My sister: “Dude, the kids aren’t going to eat falafel and hummus. We’re going to need another theme.”
Me: “How about Southern food?”
My sister: “Like what?”
Me: “We can make mac and cheese, corn muffins, red velvet cake…”
My sister: “And deep fried everything! You might be on to something here.”
Growing up vegetarian, my family never carved a turkey at the table for Thanksgiving, but we always had family around and we always managed to stuff ourselves silly and loaf around the TV watching the Cowboys or the Lions play. Before my father died, the dinner centered around the four of us, +/- some of my dad’s brothers who lived nearby (either in the Bay Area or in New Jersey). Rice pilaf, channa masala (spiced chick peas), raita (a tomato-onion-and-cilantro yogurt sauce), and mysorepak (a cloyingly sweet chickpea-flour cake). Every year.
But around the time my cousins in Maryland started demanding a “real Thanksgiving” with our guaranteed presence and presents, my sister and I decided to get creative. Every year for the past three years, Thanksgiving dinner has had a theme:
2008 – Tex-Mex: veggie chili, nachos, flan (if I remember correctly).
2009 – Italian: baked ziti, Caprese salad, fried ravioli, cannolis
2010 – Greek: Greek salad, spanakopitas, baklava
So this year, with heavy doses of Alton Brown and Paula Deen recipes, we decided to go Southern, y’all. As a send-off to my week without animal flesh, the girl and I made this turkey pie (the filling is ground turkey, chopped onions, mushrooms, mushroom gravy, shredded Swiss-Gruyere cheese mix, and broccoli.) Bake it for 30-35 minutes, top liberally with more shredded cheese (of course). Deee-licious.
The preparation. With my mother’s guidance, I fashioned this pimiento cheese turkey as the centerpiece.
Pimiento cheese does not exist in Yankee grocery stores, so I made it from scratch. 1/2 cup shredded white cheddar, 1/2 cup shredded yellow cheddar, 8 oz softened cream cheese, 1-2 tbsp chopped pimiento peppers, lots of ground black pepper. Mix it all up (hands work best) into a thick sculptable substance and smooth the surface with milk. Use black peppercorns for the eyes and a thin pimiento for the wattle. Club crackers and pretzel sticks make great feathers.
For the main courses, we baked up some mac and cheese (including an adult version with Thai red curry paste, courtesy of Aarti Sequeira) and slow-cooked a veggie jambalaya with tofu sausage. To my dismay again, the Yankee grocery store did not carry Tony Chachere’s, so I settled for “Cajun’s Choice”, which filled in admirably.
Our sides were a Jalapeno corn mini-muffins with my mom’s secret cranberry-orange jam, and to sub for fried green tomatoes, my mom made green tomato, onion, and sweet potato bhajji (same thing, using a chickpea batter instead of egg wash and bread crumbs).
My sister *killed* this banana pudding, despite my half-dozen failed attempts to make meringue from scratch. That’s Cool Whip on the top.
We were nicely stuffed, but not too stuffed to hit Cheesecake Factory the next day (the Pumpkin Pecan cheesecake is AWESOME~!) and IHOP the following day (ditto for coffee sweetened with butter pecan syrup – patent pending). As you can guess, I’m itching to get back in the gym, attack some back squats, and burn off this nice layer of flab I’ve collected. Actually, that’s not true, I came out pretty unscathed. I *did* need to remind myself on several occasions of the true meaning of Thanksgiving: the mutual loosening of belts and stuffing of faces with the ones you love.
Other notes from Southern Vegetarian Thanksgiving… six of stayed in my mom’s 1-bedroom apartment for the weekend, so air beds and couches were key… game of the weekend was 5-player rummy, 10 cards each, 2 discards in the middle, one face-up, one face-down, 5-second limit on contemplating your move (or your turn is skipped)… a pound of Black Friday Lindt truffles (about 45-50) lasted about 2 days in our house; I don’t think anyone has a bigger collective sweet tooth than our family… my fantasy football team, after starting 0-9(!), may weasel its way into the playoffs, with a several-hundred-dollar pot on the line…
Tomorrow: I post “Call Night”, my residency romance story rough draft. Looking for feedback on where to go with the plot.
This week: I hunt for more gelato, and I plan out a 30-day New Year’s Paleo Challenge.