A Thanksgiving Carol

snoopy“Gaaah!” Jason spat, as soon as we entered our favorite bagel shop last weekend. Over the sound system, Mariah Carey was singing that all she wants for Christmas is me, and I thought Jason was going to spontaneously combust. “More Christmas carols!”

It’s not that Jason doesn’t like Christmas carols. He loves ‘em, and probably has more tolerance for Mariah Carey than I do. But he’s been particularly troubled this year by the proliferation of CEOD (Christmas Early Onset Disorder). I’m not convinced that there’s a War on Christmas out there, but if there were, I’m sure Jason would volunteer for the November offensive, and he’d do it in the name of Thanksgiving.

peanutsPersonally, I think that the under-the-radar nature of Thanksgiving accounts for most of its charm, but Jason strongly believes that Thanksgiving is getting short shrift. He made a convincing case for building a canon of Thanksgiving carols, but while we sat there chewing our bagels, the only food-focused songs we could come up with were “Eat It” by Weird Al and “Come on’a My House” by Rosemary Clooney. I actually like both of those songs, though I have to admit that they’re not the kind of thing you sing around the piano with the whole family.

So I wrote a Thanksgiving carol. Or more accurately, I rewrote the words of “Thanks for the Memories” to turn it into a Thanksgiving carol. If only Bing Crosby were still around to record it! I’ll settle for Adele. Anyway, warm up the old voicebox with some gravy and get ready to give this holiday its due. Here we go:

Thanks for the cranberries,
Grown in a swampy bog, beneath the gray Maine fog.
To harvest them in wader boots must have been a slog.
How lovely they are.

Thanks for the candied yams,
Strange but such a must. A food the color of rust,
Peeping orangely out at us from ‘neath their ‘mallow crust.
How lovely they are.

Many’s the time that we feasted,
And then we feasted some more.
Give the gravy boat another pour.
A turkey thigh. And pumpkin pie. Continue reading

Giving Thanks: Drink Small Saturday

ShopSmallThanksgiving is coming up shortly, and I anticipate its arrival with the same enthusiasm I feel sitting in the gynecologist’s waiting room. (That poor bird with its legs in the air…) What I am looking forward to comes the following weekend: Small Business Saturday. Now, admittedly, this is just a made-up holiday concocted by American Express to make it look like they give a flying fruitcake about small business; however, it brings customers by the Prius-load to my bookstore, all cheerily looking to support local businesses rather than ruthlessly scrabbling for the last Disney Light-Up Frozen Realistic Hair Extension Play-Doh Kit. So, don’t think I’m complaining. Rather, I ask you to raise a small glass of beer with me.

I am assuming most of you know the basics of why one shops local, but I’ll go ahead and preach anyway:

  • 68% of all money spent locally goes back into the community through wages and taxes and change dropped on the ground
  • You support members of your community, not distant CEOs on yachts somewhere in the Caribbean
  • You can be rightfully self-righteous

Continue reading

On the Pleasures of the NYT’s Thanks-O-Matic


Come, Pip, and try the tarte tatin!

The New York Times launched a wacky technical innovation this past week. No, I am not talking about Google Cardboard, that strange little virtual reality contraption that caused Jason to comment, “This story is really sad. Also, my phone screen is really dirty.” I am talking about the Thanksgiving Meal Planner or, as I prefer to call it, the Thanks-O-Matic.

Here’s the way it works: you adjust little sliders at the side of the screen to set variables like number of people attending, how traditional you want the meal to be, how early you’re willing to start the prep work, etc., and then—boom!—the Times shuffles up sixteen recipes in four categories that will meet your needs. You can actually see the recipes flipping and changing as you drag the sliders right or left.

If this sounds a little cheesy, it’s because…it is. Also, I find it almost irresistibly hypnotizing. Of course I started out with a scenario that was somewhere close to accurate, but then I started meddling endlessly with the controls to see what recipes would come up. Just one notch to the right on the experience slider gets you individual Corn Puddings Stuffed with Greens instead of macaroni and cheese! I think I kept doing this until I saw pretty much every possible recipe on offer. I know what you’re thinking: if I was going to look at every recipe anyway, wouldn’t it make more sense to look at them in a list? Au contraire, mon ami! I think there’s something else at work here. Continue reading

Over the Liver, and Through the Veins

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Turkey Day!

Over the river, and through the wood,
To my in-laws house we go;
We’re already late
I’ve forgotten our plate
And our gas is running low.

Over the river, and through the wood–
Oh how slow the traffic crawls!
Some jerk flips the bird
My swears go unheard;
So begin holiday brawls.

Over the river, and through the wood–
With wide open arms we’re met;
Please, no talk of kids
It’s all I’ll forbid;
On my vagina don’t fret.

