tubes of crescent roll dough. It’s time to get serious.
Consequently, we had the first conference call with family members last night about our Thanksgiving meal: T minus 15 days, and counting. We will plan it for the next two weeks, spend countless hours weighing the shopping and cooking options before actually cooking, or eating, the meal. The clean up always takes more time than eating the meal. All aspects of the ritual are what we really relish, the meal is merely the catalyst for our small family gathering. We will make construction paper turkeys and faux-feather headdresses in the morning, string the beans, stew cranberries, baste the turkey, warm the ham, set the table, light the candles, carve the bird, talk fondly of the folks who couldn’t join us, clear the table, wash the dishes, wrap the leftovers, finish the wine and totter off to bed. It should be fun.
In our sophisticated twenty-first century world we are offered choices our mothers certainly never imagined. The grocery store in 2022 offers many kind of local and imported foods. We try to be responsible, and think of our carbon footprints, and supporting our neighbors. Sometimes the new and exotic are hard to resist. It’s tempting to suggest a change of ingredient, or ritual. I am mulling over the all-important potato conundrum: should I try this new-fangled concept of roasting the potatoes instead of boiling them as generations have done? Should I make them ahead of time and re-heat just before we sit down? I still haven’t lived down the shame of the Thanksgiving I forgot to prepare, or serve, the green beans – and that was our very first Thanksgiving, before the children were even glimmers in our eyes. This family never forgets, and they honor humiliations endlessly. If I mess up the potatoes, I will never hear the end of it.
That said, it might be worth giving this recipe a whirl: https://www.tastingtable.com/885589/next-time-you-make-mashed-potatoes-try-roasting-them-first/
Food52, always our most reliable source, has mashed potato non-recipes with several variations: https://food52.com/blog/11703-how-to-make-mashed-potatoes-without-a-recipe
If you are a sweet potato family, the sophisticates at Food52 know what you’ll enjoy: https://food52.com/recipes/2561-mashed-sweet-potatoes-with-creme-fraiche-and-herbs
Mark Bittman has a compendium of potato solutions, many of which you can employ for Thanksgiving and its leftover aftermath: https://markbittman.com/recipes-1/potatoes-12-ways
If you need to tailor your meal for dietary reasons, you can substitute butter and cream with chicken or vegetable broth. We still like to remind one family member of the time they came home from college newly vegetarian, and proceeded to drown the vegetarian mashed potatoes in fresh, lump-free turkey gravy. Ah, memories. https://cookeatlivelove.com/substitutes-milk-mashed-potatoes/
Which brings us back around to the kind of potatoes to use for mashing: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/best-potatoes-for-mashing
You can also consider what the grocery stores do to sell us those seductive and luscious potatoes, how we are being manipulated: https://www.producebusiness.com/9-ways-to-sell-more-spuds-year-round/
We are renting a house by a small lake this year for Thanksgiving, so I don’t know what to expect in the way of kitchen equipment. We have had some interesting Thanksgivings where we have had to improvise, which can add both to the hilarity of the situation, and to the holiday tension. Ina Garten said, “If you think about a Thanksgiving dinner, it’s really like making a large chicken.” Being in a strange kitchen and not noticing the dearth of potholders until meal prep is underway can be daunting. There was one year in a rental house that we were spatchcocking a 24-pound turkey, for the first time. Ever. Six college degrees were deemed useless as we grappled with the enormous carcass. This year I am making a couple of dishes ahead of time and will be packing them in the cooler for ease of use and peace of mind. Mashed potatoes are at the head of my list: https://www.onceuponachef.com/recipes/creamy-make-ahead-mashed-potatoes.html
For easy breakfasts I will also be making and packing Paula Deen’s Sausage Balls, because this year I refuse to travel with the KitchenAid stand mixer again: https://www.pauladeen.com/recipe/sausage-balls/
Good luck with your planning. T minus 13 days…
“In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you’re feeling blue…The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you’re feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let’s face it: the reason you’re blue is that there isn’t anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it’s almost always at the wrong time.”
― Nora Ephron