Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cease your toils

During the time that Brillat Savarin wrote The Physiology of Taste (for the 30 years prior to his death from pneumonia in 1826 after standing in the glacial abbey of Saint-Denis to attend the 30th anniversary commemorating Louis XVI's execution), the turkey, domesticated and amply sauced in France, was already no longer called a coq d'Inde. The dinde (as the humble turkey is still called today in French) had been stripped of its New World origins and its Christopher Columbus misnaming, and had become commonplace, a bird for everyman.

The turkey is the largest and, if not most delicate, at least the most flavorful of our domestic birds. It also enjoys the unique advantage of attracting to it every class of society. When the vine tenders and the plowmen of our countryside want to treat themselves to a party on a long winter night, what do you see roasting over the bright kitchen fire where the table is laid? A turkey. When the practical mechanic or the artisan brings a few of his friends together to celebrate some relaxation all the sweeter for being so rare, what is the traditional main dish of the dinner he offers? A turkey stuffed with sausages or with Lyons chestnuts. -- from M.F.K. Fischer's (marvelous) translation of La Physiologie du Gout. 

Brillat-Savarin experienced the original exoticism of the turkey while in exile in America, when his New York friends whisked him away to a hunting property in Connecticut and he hunted wild turkeys. He successfully shot one and recounted with great, wry pride, "this deed... [that] I shall recount all the more eagerly since I myself am its hero." But before the shooting and the eating, deep in the hunting woods, our hero engages in a reverie worth the telling on this day when just maybe we might get caught in daydreams, cease our toils, and meander as well as feast and laugh and toast and cheer.

I found myself for the first time in my life in virgin forest, where the sound of the axe had never been heard. I wandered through it with delight, observing the benefits and the ravages of time, which both creates and destroys, and I amused myself by following every period in the life of an oak tree, from the moment it emerges two-leaves from the earth until that one when nothing is left of it but a long black smudge which is its heart's dust.

This year's Thanksgiving gets to observe the benefits of time, with us less sad that my dad is not here, and, in great wonder and joy, hosting both deeply happy newlyweds and a mom made new by a wondrous adoption. We will be grateful and remember and hope. And read Art Buchwald's "Le Grande Thanksgiving" column, and add the new favorite McSweeney's "Public School Education Thanksgiving." And we will feast.

Parsnip Pear Soup*

Maple Glazed Carrots*
Green Beans and Radishes Braised in Orange Juice*
Cumin-Roasted Beets*

Winter Squash Pot Pie with Swiss Chard and Chickpeas*
South of France Turkey**

Simon and Garfunkel Stuffing
Pomegranate Ginger Cranberry Sauce*

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes**
Gratin Dauphinois**

Candied Cranberry Tart***
Pumpkin Creme Caramel*

*From this year's issue of Vegetarian Times
** From this year's issue of Rachael Ray (I know she's creepy, but her test kitchen is good)
***From my Epicurious app



  1. O...M....G. How lucky are your guests!! You must have been cooking for weeks. Sounds absolutely marvelous.

  2. :-) a day and a half, actually, but oh the inner Virgo _loved_ the planning! (Anne)