Time to Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving dinner
This was our Thanksgiving dinner the last time I hosted, in 2010.

My favorite holiday of the year is two weeks from today. And I am nothing if not ready to start thinking about Thanksgiving.

For many, the holiday countdown began long ago with checklists of what to knock out ahead, chatter about table decor and recipe testing in search of the perfect combination of sweet and savory, traditional and today. I’m a little more low-key than that. But I do love to menu plan, so that’s where you’ll find me.

If we’re talking trends, there’s certainly a move away from the all-beige plate of turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and rolls. Foodies are featuring kale and oysters and pomegranates. Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are on the rise to replace their less nutritious, more carb-laden counterparts. And while the turkey still takes center stage in most Thanksgiving productions, talk of what veggies will star in supporting roles is the really interesting conversation.

For those of us who are hosting, the challenge is balancing all your guests’ likes and dislikes, desires and expectations. My girls love mashed potatoes and I have yet to find a cauliflower recipe that gets rave reviews (despite how much cheese I serve with it!). While I might like to feature a stuffed acorn squash dish just for fun, I can hear the groans already.

So here’s what I’m planning to stir up a few Thursdays from now — a menu filled with family favorites and a nod toward eating food grown as close to home as I can manage.

I’ve ordered a locally-raised turkey from Weathertop Farm in Floyd, Va. It’s not a heritage breed (my friends at Bramble Hollow Farm in Montvale, Va., raise those), but it did live a free-range, healthily-fed life and I’ll be able to pick it up a few miles from my house thanks to Good Food-Good People bringing deliveries to the West End Community Market — which was important to me this year. (Interested local reader? Check here to order your own.)

For sides, I’ll be serving mashed butternut squash — because it’s a hit and we grew them in our garden this year. Also mashed potatoes (see above). I’ll dig out our homegrown blanched green beans from then freezer for an updated (without the condensed soup) version of the classic green bean casserole. And for something fresh and green, I’m going to give this 7-layer salad a try. My mom will be joining us from California for the week and I remember this salad making an appearance on so many holiday tables when I was a child. Food blogger Pamela Salzman posted a lighter, reinvented version this summer and I made a mental note then. I hope I love it as much as the original!

For cranberry sauce, I’ll try Martha Stewart’s orangey spicey version. And for bread, I’m going to encourage my baker husband to make whole wheat dinner rolls.

We generally have our big meal around 3 p.m., so lunch is a small, mostly grazing affair of fruit, nuts, olives, veggie sticks in homemade ranch dressing and maybe a little cheese and a few crackers.

For dessert, I’m thinking outside the box with a chocolate zucchini cake and more traditionally with a local-apple pie (Virginia has so many amazing apple varieties that are still easy to come by this time of year).

Of course, that’s just one day of eating. My mom will be with us and my kids and husband will be home for another four. What will we all eat on the Wednesday before or the Saturday after? I’m looking at putting any leftover turkey in a pot pie, cooking a rubbed ham roast on the grill along with some honey corn fritters (I’ve had a request for those) and maybe, if we still need it, throwing together an always-a-hit batch of chili.

As I wrote last week, the real joy of the day comes from the time we spend together as a family. But hopefully this Thanksgiving meal will please our palates, too.

What are your must-haves on the Thanksgiving table? Where will you shake up your menu?

Next week: Mushroom adventures!