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November 2005

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Alternative Thanksgiving Celebrations

 

by Ingrid Gulliksen, WSGC Staff

Thanksgiving! It’s the unofficial start of the winter holiday season, and it’s only a few weeks away. If you’re planning to celebrate you might consider breaking with tradition and trying something different this year, perhaps even something a bit avant-garde. After all, the real purpose of Thanksgiving Day is to celebrate the good things in our lives, especially our families and our friends. The manner in which we celebrate is secondary. The traditional turkey or Tofurky dinner with all the trimmings is a wonderful custom, but if you’re in the mood for a new way of celebrating, read on!

Speaking of being thankful, I’d like to thank all of my great co-workers who took the time to share their ideas and suggestions with me. Thanks, everyone, I couldn’t have done this without your help!

Where to start?
Okay, so this year you’ve made a decision to break with tradition and celebrate our national day of thanksgiving a bit differently. But where do you start? What could you serve that would be fun, festive, and unique? What kinds of preparations should you make? Well, most people seem to enjoy a meal with a specific theme, so that might be a good starting point.

A progressive dinner with homestyle food
Consider the tastes and personalities of most of your potential guests: Are they a sociable and fun-loving bunch, but frankly not all that adventurous when it comes to food choices? A progressive dinner might be the perfect solution! Progressive dinners were once all the rage, and are still in vogue in some circles. A progressive dinner is a meal arranged by and participated in by a group of friends or family members. The meal consists of several courses; each course, along with an appropriate beverage, is served in a different participant’s home. Everyone travels from one home to another for each successive course. Progressive dinners work best when all the participants live close to one another, as the entire group must move a few times. This would be an ideal social event for friends and neighbors living in the same condo or apartment building or complex, or within the same neighborhood.

Because each of the dinner participants is a host or hostess as well as a guest, simplicity is the key to a successful progressive dinner. According to Donna Pilato, About.com’s Guide to Entertaining, a progressive dinner should be scheduled with no more than three or four courses, and at least a three-hour evening should be planned. This allows from 45 minutes to an hour per stop, plus adequate traveling time between homes. Possible courses include hors d’oeuvres/appetizers, soup or salad, main course, and dessert.

Except for the person hosting the first course, each dinner participant needs to leave his or her part of the meal “ready and waiting,” so to speak, at home for the entire group’s arrival. For this reason, easy, no-fuss foods are a must for a relaxed and fun evening. A good main-course choice might be this delightful recipe for Italian Gratin from the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook. Its authors, the Moosewood Collective, describe it like this: “This easy dish has everything you might want in a great homestyle meal—a few vegetables, a little pasta, some cheese, and the cachet of sunny Italian flair.”

A bit more adventurous
Perhaps the idea of an alternative Thanksgiving dinner appeals to you, but homestyle comfort food, enjoyable as it is, isn’t quite what you have in mind. You’d like to try something not only non-traditional but a bit adventurous as well. Chances are you’re already fond of Asian food, so perhaps a Japanese nori-rolling party would be a fun alternative. Here’s the scenario: You provide the nori-roll basics, and each of your guests brings something appropriate for the festivities. This could be food, a beverage, teacups or sake cups, traditional kimonos or lanterns, low tables and floor-seating cushions, music, or incense—anything and everything that represents the traditional elegance of Japanese culture.

Here are recipes for making both sushi rice and nori rolls, from Madhur Jaffrey’s wonderful cookbook World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

Fanciful and whimsical
If you and your family are in the mood for something truly unusual and unique and your tastes could be described as fanciful or whimsical, then consider this: An Alice In Wonderland tea party! Ideally, this would take place outdoors in a beautiful, tree-shaded garden; a lovely idea, but impractical for late November in Wisconsin! A good substitute is an indoor tea party, with Alice-themed decorations, and copies of the book scattered about, plus a screening of the movie. To add to the festivities, guests could dress in their fanciest tea-party attire, as well as characters from the book. The final ingredient for this very special day is a beautiful table laden with tarts, tea cakes and cookies, and of course steaming pots of tea, teacups and saucers, and all of the other necessary teatime accoutrements. Who says you can’t have a tea party on Thanksgiving Day?

Do it your way!
Here are other possibilities for alternative Thanksgiving Day celebrations:
• A make-your-own-pizza-from-
scratch party.
• A pick-a-country dinner party: prior
to Thanksgiving Day, everyone
writes the name of their favorite
country on a slip of paper, slips are
folded and tossed into a bowl, a slip
is randomly chosen, and the cuisine,
décor, and dining customs of that
country are celebrated.
• A medieval banquet, complete with
costumes, music, and authentic food.
• A wine and cheese party: simple and
elegant, always in style.
• A burrito-making party: same for
mula as the nori-rolling party, but
celebrating Mexican culture.
• A “musical brunch:” host or hostess
supplies the basics, and guests bring
various additional brunch ingredients,
and musical instruments as well, if
they are so inclined. Then everyone
shares in the cooking, the music-
making, and of course the brunch!

Use your creativity
Whether your taste is comfort food simple, ethnically unique, or whimsically fanciful, you can use your own special talents and preferences to create a fun and memorable holiday as individual as you are. Enjoy yourself, and Happy Thanksgiving!