I began to sour on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner the year Mrs. Banks’s brother and his family arrived at our house from Baltimore on the Tuesday before the holiday (“we wanted to beat the traffic!”) and didn’t leave until Saturday afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, my in-laws are wonderful people, and will be invited back to visit within the next ten years or so. But they were around for so long that year that, by the time the actual holiday dinner was served, the meal turned out to be a bit of anti-climax. Sitting there looking down at my plate, I couldn’t help noticing what a downer the standard Thanksgiving menu is. It’s a mélange of white and mushy (mashed potatoes), brown and mushy (turkey stuffing), and scorched and mushy (candied yams), all laid out alongside the tan and bland (the turkey itself). This was likely a satisfying enough meal for a group of people who were half-starving to death 400 years ago. But here in the early 21st century, I’m surprised Ina Garten hasn’t staged an intervention.
Anyway, in the years since that Week That Would Not Die, my wife has done some tweaking and has improved the meal considerably. Despite ardent lobbying by me to the contrary, turkey is still in the lineup, but it’s now matched with what turns out to be an ideal complement to the bird’s, um, subtlety: rack of lamb. And we have corn fritters, which are rustic and elegant at the same time, and add some needed, contrasting crispiness. Alas, there is nothing to be done about the mashed potatoes. But the candied yams are out of the picture, replaced by a platter of assorted roasted winter vegetables that’s pleasing to both the eye and the palate. And the stuffing, which I was perhaps overly harsh about earlier, is superb. The only thing on the menu that can be spotty is the giblet gravy, and that’s because I’m the one who makes it.
At our house, we aim to serve dinner around 5:00, and sometimes succeed. The main benefit of planning an early meal is that, whether it gets to the table on time or not, cocktail hour can start early, too. We’ll usually begin mixing at 4:00 and, depending on how much tedium has been induced by watching the Lions get clobbered yet again, will sometimes start earlier.