Thanksgiving ’08: Cathy vs. Tradition

posted in: Ruminations | 28

Wednesday, November 26, 9:00 am: Cathy triple-bags a thirteen and a half pound free-range turkey pre-ordered from DiPaolo Farms via the Greenmarket and tucks it into a camper’s backpack. Heads off to the subway, gets off at Midtown. Explains something to startled co-worker as she takes turkey out of backpack, and stuffs it into office refrigerator. Tradition raises eyebrow.

3:15 pm: Cathy hoists turkey-stuffed backpack onto her back and trudges through the thickly crowded ten blocks to Penn Station, just in time to catch the utterly cramped 3:27 NJTransit train. Tradition shrugs.

8:00 pm: Cathy fills a bucket with salt and sugar solution and dunks the bird inside to brine overnight. Tradition (which would have preferred some generic store-bought, genetically mutated, cooped-up-indoors turkey for this) shakes fist and concedes defeat. Point one for Cathy. Tradition: 0.

You don’t need not-eating-out girl to tell you that Thanksgiving is perhaps the greatest celebration of cooking with family and friends of the year. That tradition, I will gladly honor (of course). But Thanksgiving foods — oh, how they reek of tired traditions that for better or for worse suck all the creativity out of cooking the feast. I like roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes just as much as anyone else. Which is to say, not terribly much. It doesn’t tickle my culinary fancies; I wouldn’t order it off a menu, nor cook this type of meal too often. Do YOU ever make cranberry sauce any other day of the year? Come on and admit it, it’s not your favorite.

I’m not trying to be too harsh on Tradition here, just poking fun. Yes, I enjoy bowing to these traditional dishes to some extent, but when a house full of relatives ask me to take charge of Thanksgiving dinner, and then balk at me when I try to innovate with the ingredients, I throw my hands up. What’s so great about some of these traditions, anyway? Never have I felt so like a daughter in Fiddler on the Roof. What, what? You’re not going to make pecan pie with those pecans? What kind of pie is that? Does it even have a name? No, it doesn’t have a name yet because I just invented it — it’s a fusion of pecan and cranberry mince stuff, more sort of like a tart. But, but, we can’t have that, that’s not traditional! Can you make the stuffing now? Okay. What’s that? Bok choy and water chestnuts? No, no! What’s that spicy stuff going in the pan? That’s some chutney I thought I’d whip up to serve the roasted sweet potatoes with. You’re not doing candied yams? What time is dinner going to be ready? Around seven? Suppertime? No, no! Thanksgiving dinner should be served at three, that’s tradition! That may be true, but it’s a good way to make me fall asleep by five o’clock. But we love that! But I don’t!

Basically, I don’t care how the Puritans did it, or didn’t, most likely. Correction: I don’t care how we’ve been taught to regard Thanksgiving dinner with the huge exception of utilizing seasonal, fall harvest-y foods. But in the end, I made a compromise with Tradition this Thanksgiving. We both beat each other up pretty well, scoring points to one another’s dismay throughout the day. The hardest-won point for me would have probably been the first one, dragging that thirteen-pound turkey across state lines on my back. (Since I’ve become a stickler for free-range and humanely raised meats, I was told to supply the bird or else deal with the consequences.) Truth be told, I got a good deal of my non-traditional zeal out of my system by cooking a variety of “strange birds” for a Fall Harvest Feast (aka “Friendsgiving”) two weeks ago with friends. So by the time this Thanksgiving battle was lost and won, at about 11:00 pm, November 27, 2008, I’d like to think that me and Tradition had made amends. And through the process, both gained a greater appreciation for one another. Here are some of the reasons why:

look closer and this “pecan pie” is filled with a melange of cranberries, raisins and orange zest in a dark syrupy custard

when Tradition gave me out-of-season cherries and blueberries, I made a sideways-swooshed lattice crust on the pie

the apple “pie”

a family-recipe stuffing took center stage, inside the turkey

while a rice-and-bok choy, mushroom-and-water chestnut dressing was served on the side

no-frills Brussels sprouts

skins-on, roasted sweet potato cubes with a spicy tomato-golden raisin chutney

hors d’oeuvre of apple-walnut bruschetta in a balsamic reduction, topped with shaved parmesan

equal parts balsamic vinegar and sugar reducing for the bruschetta (“What’s that crazy smell??”)

