Thanksgiving is this self-proclaimed foodie’s dream meal. Not only are there many dishes served, there is opportunity: for the traditional and the experimental, for recipes that are made reverently once a year and for inviting friends new and old to join the family table. Yes, I know the holiday is many weeks away but that does not preclude the crowding of thoughts of what we might make this year. For me, this is sheer bliss!

We started having Thanksgiving with our neighbors at their friends’ vacation house near Glen Arbor a few years ago. We go to an old farmhouse that is used mostly in the summer and is large enough to accommodate our families and an assortment of guests for the weekend. There are plenty of beds, a large table for dining, and a family room for watching movies, the football game and the Thanksgiving Day parade. The living room has tables for games, two sofas and a large fireplace where a fire roars the entire weekend. The kitchen, a bit small for such a large group, has everything we need and while we must dance around one another to cook, the dance is part of the fun.

Rituals began to happen, as if by magic. The hike on Alligator Hill while the turkey roasts, and games of euchre between food preparations. Burgers and tater tots at Arts Tavern the day after. Attending the Christmas tree lighting and caroling at the town hall, followed by the craft fair. Teens getting up at an ungodly hour for Black Friday shopping in Traverse City and back in time for breakfast.

Certain foods became part of the ritual as well. Sharon’s crab cakes for lunch on Thanksgiving Day and Eric’s spinach balls before dinner. Barb uses her mom’s recipe for the turkey stuffing, and there was a panic one year when Bell’s Seasoning was hard to find. Festive mimosas with pomegranate seeds served in the morning while we cooked. Pounds of bacon along with egg sandwiches for breakfast. There is a whole lot of excitement and hubbub and merriment, but there is another ritual I find myself looking forward to more than all the above.

The day before Thanksgiving, we arrive at the house, just our neighbors, Barb and Paul, and ourselves. The children now in college and rest of the family usually arrive the next day. We unpack bags of food, choose our bedrooms, bring in loads of wood and light the fires. The house begins to warm. We have a simple meal planned for that evening and eat it in the kitchen, at the table that looks out over the driveway and into the woods behind the house.

One year, we had a raclette dinner on that night before Thanksgiving. The cheese is traditionally made to melt well, and it is nutty and delicious. The raclette grill sits on the table, and there is ham, potatoes and peppers for the melted cheese. This is accompanied by crusty bread, and pickles we have made earlier in the year: asparagus, wild leeks, green beans, carrots.

As we sat there eating, drinking good red wine and catching up, a fox walked into view from the light spilling outside the window. He was looking in at our tableau, perhaps drawn in by activity that has not been there for the past few months, or more probably, by the turkey brining in a large pail outside. Paul might have yelped at that thought, and jumped from his seat to the door. But what I recall was a wonderfully calm moment, that it should be right to have a fox casually observing our scene as we were observing him. The fox was so beautiful and sure of his place in the world. It was a special moment, where you know how very lucky you are to have seen it and how you will never forget it.

I love those pre-Thanksgiving nights which give us time to be with our friends without distractions, without a need to hurry anything, to appreciate who we are to one another. I love the anticipation of what we know the next few days will bring, including new stories we’ll hear as we cook and sit together at the table. I love the hope that the fox will appear again someday, and how the story of that experience is so often retold.

I suggest you try and find time this month to have a quiet meal with family or friends. Make it simple, give yourselves time to linger and savor that moment. Keep an eye on your surroundings, so you don’t miss what might be passing by.

Here are some recipes that can be part of a simple meal, using ingredients you will likely be stocking up on for some part of your Thanksgiving dinner. I also highly recommend trying a raclette dinner sometime. The folks at Leelanau Cheese can walk you through it.

Carrot Ginger Soup

The following simple soup is a classic case of the sum being greater than its parts. I like to serve it topped with yogurt or sour cream, and if you have the time, a swirl of an herb paste called a “pistou.”

Serves 4

1 T. minced fresh ginger, peeled

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ C. chopped onion

2 T. butter

3 C. chicken broth

1 1/3 C. water

5 C. sliced peeled carrots

¼ cup fresh lime juice (zest lime first for garnish if using)

Garnish: Yogurt or sour cream, lime zest, and/or herb paste pistou

Melt butter in a large soup pot. Sauté ginger, garlic and onions in butter over medium low heat, stirring often, until vegetables are soft. Add broth, water and carrots, turn up the heat, and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Add lime juice.

Puree in food processor or blender until smooth. Return to pot to warm before serving. Soup may be served chilled as well but this time of year, warm is nice. Serve with a swirl of pistou and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and a sprinkle of lime zest.

— Rose Hollander

Herb Paste

I make this paste often when I have a bunch of an herb and don’t think I’ll get to it before it goes limp. It will extend the herb’s shelf life and can be smeared on toast, served on eggs or swirled into bean dishes, dips or soups.

Makes about 1 cup

4 C. of a leafy green herb (parsley or cilantro is good with carrot soup)

½ C. olive oil

Salt to taste

1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)

Clean and dry herbs, leaving stems on if they are not too tough. Place in a food processor and pulse to chop the herbs (and garlic if using.) With the processor running, add oil in a thin stream until you have the consistency of a sauce. Add a ½ tsp salt and process, taste and add more salt if you’d like. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Simple Celery Salad

My friend Barb loves this salad, so much so I heard she raids my refrigerator for it when I am not looking. If you don’t have a whole head of celery, adjust ingredients accordingly and make it anyway.

Serves 4 - 6

1 head celery, washed

Salt and pepper

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

4 T. extra virgin olive oil

Optional: 4 – 6 chopped anchovies

Finely chop the inner leaves of the celery, and slice the celery stalks crosswise, as thinly as possible. Place celery in a large bowl with anchovies (if using) and some of the lemon zest, reserving a little zest for garnish. Season with some salt (use less if you added anchovies) and a few grinds of black pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss together, then add half of the lemon juice, taste and add more to suit.

Salad benefits from sitting in refrigerator an hour before serving but can also be served right away.

— Rose Hollander, adapted from “Canal House Cooks Everyday”

Spinach Balls

2 packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained, squeezing as much moisture out as you can

6 large eggs

2 C. herb stuffing mix

1 t. black pepper

1 t. salt

½ t. dried thyme leaves

1 T. garlic powder

½ C. grated parmesan cheese

¾ C. melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Use a spoon or your hands to form golf ball size ball of the mixture and place them on cookie sheets 1 inch apart. Bake for 20 minutes until cooked through. Serve warm. Can be reheated.

— Eric Gerstner, from a family recipe

Sour Cream Pumpkin Coffeecake

This is a coffeecake that can hold its own for a few days, making it a great weekend getaway treat for a crowd.

Serves 8 – 12

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bundt pan, set aside.

Streusel layer

In a small bowl, mash together with a fork: ½ cup brown sugar, 1 Tbls unsalted butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice. Set aside.

Cake

3 C. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 T. cinnamon

2 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

1 C. (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 C. sugar

4 eggs

1 C. pumpkin puree

1 C. (about 8 oz.) sour cream

2 t. vanilla

Powdered sugar or glaze*

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until well blended, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix the pumpkin, sour cream and vanilla together in another bowl, then add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. (If you have a stand mixer, add first the pumpkin, then sour cream, then vanilla and skip the extra step of mixing them together.) Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just blended.

Spoon half batter into the bundt pan, sprinkle all the streusel over this batter, then top with remaining batter. Tap pan on counter to settle batter.

Place in preheated oven and bake 50 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan. When cool, invert onto a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar or make a *glaze: 1 ½ cups powdered sugar and 2 – 3 T. fresh orange juice.

— Rose Hollander

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