By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
I just replayed last year’s Saturday Night Live skit, “A Thanksgiving Miracle,” where the dinner discussion concerning Syrian refugees sparks a heated argument across the holiday table until their moods and mindsets are softened by the sound of Adele’s “Hello” filling the room. It couldn’t be more relevant, though I feel like we’re going to need more than Adele to save this Thanksgiving.
Reeling from the election, I’ve spent much of the past couple of weeks alone in my kitchen, in mindful reflection, mourning and sifting and stirring my way to calm and understanding. I did manage a break to head to Moscow. I was going to guest lecture alongside my daughter in her “Culture and Cuisine” class. It’s a sociology class where I was going to talk about Irish foods and demonstrate how to make traditional pasties. But arriving only two days after election, I didn’t have the energy to do much more than sit and listen. We never got around to prepping food for the class, but my day on campus was still well-spent, surrounded by bright, articulate and diverse students, and I was reminded and reassured that when we pass the torch, it will go to strong and steady hands.
My other Moscow commitment was to celebrate my grandson Will’s sixth birthday. I often miss the official celebration, so my tradition is a “one-on-one” with the enthusiastic celebrant. Our day started early, with great anticipation of pancakes at the Breakfast Club. If you’ve ever eaten there, you know the routine includes an outdoor coffee station to make the long wait for pancakes more palatable. It turned out there was more on Will’s mind than his birthday. “Mimi,” he started, “let’s talk about Thanksgiving.” And so we did. Fall is Will’s favorite season because it’s filled with three holidays plus turkey. He’s our party planner and has specific ideas about food, holiday décor and table settings, which must always include a “table curtain” (table cloth). Ryanne and I don’t agree on all things, and though it skipped a generation, we agree with 100-percent certainty that Will is of my clan. He rattled off his proposed menu, and I quickly committed it to paper. I was inclined to agree with his choices until we got to the dessert course and he nixed all of my traditional suggestions. Plain and simple, Will was holding out firm for vanilla ice cream. Finally, we reached a healthy compromise and ice cream will be offered as a standalone (“in those fancy cups, Mimi”) or as an accompaniment to the pumpkin pie and pecan bars.
And speaking of healthy compromise, I feel like It’s going to be that kind of Thanksgiving, folks. Likely our holiday tables will be filled with a huge array of food and a variety of opinions. This year especially, be mindful of your seat at the table. Be brave, be strong, but be willing to break bread. If you’re the host, create a table of abundance and a safe haven, filled with good conversations. If you’re a guest, check your hat and your hate at the door. Bring good food and good intentions and an extra serving of kindness.
If you’re anxious about the day, nothing helps like fresh air and exercise. Leave your dogs and bikes at home, but do bundle up and head to Traver’s Park for the Turkey Trot, sponsored by City Recreation and Sandpoint West Athletic Club. The price of admission for the 5K or 10K is a non-perishable donation for the Bonner County Food Bank. The Trot starts at 9 a.m., and you’ll need to get there a little early to drop off your food and sign a waiver.
After the Turkey Trot and a rousing game of Kickball with the neighbors, we’ll start our Thanksgiving dinner with Curried Pumpkin Soup and finish up with Pecan Bars (undoubtedly topped with vanilla ice cream). Both are favorites at my house, and I hope you’ll give these recipes a try.
Now here’s some food for thought: Whether you feel you’ll finish your feast with victory pie or humble pie, serve it with love and eat it with grace. Happy Thanksgiving.
PECAN PIE BARS:
These bars are every bit as tasty as a traditional pie, and easier to prepare (you don’t even need to wash the mixing bowl after crust prep). The crust is similar a rich shortbread cookie. Refrigerate after they cool – and they freeze well too.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 tbs melted butter
6 tbs unbleached flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
Heat oven to 350°F.
Combine 1 3/4 cups flour, butter and sugar in bowl of standup mixer. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the 1/2 cup pecans.
Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper (or foil) and press crust mixture evenly onto bottom of pan.
Bake 18-22 minutes or until edges are very light golden brown.
Combine all filling ingredients except the remaining 1 1/2 cups pecans in bowl of standup mixer and mix well. Stir in pecans. Spread evenly over hot, partially baked crust.
Bake 30-35 minutes or until filling is set and knife inserted 1-inch from edge comes out clean. Cool completely; refrigerate. Cut into bars or triangles and dust with powdered sugar just before serving.
CURRIED PUMPKIN SOUP:
A welcoming first course or thoughtful alternative dish for vegetarian or vegans (omit the yogurt garnish) that can be made a day or two ahead and reheated. Serve with crusty warm bread.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (15 ounce) can 100% pure pumpkin (not pie mix)
1 cup coconut milk
Heat the oil in a deep pot heavy pot, over medium-high heat
Stir in the onions and garlic; cook until the onions are soft and wilted, about 5 minutes.
Mix in the broth, curry powder, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir until the mixture comes to a gentle boil, about 10 minutes. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the pumpkin and coconut milk, and cook another 5 minutes.
Pour the soup into a blender, filling only half way and working in batches if necessary; process until smooth. Return to a pot, and reheat briefly over medium heat before serving.
Ladle soup into warmed bowls, garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped nuts and scallion tops.