Turkey day: A time to give thanks and avoid fights

November 23, 1997|By Rob Kasper

THANKSGIVING brings families together, and that can spell trouble. Luckily, the holiday weekend lasts only three days. Sunday doesn't count, because by then most family members are fleeing the site of their gathering. Most people can get along with anyone for three days, even relatives.

During this time together, family members usually have some disputes over what to serve at the big feed, and how to serve it. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes? Oyster, chestnut or corn-bread stuffing? Red or white wine? Should the cranberries jiggle, or remain stately stable? What do you do with the vegetarian? How do you handle the drumstick dilemma? Who gets the wishbone?

Recently, I pondered these questions. I even cracked a book or two to see what experts have to say on these matters. When their advice agreed with my view, I took note. When it disagreed, I ignored it.

Knowing that there is no such thing as a stress-free family gathering, I looked for answers that might produce a reduced-stress Thanksgiving gathering. Here, in that vein, are some answers to some traditional hot-button Thanksgiving issues.

Do we really need to serve two kinds of potatoes?

You betcha.

You serve sweet potatoes because they are traditional, because they have an autumnal glow and because they taste super. You serve mashed potatoes because if you didn't, you wouldn't have the leftovers needed to make potato pancakes -- mashed potatoes formed into pancakes -- for lunch the day after Thanksgiving.

What kind of stuffing? There is often friction among the chestnut contingent, the oyster alliance and the corn-bread faction. It seems to me that whoever ends up cooking the big bird should make the big decision about which mixture will be cooked inside the turkey.

The stuffing cooked inside the bird is the one that, in the eyes of the cook, is worthy of most-favored-stuffing status. However, side agreements can be reached with rival groups that allow alternative stuffings to be cooked outside the bird and served at the Thanksgiving table.

In politics, this approach to uniting disparate factions is called the big tent philosophy. In Thanksgiving deliberations, it is known as the big table philosophy.

What kind of wine? In picking Thanksgiving wines, I believe it is wise to use the "big syllable" approach. If you want a white wine, go for the Gewurztraminer. If you want red, go for the pinot noir. If you are undecided, go for the "big bottle" philosophy and get several vessels of each.

Cranberries, jiggling or stable? For some of us, it isn't Thanksgiving until we see the canned cranberry sauce vibrating near the turkey. For others, this jiggling sauce is considered kid's stuff. Grown-ups, these folks believe, should encounter cranberries in more sophisticated forms, such as compotes, chutneys and sherbets.

I think I have found a good compromise in this dispute. It is the cranberry daiquiri. The recipe, in Marlene Sorosky's "Season's Greetings" (Chronicle Books, reissued 1997), calls for tossing a cup of crushed ice, a 6-ounce can of frozen daiquiri mix, 6 ounces of rum, and -- this is the fun part -- a half-cup of canned cranberry sauce into a blender and mixing until the drink is frothy. What you end up with, it seems to me, is a sophisticated cocktail, with a slight jiggle.

The tactful vegetarian

What do you do if a vegetarian comes to dinner? The short answer is: smile and pass the peas. The key point, according to Mary Mitchell in her book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" (Alpha Books, 1996), "is not to make a big deal of it. A vegetarian can skip certain dishes."

When skipping these dishes, the vegetarian is expected to be polite. Saying something like, "Everything is fine, I don't eat turkey" is considered polite, Mitchell advises. Saying something like, "I don't eat dead animals" is considered rude.

How to cope with the drumstick dilemma: This dilemma strikes when the number of turkey-leg eaters exceeds two, which is the usual number of legs on a turkey.

Miss Manners addresses this subject in "Miss Manners's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior" (Atheneum, 1982), written by Judith Martin. Replying to a troubled turkey carver who said that the demand for drumsticks at his family's Thanksgiving feast always outnumbered the supply, Miss Manners was short. The carver, she said, had created the problem by asking, "Who wants a drumstick?" The only proper question for a carver to ask, according to Miss Manners, is "White meat or dark?"

I was unable to find an etiquette expert with an answer to the question of who gets the wishbone, so I made up my own answer. At issue is the question of which two people get to make wishes, then pull apart the breast bone of the turkey. To snap well, the wishbone has to be dry. There are two ways to accomplish this: You either remove the bone from the carved turkey and let it sit for a few days on a kitchen counter, or you put it in the oven and let it dry as you wash the Thanksgiving dishes.

According to Thanksgiving lore, the person who snaps off the larger part of the bone gets his wish.

After much consideration, I decided the wishbone duet should be composed of the youngest and the oldest persons at the Thanksgiving feast. In case no one wants to admit to being the oldest person at the gathering, that spot could be filled by the person who has washed the most dishes.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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