crunchy cabbage salad with apples and brown sugar-baked pecans

Thanksgiving-morning quiche with mushrooms, cheddar and scallions

And it was all good. I’m thankful this year for having a family who puts up with attitude, and appreciates eating everything we cook together. Tradition can be a tough opponent, especially on the holidays. Working together is the ultimate victor here, and the moral of this Thanksgiving story. Like Lennon/McCarthy wrote, we can work it out. Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.

28 Responses

  1. viva guadalupe

    Get over yourself. I used to read this blog because I felt like you were promoting the idea that good food is not to be found only in restaurants, and in fact, can be successfully accomplished by anyone at home. But lately you’re entries are taking the same Food Network tone that implies only a delicate genius such as yourself can handle the mysteries of good food. To paraphrase Grocery Guy, cooking is not a mystic black art. And while the dishes you describe indeed sound delicious, the narration of your battle against the offenses of Thanksgiving tradition is nauseating. Moms and Dads rarely give a shit about trendy Eastern-inspired stuffing. You lose.

  2. cathy

    viva guadalupe: Sorry you got that impression! As mentioned, just poking fun at “traditional” Thanksgiving foods while making something new. Isn’t it a shame that “Eastern-inspired” is used almost as a curse here?

  3. matt

    guadalupe –

    First of all: anyone who paraphrases Grocery Guy is suspect in my book. I love Tom, that greasy asshole, but I certainly wouldn’t make him my culinary Messiah (and I guarantee he wouldn’t want that, either).

    Second: We can all appreciate you taking the time to offer your opinions, even if they do make you seem like a bitter, arrogant, self-righteous hate-monger with nothing better to do, but maybe you should better research your offenses, or perhaps better educate yourself on certain matters before you start slagging off whoever you feel is deserving. Nothing about this blog indicates a shift of tone from the underdog cook-at-home lady to the obnoxious Food Network diva. All I read is a story about a poor girl who was asked to take over Thanksgiving dinner and was subsequently derided by her family for doing things her way. Nothing about those dishes were exorbitant. Nothing about her tone denoted a lick of snobbishness or haughtiness. And where ANYWHERE does Cathy imply she is a delicate genius? You, my friend, have misread things a bit. And which “Moms and Dads” don’t give a shit about inspired and innovative foods? That is a generalization that is far too easy to tear apart.

    Lastly: I lied. I don’t really care to read your little attempt to tear down the psyche of someone you’ve never met, and I’m almost positive that many others don’t care to either, so please don’t vent your idiocy here. You have the glorious option to stop reading this blog if it offends you to such vitriolic ranting, but please don’t subject the rest of us happy and loyal readers to that hateful drivel. Come on now, there is no need for it.

    And don’t cower behind anonymity.

    -Matthew Bagdanoff

  4. Julia

    Cathy, I totally know where you’re coming from – I also took over cooking thanksgiving this year and went through the same struggle to try to introduce some new flavors while compromising with my family’s traditions – in the end the food was fine but not as new and great as i wanted. sounds like yours was a little more exciting.

  5. Rachel

    Cathy, As a longtime reader (and believe me, fan) of this blog, I hate to find myself sort of agreeing with Guadalupe. There’s been a shift in tone here at NEONY, and while it’s subtle, it’s for sure noticeable: more self-righteousness, less plain excitement about food and cooking. The maple leaves are a great addition, and you are probably a much better cook than you were when the blog began. But even looking at the archives, you’ll see more comments, and more enthusiasm from commentators only a few months ago. These days we’re not really sure how to respond.

