As mentioned in Part 1, Thanksgiving is the all-American holiday, the ultimate feast and family celebration. It might be one of the very few holidays when, no matter what the religion, race, provenience, ethnicity, or other social or cultural aspects, the families gather around the dinner table to consume a big bird, mashed potatoes and other goodies.
The preparations to this very feast start a few days before, when one needs to acquire the aforementioned turkey, and sometimes ham (now, its presence will definitely be determined by religion), and all the necessary Thanksgiving feast ingredients. My dinner experiences were more or less uniform, i.e. there weren't a lot of variations to them, nevertheless, there were always some additions, and I will try to include all of them, so as to give as broad of an image of a typical Thanksgiving meal as possible, but bear in mind that all of these dishes weren't necessarily present at every one particular dinner.
* Centerpiece for most (but not all, like us, vegetarians) is, of course, the turkey and its gravy! (big bird requires big ovens -- doesn't this example just perfectly explain why ovens and other things are "supersized" in the US? Or maybe it's the willingness to eat the big bird that made them build XXL ovens? Which one was first? Big birds required big ovens, or big ovens were followed by big birds?)
* Mashed potatoes -- there is a special tool to mash the potatoes to an extremely smooth, soft and creamy consistency, and it's nothing less than a potato mill. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper -- and spoon the perfectly puréed taters on your plate!
* Stuffing -- can be inside the bird (as the name would suggest), but in modern days, is often left out and prepared entirely separately. Also, there are possible two versions: vegan and containing the bird parts (fat, meat, what have you).
* Cranberry sauce -- another indispensable ingredient of the dinner. It's not Thanksgiving dinner if there isn't any cranberry sauce, if you like it or not! Some prefer home made, jellied sauce from fresh cranberries (the stores have an abundance of them this time of year, and for that specific reason), others a jellied smooth canned version. You can go either way, but there is no third outlet...
* Sweet potatoes -- mashed or chopped and roasted. Mashed were my definite preference, that said, they are not as necessary as their non-sweet cousins...
* Green beans -- Trader Joe's has a limited (in time at least) supply of fried onions that come here all the way from Holland just in time for Thanksgiving and the green bean dish. After steaming the beans, you bake them with breadcrumbs and fried onions, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and roast. An alternative version (that I tried) included green beans in creamy sauce with mushrooms.
* Broccoli -- cooked broccoli, with sliced almonds and garlic, or with a light olive oil/lemon juice dressing.
* Nana's Secret Sauce -- family special made for years by everybody's beloved Nana: yogurt/cream with green onions and who knows what else -- after all, it's a well-guarded secret, and it's good!
* Rolls & butter -- on top of all the food, grab a bun, smear it with butter, use it as a sponge and soak that gravy!
* Wine, lots of wine, and champagne.
After fitting one plateful (only the courageous few get up for seconds! Brave they are!) of this food in your empty stomach (as, most likely, you didn't eat anything all day, having been busy with the last preps and waiting to savor the annual feast), and on top of that, if you happened to include turkey in your meal, you are hit with the so-called food coma that is as inevitable as overeating and overdrinking on that day... You struggle, but you are not the only one -- as the whole group you were sharing the meal with is going through the same battles with the overwhelming power of sleep... If you are lucky enough to have musicians in your family, you can count on a high-level entertainment, that will be the only savior that night. And maybe a cup of coffee, too.
After a couple of hours of break from eating (that you need badly after dinner), the dessert is served. So for dessert there are different pies -- as the Americans tend to have a separate dessert stomach (I'm not sure all nations are gifted with such a convenience), there has to be a separate dessert station. Pecan, pumpkin and apple at the minimum. With whipped cream and/or ice cream. It seems unbelievable, but by the time it happens, you are *ready* for it, you are ready to eat again, and you know that you're going to have to try them all, have to have at least a sliver of each of them... And the history repeats itself -- your eyelids become heavy again, the dessert coma is hitting you with its double force now! You can only give in now. But you know it was a good day, and you are truly thankful for all the food, dessert, wine, and the people that made it happen and that went with you through this terrible, yet annual and such a rewarding pain... Next time you'll just eat less, forgo the seconds, stick to one modest piece of one pie (yeah, right!)... Oh well, it was a big day, and there is another big one ahead of you (that might start right after you've left the place you dined at, and headed to the mall...), and you're already looking back at it with that sentimental face and sparkle in your eyes... It might have been coma-inducing, it might have been 4000kcal in one meal, it might have made you drunk with wine and total happiness, but you know what?! You are grateful for it, and no matter the consequences, you'll do it again next year, and the next, and... You'll be forever thankful for the Thanksgiving Day!
In part three I will expand on the very American traditions taking place on Thanksgiving Day (as American as the pies and football... Speaking of...): sports, parades, and other entertainment! Read on!