I spend a lot of time engaged in wishful thinking. Here we are, just around the corner from Halloween, and I am already starting to scribble lists for Thanksgiving. I’ve even got a dedicated (albeit dusty) corner of the kitchen for a growing stack of items to toss into the car before we head off to the rental house in the mountains for the Thanksgiving holiday. So far I have the turkey-shaped glass candleholders, and a box of candles. The pile will grow. (Corkscrew, electric carving knife, grease separator, canister of Wondra flour…)
There is no frost on the pumpkin as yet, the one bought a couple of weeks ago on our field trip to the farm stand, and yet I am mulling the finer points of transitioning from traditional pumpkin pie to a TikTok chic chocolate olive oil cake for Thanksgiving dessert. (Chocolate Olive Oil Cake) And what should we do for potatoes? Peel pounds of russets and hope the mountain of bland, buttery goodness appeals to the 9-year-old and his younger brother? Or should we experiment with Lyonnaise potatoes? Or maybe risk our fingertips and pull out the deadly guillotine and try Crispy Cheesy Garlic Potato Stacks? With the world in turmoil, it is probably just as well that I focussed on an annual family meal that is still weeks away.
Most sensible people would channel their energies toward getting prepared for Halloween, the more immediate holiday. As I have said, we have decorated the front porch with a pumpkin, and now hanging from the hook on the front door is a colorful bunch of dried corn, tied with a jaunty burgundy bow; surely, Martha-approved. She might look askance at the black, skeletal plastic flamingos, but we are fond of them.
More preparation will include buying the candy to distribute on Halloween itself. I still remember the year I bought Tootsie Rolls a week before Halloween, because I don’t like Tootsie Rolls, and yet, maybe because I was pregnant, I found them irresistibly delicious that year. And subsequently gained five pounds. In a week. I cannot abide Tootsie Rolls now, but I bet if I were alone in a house with a bag of them, I might change my mind, again. The only will power that I can muster comes from keeping the Halloween candy out of the house until the last possible minute.
Potatoes, on the other hand, take a little more prep work than just clawing open a plastic bag and tearing into the tiny, crinkly packages. First, you have to consider the merits of the many varieties of potato. There are more than 200 types of potatoes sold in the United States. Amazing. Simply, there are seven categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling, and petite. Don’t take my word for it: Potato Varieties
After a summer full of potato salads (red bliss), garlic smashed potatoes (yellow), and grilled potatoes (white), it will be a nice change of pace to turn on the oven and bake some warm fluffy Russet potatoes. Time in a warm kitchen while potatoes are baking is well spent: while puttering, writing lists, setting the table, reading the paper. Time slows to a manageable crawl.
A baked potato is the easiest way to enjoy a warm, though solitary, meal. But a big part of Thanksgiving is passing dishes around the family dinner table. Baked potatoes aren’t as communal as heaving a weighty bowl of steaming hot, mashed, or scalloped, potatoes to the person on your right. So now is the time to practice.
This Thanksgiving we will be using a strange kitchen in a rented house – who knows what equipment there might be on hand. Some years we have stayed in houses where the kitchen was college common room basic: flatware that might have been filched from a cheap diner, mismatched melamine plates, cobwebby wine glasses, paper towels for napkins. Other years Williams Sonoma had been well patronized, and we could spatchcock the turkey with abandon. The unknown is part of our family lore, and our Thanksgiving traditions. (Although I prefer not to dwell on the year I peeled 5 pounds of potatoes with a dull paring knife, feeling like a sad Beetle Bailey character…)
I will be trying these new potato dishes out on Mr. Sanders and Luke the wonder dog in the coming weeks. Join us!
We might enjoy some new potatoes and desserts this Thanksgiving, along with the same old time-tested family squabbles, turkey hats, sausage balls, and endearing idiosyncrasies. As always, there will be leftovers for turkey sandwiches and too many dishes to wash. I can’t wait.
“In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you’re feeling blue…The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you’re feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let’s face it: the reason you’re blue is that there isn’t anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it’s almost always at the wrong time.”
― Nora Ephron