    & Matt, you are a maximally awesome friend for sticking up for Cathy. RE: “I don’t really care to read your little attempt to tear down the psyche of someone you’ve never met”– Unfortunately, in most cases blogging MEANS never meeting a person.

  6. matt


    While this is not at all the point, I must say it: I have met every blogger I read, and it’s not a difficult task. Most of them (Cathy and Tom included) host or judge events, etc etc.. and invite their readers to come along. Again, not the point, but it must be said: in most cases, being a fan of a blogger MEANS meeting the person.

    My point.. Well, it certainly is not, “Guadalupe should meet her first before s/he says insulting things to her.” That is exactly what my point isn’t.

    My point, not in the least owing to my kinship with the author, is that people who get critical of an author and of his/her blog should be careful about how they want to be critical. Are they adding anything to the discussion of the subject in the posting? Are they saying something intelligent and insightful and thought-provoking? Or are they just intent on making someone feel bad because they somehow feel like an authority on how someone should sound in their blog? I honestly cannot imagine the motivation for such a slanderous comment; who would take the time?? I read too many pointless, negative blog comments in countless blogs and it’s very distracting and completely unnecessary. It’s like those childish kids who jump on to a thread to call the previous poster “A FCKING FAGGOTD!!!11” because the anonymity of the internet unleashes a hideous, unbridled aggression and I don’t see how it’s relevant. If you have a comment about an author as a person or in relation to how their blog is developing and you really can’t go to sleep until you get that message across, send it in an email to the author and leave it out of this space which is reserved for commentators who wish to ask questions or comment about the subject of the blog.

    Let me also say that you are both mistaken, or perhaps you have an amazingly distorted ideal of Cathy and have somehow taken it personally that her voice may be different now. A related anecdote: Several years back, my little cousin tried to write to Fox after they killed Maude Flanders in an episode of The Simpsons. He was confused–he thought it was real or something–and he wrote, “you had no right to do this.” He got in trouble because he was writing this in class the Monday after it aired. Teacher totally busted him. The funniest part was when my aunt told me the story and she capped it by exclaiming, “I spend three thousand a year to send him to a private school and this is how he spends his day: writing angry letters to television shows.”

  7. Rachel

    Matt, in response your non-point— “While this is not at all the point, I must say it: I have met every blogger I read, and it’s not a difficult task. Most of them (Cathy and Tom included) host or judge events, etc etc.. and invite their readers to come along. Again, not the point, but it must be said: in most cases, being a fan of a blogger MEANS meeting the person.”—I guess you don’t read that many blogs, because it’s just not true.
    I don’t anywhere near New York City. How would I attend one of your chili cookoffs or fondue whatevers? I wish I could.
    I certainly don’t think Cathy should feel bad, or take any of what we say as attacking HER. It’s the internet. By all means, feel free to judge US too, and believe what you want. Foster your own “amazingly distorted ideal.” Cathy, I really do enjoy your blog.
    And Matt, your little cousin is supposed to be…us? Because he seems awesome. Just saying. What a convicted little guy.

  8. Rachel

    ALSO, lest you believe otherwise, I do agree that lupe’s comments were harsh and weird and uncalled for. But such is the way of the internet. That’s why I never look at youtube comments, or most other comments for that matter. People are often angry and unhelpful.

  9. anonymous coward

    Arguing on the internet: serious business!!

  10. wynk

    Back to talking about food…*ahem*

    Yes, I actually DO make cranberry sauce other times of the year! I have even been known to buy them frozen in the summer and make it. Granted, I make mine from scratch and would just sit and eat it with a spoon. Oh, the tangy goodness.

    What I don’t make other times of year is the leftover turkey to add to it to make awesome leftover turkey-and-cranberry sammiches the next morning. 😉

    I would love for you to post what you put in some of those side dishes. Mainly the cabbage salad. Yum.