Over the river, and through the wood–
For the family far and near;
I forget which cousin
is the republican
Toward talk of weather I veer.

Over the river, and through the wood–
Oh, what I’d do for a drink!
I check out the fridge
and want a high bridge;
I fear I’m nearing the brink!

Over the river, and through the wood–
Uncle Something winks at me;
Out in the garage
He’s fashioned a lodge,
We sip beer in his teepee.


The “Harvest Equals Party” Puzzle

wine queen

Have you met the Wine Queen?

The origin story of Thanksgiving is a little dubious, at least the most popular one that has a bunch of pilgrims and Indians sitting around eating turkey and smiling at each other. Better documented is the one that comes two centuries later, when Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and abolitionist, campaigned for a harvest celebration and day of thanksgiving, with hopes that it would make the country feel more united. Abraham Lincoln obliged her, making it a national holiday in 1863.

But we Americans are hardly alone in our desire to celebrate the harvest. Can you name which country offers up the delicious days of thanksgiving described below? In some cases, the festivals are specific to a city or region, so extra stuffing for you if you can name any of those.

  1. During Chuseok, families travel to their family’s homeland and set up elaborate offerings of food called charye for their ancestors. They also sing, wrestle and eat freshly harvested rice and rice cakes.
  2. After the newly-pressed olive oil is blessed by a priest, everybody digs into a medieval-style feast at a local castle. (Seriously! A castle!)
  3. The Yam Festival (also called Homowo), at the end of the rainy season, is celebrated with singing, dancing, parades, offerings, and, obviously, yam-eating.
  4. At the annual Fruit Fair, people build elaborate arrangements of colorful fruits like rambutan and mangosteen and stage a parade with floats made out of fruits and vegetables.
  5. Locals celebrate Lugh, or the god of the sun, while making a potent potato-based whiskey called poitín.
  6. At a four-day festival celebrating the gods of sun and rain, people make a sweet dish called pongal out of rice, milk and jaggery (a form of palm sugar) and eat lentils to signify the year’s bounty.
  7. The harvest has always been a time when priests would bless the first grapes of the season, but more recently it has become a major province-wide carnival, with parades, fireworks and performances, not to mention the crowning of the Wine Queen.
  8. For Trung Thu, people celebrate the harvest moon but also their children (a different sort of fruit, I suppose). Children are told traditional fairy tales and given star lanterns and sweet treats like mooncakes.

Don’t click Continue or scroll down until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

Smoky Greens with Cranberry and Pine Nuts

Shannon and I were visiting my brother and his wife last week, giving me an opportunity to play further with greens.  Their CSA delivered them a clutch of beautiful orange, yellow, and purple carrots.  Andrew is all about his carrot greens, which is convenient since they’re super high in potassium, Vitamin K, magnesium, etc.  We also had on hand a bunch of beets, so I tore the greens off of them (high in Vitamin A, as well as K) and tried to figure out what to do.  Andrew and I then came up with the following, Thanksgiving-inspired dish.


Smoky Greens with Cranberry and Pine Nuts

  • two bunches of carrot, beet, or any other green
  • cup of dried cranberries
  • quarter to half cup of pine nuts
  • one large yellow onion
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • paprika, chili powder, cumin, salt & pepper

Chop onions and saute over low heat until soft.  Add garlic and infuse the oil.  If your Continue reading

Thanksgiving Traditions: Please Pass the Beer

Watchin' football with the other turkeys

In my Thanksgiving post last year I hinted at the fact that this is not exactly my favorite holiday. I may have also insinuated that it takes alcohol to get me through an entire day with my family, which isn’t really fair: I also have to be bribed there with the promise of my Aunt’s pumpkin pie. I only have a week left to prepare, so here is my game plan for now.

We’re always asked to arrive at one-o-clock for a two-o-clock dinner; dinner is never actually on the table before light leaves the sky, so we will arrive at two or three. Since I know I still have quite a wait before real food is served I’ll grab a session beer. A bitter would just be too easy, so I go with my favorite session at the moment, Founder’s All Day IPA — full of flavor, not alcohol. For the one and only time this year, I will find football fascinating. I’ll join my male relatives, who’ve also discovered a spontaneous love of the game, in the dog fur-coated den.

The November light grows thinner and the smell of cooking meat grows stronger. As a vegetarian, I begin to rehearse my yearly explanation for loading up my plate with green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with no gravy. I will need a thinking beer, something bright and effervescent and strong. I’ll go with one I just recently tried, Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton, which is aged in oak barrels. That takes the alcohol edge off the taste enough that I’ll feel the effects of the 10% abv before I taste it. Continue reading

ABCs of Baking: Cornbread (and Stuffing, Too?)

corn mealHardly could one find a more emblematic Thanksgiving food than cornbread. It is a “New World” food, a staple of the natives of this continent for centuries, unleavened and cooked over a fire. (I believe that the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook called this form corn pone—an unfortunate name, but still more palatable sounding to me as a child than the recipes for hardtack and headcheese.) But the Europeans couldn’t keep from meddling with the pone any more than they could its cooks, and their eggs and baking powders brought it closer to the cornbread we know today. Long after we’d solidly colonized the cornbread, however, controversy continued to rage, with Southerners preferring a more dense and savory variety, Yankees adding sugar to give it a more muffin-y taste and Midwesterners being too polite to definitively vote either way.

