When my mother was about to embark on an experience that made her nervous, she’d say, “I’m going with my friends, Fear and Trepidation.” Along with another pal, …
When my mother was about to embark on an experience that made her nervous, she’d say, “I’m going with my friends, Fear and Trepidation.” Along with another pal, Apprehension, I took off one November to spend Thanksgiving with my family.
The year before, a pared-down version of the clan spent that most American of holidays in, of all places, a Spanish restaurant. It didn’t feel right, and it wasn’t. While my brother, Buzz, happily dug into paella, I insisted on having the restaurant’s Thanksgiving menu, after which I was not the least bit thankful.
The reason we’d ended up there, in the first place, was that the prior year had been fraught with holiday tension. Though my family is no more dysfunctional than any other, and likely less so, I had needed a break from the extended gang and the emotional strain I’d experienced.
And so it was that my sister Janet and I, along with our dad, returned to the fold. On the way to Philadelphia, where my brother and sister-in-law, Wendy, were hosting the meal, I worked myself up, imagining the bickering and minor confrontations I might encounter. As my father snoozed in the back seat, I shared these fears in great detail with Janet, prompting her to suggest I get a grip on myself.
“Think about the great food we’ll be eating,” Janet said, “and be grateful there’ll be no creamed pearl onions or green bean casserole at our table.”
I smiled. The day before, I had related to her that my work friend, Dany, had told me she would be making that famous bean dish and carting it to Ohio, as her contribution to her mom’s menu. “What’s green bean casserole?” I asked. “I can’t believe you’ve never had it,” Dany said, “The recipe is on the back of every French’s Fried Onion canister and probably on the back of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, too.” She emailed me a copy of the recipe. “Nothing fancy, but very tasty,” she promised.
The instructions were simple enough: mix a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with some milk, a teaspoon of soy sauce, frozen or canned green beans, and half a can of French’s Fried Onions. Pour the glop into a casserole dish and bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining fried onions and bake an additional 5 minutes. “Sounds scary,” I reported back.
The members of my immediate family had always, prior to the holiday, flipped through magazines, cookbooks and their recipe files for inventive takes on traditional Thanksgiving foods, and then tossed ideas back and forth by phone, to determine what we’d serve.
When we arrived in Philly, along with my pals Trepidation, Fear, and Apprehension, the house was scented with the smell of Wendy’s golden, juicy turkey cooking in the oven. She’d stuffed it with homemade cornbread, moistened with chicken broth, plus chopped chestnuts, sautéed carrots, celery, onions, dried sage and thyme. Thick slices of acorn squash, dotted with butter, brown sugar and pumpkin spices were baking alongside Buzz’s fantastic and comforting savory corn pudding, which was studded with crunchy corn kernels and chopped scallions.
He’d also prepared an unusual raw relish of oranges, cranberries, and mango. No canned, jiggly cranberry “sauce” for us.
As usual, I’d make a composed salad to start the meal, and wild mushroom gravy, using drippings from the turkey.
Janet’s offerings were an assortment of beautiful and tasty cookies that looked as if they came from a bakery, and our mom’s tart apricot-pineapple gelatin mold. This dish was a sophisticated version of the Jell-O molds of the 1950s and ‘60s. Rather than the typical apple cubes, banana slices, strawberries and miniature marshmallows, this mold was tangy with dried Californian apricots and crushed pineapple. It was the perfect foil, as a side dish, for the rich foods on the table.
The best part of the meal was that we got along splendidly. There were no annoying spats, and the hours around the table were not fraught with tension. We talked about everything on earth, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company as a family should.
As the meal was winding down, Wendy suggested we go around the table and individually give thanks. When it was my turn, I thought of saying I was thankful we were not partaking of Campbell’s green bean casserole, but I found myself gushing over the love I have for my very special, unique family. As the next person gave thanks, I sighed deeply. “Thanks, after all,” I thought to myself.
Savory corn pudding
Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Butter 9-inch-by-13-inch-by-2-inch glass baking dish.
Puree 2 3/4 cups corn kernels in food processor or blender.
Whisk eggs and egg whites to blend in a large bowl. Mix in corn puree and remaining 1 1/2 cups corn kernels. Add the cooled onion mixture. Mix in flour, parsley, scallions, sugar, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Stir in cream and half & half. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.
Place baking dish in large shallow pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come 1 inch up sides of baking dish. Place pan in oven and bake until pudding is set, about an hour. Cool 5 minutes and serve.
Note: If you prefer to use fresh corn from cobs, you will need about 8 ears of corn. You will probably have to cook them in 2 batches.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add 4 cobs, then remove pot from heat and let the cobs sit in the hot water for 3 minutes. Remove cobs with tongs, and carefully, using a sharp knife, cut kernels from cobs. Repeat with the next 4 cobs.
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