The Thanksgiving Blues: Melissa@Market

| November 15, 2011

The secrets I harbor aren’t typically of the “you’ll never run for office” variety. They wouldn’t lead to jail time (well, at least not longer than a temporary holding cell). They probably wouldn’t cost me too many friends. You might be shocked by one of my first employers or surprised by some work place practices I engaged in briefly or intrigued by  the circumstances surrounding my first kiss. But, that’s as far as it would go. Then, there’s the secret I’m about to reveal. It’s one only my closest family and truest friends know. It practically qualifies as treason and certainly doesn’t score me many invites.

The secret is: I hate Thanksgiving Day.

Now that it’s out there, allow me to explain. First and foremost, I certainly don’t hate giving thanks. I do hate that we think we need a holiday for it though. Why aren’t people practicing “thank you” every day? The whole idea of it is so paternalistic, my inner teenager cringes at the idea of being force-fed its morality. No, thankyouverymuch, I’ll offer my gratitude whenever I darn well please. And I’ll probably do it better than you.

So. There’s that. But, honestly, my real problem with Thanksgiving is the food. Yes, I’m serious. I realize this strains my credibility as a chef. I realize it will be deemed un-American. And I’m aware it’s just plain weird. Still, the foods associated with Thanksgiving tend to turn my stomach.

According to a Food &Wine magazine reader survey, Americans’ favorite side dishes are all mushy foods. Stuffing, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes all rank high. I’ve heard stuffing doesn’t have to resemble the texture of what mama birds deliver beak-to-beak to baby birds, but I’ve never experienced it as anything other. At worst, it congeals in a big wad in your mouth. At best, you chew for hours trying to dissolve the gummy paste that holds it together. As for sweet potatoes, well, I like them. They’re packed with nutrients, affordable and rather delicious. But, 9 out of 10 families in the U.S. can’t resist adding enough sugar (or, shiver…., marshmallows) to turn them into something that’s dangerously close to pudding. And mashed potatoes – do I even need to say? They’re the one dish that even the youngest child at the table will be devouring. Why? Because they don’t require teeth to consume.

By now, over 50% of you have quit reading out of righteous disgust or are already skipping to the comments section to school me about your Great Aunt Mary Sue’s Outrageously Delicious Sweet Potato Casserole. Look, that’s lovely. But it also makes my next point about Thanksgiving. It’s so *personal*. Even if I could fix stuffing, potatoes and yams into something I found edible, I’d tick off a good proportion of my dinner guests, because the dish just wasn’t what grandma used to make. Thanksgiving is based on tradition, and if you get all warm and fuzzy about your family’s celebration, more power to you. I, however, do not wish to relive overcooked turkeys, rolls from those foil pans and green beans that had a shelf-life longer than my life expectancy. I broke the mold for my family when it came to culinary palates so, I guess that means I’m out of luck. It’s go bland or go home around Jones’ parts.

That said, I’ll still be hosting my parents for the holiday this year. My dad has already questioned, when told I’d be picking up a heritage turkey from my farmer’s market, “Is it going to be one of those scrawny things like the chicken from last Christmas?” I’ve been told not to get “too fancy” after last year’s seasonal party when, after I had spent the better part of two days preparing food, I was asked, “So, where is the food for the real people to eat?”  Their expectations will be at the same time both very high and very low. That’s the deal with Thanksgiving. Everyone wants it like they want it. Even me.

My ideal Thanksgiving would take place multiple times over in a year, even in a month. It would involve people of varying connections gathering to celebrate friendship or family or friends that *are* family. It would mean hearing the words “I appreciate…” more than once a year. It would celebrate seasonal, regional foods spread out across a table, or a picnic blanket, or a breakfast bar, continually and often. It would recognize innovation and creativity as “traditional” and provide a platform to explore new tastes, cultures and cuisines. It would ring with laughter and speak of the future while also acknowledging the past. And, finally, to make it absolutely perfect, it would not involve pie.

Because, geez, I kind of hate pie, too.



Moroccan Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from a recipe in Food&Wine Magazine
Serves 6 to 8

I love this take on squash soup. It sticks close enough to the typical recipe to please the traditionalists at your table but has just enough exotic flavor to take it out of the ordinary. Goat cheese adds a pleasant tang, and I like to sprinkle a few pumpkin or sunflower seeds (toasted with a sprinkle of the extra spice blend) before serving to lend some crunch.

Spice Blend (save the extra to use in future soups or over roasted vegetables)
1 teaspoon ginger, ground
1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
1 teaspoon white pepper, ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1/2 teaspoon cubed pepper, ground (optional, but I found it easily with the other ground peppers)

  1. Combine all spices and store in an airtight container.

1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
2 pounds butternut (or similar) squash (about 2 squashes), peeled and seeded then cut into cubes (I used a very sharp knife to cut into smaller pieces and then peeled it.)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (see if you can find it in a tube and then store in the fridge…it lasts for quite a while that way)
about 4 cups vegetable stock (depending on desired thickness)
1/2 cup creme fraiche, heavy cream or Greek yogurt (plain)
1/4 pound goat cheese, crumbled or shredded
Toasted pumpkin/sunflower seeds (optional)
Harissa (optional)

  1. Heat a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil, then onion and a sprinkle of salt. Cover and cook over medium-low, stirring periodically. About 10 minutes or until onion is soft.
  2. Add squash cubes. Cover top of pot with a sheet of parchment paper (this will help the steaming process), then cover that with the lid. Cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of the spice blend (you can add more to taste later), and 3 cups of stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow squash to become tender, about 20 more minutes.
  4. Cool slightly (important so the squash doesn’t explode when you blend it).
  5. Puree soup in a blender, adding more stock to reach desired thickness. Return to the pot and add creme fraiche (or heavy cream) and 1/2 of goat cheese. Taste and season with more spice blend, salt/pepper, as needed. Season with harissa, if desired.
  6. Serve sprinkled with more goat cheese and seeds, if desired.


Category: Appetizers, Featured, Main Dish - Vegetarian, Melissa@Market, Recipe Vault, Soups

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Comments (6)

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  1. Belinda says:

    You are so true to you! I LOVE Thanksgiving, but admit…why the marshmallows…and although I sometimes make pie to please the masses, I’m a cake girl myself.

    I like your idea of monthly Thanksgivings…hmm…an idea…we should do it!

  2. Olga says:

    oh darling! I actually don’t hate Thanksgiving. I hate everyone talking about it nonstop for weeks and weeks…and then Christmas and then New Year and then Valentine’s day.

    LOVE mashed potatoes and good stuffing and leftovers and making cranberry sauce and my turtle tart is so much better than any silly pie 😉

  3. Melissa says:

    Addendum: My dad just read this article and immediately emailed me saying, “Maybe we shouldn’t come for Thanksgiving. And, if we do, can you check and see if the Marriott where we’re staying does a ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving dinner?”

    True Story. Maybe I’ll buy a can of green beans just to be nice.

  4. Lena says:

    nice pictures melissa!

  5. Patty says:

    Lol! Hilarious post. I hear what you are saying….although, Ireally do try to make everyone (including me) happy by making the traditionally associated dishes on t day… I make a point of recreating the dishes – notching up the health and fresh ingredient quotient. Your family sounds like mine. Craziness!