A Plateful of Grateful

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

It’s that time of year. Time to be thankful for everything, not the least of which is the anticipated bounty of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie that Americans look forward to cramming down our gullets this time of year. Although challenging to sift through it this year there is a lot to be thankful for, especially if you are healthy, sheltered, and have that annual buffet binge to look forward to. Sadly, this is not the case for so many, those not sheltered and/or without food in their future. And there will be many empty chairs at tables this year due to distance, distancing and deaths. But let me turn this around, quickly before I lose you!

Before going into what we should be thankful for, there’s one big reason to be expressing your thanks: it’s good for you! As cliché as “count your blessings” and other such expressions of gratitude may be, they have actually been proven to be beneficial by decreasing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and depression, and even helping you sleep better. Living with gratitude can be a healthful way of life. Thankfulness on the other hand is a good response expressed when you have received benefits – more automated response than mindful mantra.

Although still more than a few weeks to go as I write this, Thanksgiving looms. Long ago I stopped travelling for the holiday, opting to take part in or create new localized traditions and celebrations of thanks with my chosen family (no offense to given family!). Instead of crowded, hassled airports and besieged roadways, where no one appears at all in the spirit, I choose smaller, more civilized get-togethers in which I can feel relaxed, welcome and able to be mindful, grateful AND thankful! Goodbye to just unwinding from the trip there when suddenly it’s time to make the same stressful trip back. No THANK you!

For a few years, a friend and I would spend weeks planning a different thematic Thanksgiving meal. The usual suspects where there, although dressed up a bit differently. Gracing the Southwest inspired dinner table, our turkey was deeply bronzed with a pumpkin-chipotle glaze and served with green chili mashed potatoes and apricot-jalapeño relish. Another year a Tuscan-themed bird received an olive oil-fennel seed-citrus-sage massage and was then stuffed with fennel, kale, rosemary, pine nut and ciabatta dressing. Not tied to the traditional same old, same old, we enjoyed flexing our global culinary muscles, letting all the flags fly, all the while avoiding family drama, traffic, crowds, and airports. Grateful!

As time went by, people relocated, dynamics changed and with some friends, the ritualistic all stages act of preparing that ginormous, glistening-brown, lusciously lacquered, Rockwellian centerpiece becomes too much. When I took the call from our friend who we would be dining with hours later on one particular Thanksgiving Day, I assumed it was going to be a request to bring an extra bag of ice, or a pint of whipping cream. I wasn’t prepared to hear that his wife, my dear longtime friend, had just chucked the raw turkey out the back door onto the lawn. She was done, too much!

Barry and I hustled to get dressed, pull together our dinner contributions and were out the door within an hour. When we arrived, the flung fowl had been retrieved, grass rinsed off, and our friends attempting to regroup. At this point the turkey should have been in the oven for a few hours to accommodate dinner guests arriving in just a few more hours. I quickly decided that best way to get it moving along quickly was to spatchcock the bird for faster, easier cooking. Spatchcocking is a procedure in which you remove the backbone from and flatten or butterfly the bird for quicker, even cooking. Glad I brought my knife kit, bien sûr!

In hindsight, I probably should have warned our friend, who returned to the kitchen right when I was pulling out the backbone, exactly what I intended to do. “WHAT are you doing?!?” was his natural reaction, that aforementioned Rockwellian table-carving moment quickly dissipating. I explained, I apologized, I reminded I was asked to come help and help I did. It turned out a delicious and memorable meal, for so many reasons!

I later suggested that maybe it was the last year they hosted and encouraged the making of new, simplified traditions. They now make my easy whole roast beef tenderloin and have people over the days following Thanksgiving, where they can be more relaxed and inviting. No risk of arriving guests having to elude pitched poultry.

This year, we are all being urged into new traditions. Although I’m sure there are plenty of folks carrying on as if there is NOT a pandemic, we will again be reinventing Thanksgiving dinner this year. Staying safe, healthy and sane means we might consider an offer to a friend’s SD dinner or we may just stay home and enjoy a rare (and could become a NEW tradition) kitchen assist appearance from my sweet husband. We’ll mix up some cheer, maybe have a video chat or two with other friends and family, joining them as they prepare in their kitchens. Thankful for technology that we recently blamed for isolating people ironically is now bringing us together.

Whatever we do, I’m thankful to have options. Thankful for my friends, family, home and health. I plan to express my gratitude by offering and reciprocating help, cooking a friend dinner, assisting someone without expecting a return of favor, or donating time or money to organizations that are helping others less fortunate. Gratitude is a way of life that I’m thankful for.

Oh, and make this Tartiflette in a Pumpkin this season! Tartiflette is a traditional dish from the French Alps that showcases my two favorite food groups; dairy and carbs. Not typically made in a pumpkin but I found it the perfect edible vessel and a gorgeous addition to any holiday table. Love and hugs to you and yours! xoxo

Tartiflette is a perfect meal when paired with the essential accompaniments of salad and cornichon - add charcuterie and it's a proper meal, or a superb Thanksgiving side dish when cut into smaller wedges. Make it vegetarian - swap bacon for ½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes. You’re welcome!

Tartiflette in a Pumpkin

Serves 6 to 12

1 small pumpkin or sunshine kabocha squash, about 3 pounds

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 oz sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)

2 Tbsp minced fresh sage (or sub thyme or rosemary)

3/4 pounds (12 oz) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch pieces

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

6 oz crème fraîche (@ ¾ cup)

2 cups day old bread pieces, roughly torn 1/2-inch pieces rather than perfect cubes

6 oz Taleggio cheese or any soft, washed-rind cheese such as Brie (Reblochon if you can find it!)

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C. Position a rack in the center of oven. Line a rimmed baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Wash and dry pumpkin thoroughly then carefully cut the top off about 1 1/2 inches out from the stem, jack-o’-lantern style. Use a spoon, scrape out the seeds and strings. Reserve seeds to roast later, if you like!

Place the pumpkin and the stem on the prepared baking dish. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in and around pumpkin and stem, season the inside with salt and pepper then place in the oven until the flesh is soft when pierced with tip of a small knife, mostly cooked through and a bit golden on the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the roasted pumpkin and allow it to cool.

Meanwhile, place the bacon in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has nearly all rendered and the bacon is beginning to crisp, 8 to 12 minutes.

Add onion to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the sage and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are quite brown and caramelized, and the potatoes are just cooked through, 20 to 22 minutes. Stir the nutmeg and crème fraîche into the potato mixture and season with salt and pepper.

Stir the bread into the potato mixture and spoon about half of the mixture into the pumpkin. Cut cheese into 1/4-inch slices and place a layer on the filling. Spoon in the remaining filling mixture, packing it gently so it all fits. Top with the remaining cheese and pour the cream over the cheese.

Place stuffed pumpkin in oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, 15 minutes. You can blast under broiler for 20 to 30 seconds for super brown and bubbly. Serve whole with lid, slice into wedges at the table.

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