With Thanksgiving close at hand, I could hardly ignore this most complicated and divisive of foods, and I decided to try my hand at my first batch of cornbread stuffing from scratch. First, of course, I needed to bake some cornbread. But with which regional version to cast my lot? Savory seemed right for a stuffing, so I sought out Paula Dean to guide me. I’ll be honest—I’ve never made anything by the Food Network queen of Southern cooking, but I had recently heard an old NPR interview in which she explained how to deep fry an ottoman (“Oh, it’s easy, honey, you just dip it in egg first.”) and it had thoroughly charmed me.


Does the color of this batter make me look Irish?

So I dutifully scribbled down the ingredients for her cornbread and stuffing recipes and headed to the grocery store. The store, however, had already been ravaged by pre-Thanksgiving shoppers, and the only variety of self-rising cornmeal they had left was made with white corn. I hemmed and hawed over this. I had had in mind the deep golden color of waves of grain, and I didn’t want my stuffing to look pallid. I was loath to walk to another grocery store, though, and besides, I’m used to being one of the whiter things in this neighborhood, so I grabbed it and headed to the checkout. Continue reading

Pairing Beers on Thanksgiving: It’s All Relative

Uh, pass the beer, please?

Winter arrived in Ohio at approximately 4pm Monday afternoon. The weekend had been suspiciously warm and there was something eerie in the air. Some kind of evil was approaching and it was set to the “Jaws” theme song. As soon as the weather broke and flurries floated in the streetlights, I knew: Thanksgiving with the family.

Thanksgiving is by far my least favorite holiday. Kids and pets tangled around my legs, strangers in Cosby sweaters, relatives with wildly differing politics who like to talk politics. But I will admit that these events became far more endurable and entertaining once I reached legal drinking age.

Any seasoned beer drinker / relative of mine knows you must head into the Turkey-Day Battle with a plan. Allow me to help you fill your Arsenal of Ales with the proper ammunition. Keep in mind: these people knew you when you were four and probably have photographic evidence of your awkward stage. Choose wisely.

First comes the cheese and olive plates and catch-up with the grandmas. Start with a light beer, one with a delicate flavor and low alcohol content. Try a pils perhaps, or a small pale ale, as these will offset the richness of the cheese and will clear the palate better than those silly little pickles you love but can’t pronounce. And yes, I know it goes against your gut, but you need a session beer to start with. You’re going to be entrenched here for a while and it’s best just to accept this. I urge patience and restraint; this is only the first time you’ll be asked why you don’t have babies yet.  Continue reading

A Book Fest Reading with Debut Lit: A Cambodian Thanksgiving

Last night, Shannon and I had the privilege of co-hosting a Brooklyn Book Fest Bookends event with Debut Lit, an organization that showcases writers whose first books have just been published.  Pacific Standard bar hosted, so beer and food were the themes.  Consequently, we broke out the following tale of our first makeshift Thanksgiving in Cambodia.

Special thanks to Rebekah Anderson, the energy behind Debut Lit, as well as the other readers: Greg Gerke, Austin LaGrone, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Laren McClung, Ralph Sassone, and Hugh Sheehy.  It was a pleasure to hear what everyone brought to the table.


Suzie Homemaker


I’ve never been particularly fond of Thanksgiving, and so it is Jason who begins inviting people over to give them a taste of the quintessentially American ritual. Some Khmer friends, some lonely American expats…who am I to complain? It isn’t until he comes home one day listing people I’ve never heard of (“The Norwegian girl just looked so sad,” he explains) that I do some tallying and realize that we’ve committed to cook for over twenty people with a two-burner stove and a single toaster oven.

In a panic, we hitch a ride to Psah Leu and while Jason scours the market for matching forks, I attempt to convey to the proprietors of a kitchen supply stall that I need a potato masher. Unfortunately, I have not yet learned the Khmer word for potato, but I try to compensate by making a series of vigorous mashing motions. The entire family (confused patriarch, earnest daughters, delighted baby) gathers around, wide-eyed, and we continue this game of charades until the eldest daughter gives me a pad of paper. When she looks at my sketch on the pad, her face clears with understanding, and she runs to the messy tower of supplies stuffed into the back of the stall. “At last!” I think, and then she comes back with a toilet plunger. Continue reading