thankful for thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday of the year. For me, it brings back memories of cooking with my mother and sitting at a raucous dining table for hours with extended family. When I was little, my mother assigned me simple kitchen tasks like peeling the potatoes, which started in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving day. I recall leaning over the garbage can with the peeler, accidentally flinging potato skin pieces left and right, listening to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Her potatoes were a special part of our Thanksgiving spread; full of cream cheese, sour cream, butter, and fresh grated nutmeg, they embody the delicious over-indulgence of the food-centered holiday.

My mother was also the queen of holiday decor. She kept in our garage an epic spread of pumpkins, turkeys, pilgrim figurines, and faux floral centerpieces wrapped in tissue - all stored carefully in boxes. At the start of November, the kitchen became a sea of orange and yellow, which was only fitting because we hosted thirty people every year for Thanksgiving. Friends and family would come from near and far, and she had a standing order for rental tables, chairs, and linens. I feel so blessed to have grown up in such a warm home, full of love, cheer, good food and wine. I even cherish the memories of the late-night clean up, when my mother and I would clear all the dishes and shamelessly pick at the leftover turkey meat while packaging food into Tupperware.

Thanksgiving is all about family and friends, and sharing food with those you love. I enjoy the signature dishes of the holiday - carefully roasted turkey, luscious mashed potatoes, hearty stuffing - but I also think that there is room for some creative experimentation in the kitchen. This year, I decided to try my hand at a couple twists on the standard dishes: twice-baked sweet potatoes with broiled marshmallow topping and roasted carrots with creamy tahini dressing, pomegranate seeds, and fresh parsley. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips and carrots - all root vegetables - are harvested late in the season and are very common around the holidays. There are countless techniques that you can use to prepare these items, including roasting, sauteeing, steaming, and shredding raw into a salad. Root vegetables can be covered in a thick skin that must be cleaned and removed, and they are very starchy and sometimes hard to chop. However when prepared right, they can be a a wonderfully filling and healthy side dish to your meal.

Finally, I cannot write a blog post on Thanksgiving without commenting on dessert. There are the staples, of course - pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie. But as someone that does not love pie, I appreciate that more and more food blogs and chefs are starting to introduce alternative holiday dessert recipes. The Huffington Post published an article last year titled "7 Thanksgiving Desserts That Are Way Better Than Pie." And the New York Times similarly published a section called "Thanksgiving Desserts That Are Not Pie." I see nothing wrong with going off the beaten dessert path, and this year, I attempted a childhood favorite: pumpkin cheesecake with caramel swirl. Our dearest family friends brought this dessert to Thanksgiving multiple times when I was little, and it is burned into my food memory as one of those most divine and decadent finales to the year's most extravagant eating experience.