  11. Lila

    We don’t get to see the recipes for this yummy stuff?? The pecan-cranberry joint sounds and looks like a winner.

  12. Gobias

    I still can’t get over the kid who said he has met every blogger he reads. Must either be the best traveled or most poorly read person on the planet. I hope you don’t acquire an interest in Australian aborigine art – that’ll be a pretty hefty investment.

    Does that go for books too? Better find a shovel if you want to read Shakespeare.

  13. Andrea

    Why are you guys being so mean? It’s a food blog. You don’t have to read it if you don’t like it.

    Everything sounds yummy. I’d love the recipe for the bok choy/rice stuffing.

    I agree with you Cathy, it’s hard to introduce new foods into Thanksgiving, even when they say they want something different people get very attached to their old favorites.

    I never realized that my sister was so attached to regular stuffing until I tried to introduce apples and nuts into ours!

  14. Joanna

    I do actually like the traditional foods, and this past Thursday I found myself wondering why I don’t make them any other time of the year… but I think a big part of why I like them is that they are comfortable and familiar. I also completely understand your battle against tradition. My dad always does the bulk of the cooking, and my extended family are just not that into food, so he tends to put in the minimal amount of effort necessary. I thought about offering a few suggestions this year but decided not to because not only were they untraditional, they also would be completely unappreciated. Sigh.

    Your pies look fabulous, and I love that the apple one says “pie.” Any and all pie recipes would be awesome!

    (Also, not to fan the flames in the comments here, but I’m under the impression that any change in tone here has come largely as a result of Cathy writing a book at the same time, so a lot of her recipes and rants have been set aside for the book instead of being posted on the blog. Which is to be expected, I think. I still love this blog and will definitely buy the book when it comes out!)

  15. krucoff

    I come here for the great writing, photos and a sensibility about food I can agree with. I don’t know what the fuss is all about but let me get straight to MY point: ARE THERE ANY LEFTOVERS??

  16. becca

    Cathers, (despite others arguments) I loved your entry. Thanksgiving is one of the most intense, if not the most complicated meals of the year. I think that you pulled it off masterfully. -xx

  17. Midge

    I agree with Andrea, everything looks yummy. I wouldn’t mind bok choy/rice stuffing recipe as well. My sister made “real” stuffing this year and I could see the pained look on her face the whole time she was eating it that it wasn’t “stovetop”. Old habits are hard to break.

  18. Jordan

    Yeah, I’m really not understanding the attitude from the first poster. To someone’s point, yes, it’s the Internet and people are mean. But I think that’s a lame excuse to use when sad people throw around insults–just because they can avoid the guilt that results from confronting their victims face-to-face doesn’t make it less hurtful to those on the receiving end.

    I thought this post was delightful, funny, and made me wish I’d been there…Any reading of a diva tone that only CATHY can handle making these dishes sounds like a total projection to me–it’s really easy to read things into others’ words when you actually believe them yourself.

  19. Jordan

    On another note, Cathy, something weird is happening with the comments feature: The “Name” and “Website” fields are automatically filling in with previous posters’ info for me–but I’m completely sure that no one uses this computer but me. Not sure if it’s a bug or what, just thought I’d let you know. 🙂

  20. Chip Erway

    Cathy, from Dad, your taking over cooking this Thanksgiving dinner was a milestone. About 20 years ago I did so from my Mom, after starting the tradition of 6 pies made from scratch crust, flour/sugar/butter/egg, now this year you also promoted nearly all fillings from scratch. Good results. Best, Dad

  21. cathy

    I really appreciate everyone’s comments, and am flattered for the recipe requests — will work on getting some of these up! Thanks!

  22. AmandaK

    Cathy- everything looks great, but I am really drooling over that picture of the cubed sweet potatoes………they look awesome. Next year don’t be surprised if you get a surprise “taster” from Woodland Rd 🙂

  23. meg

    your dad reads your blog and comments on it!! cutest shiz ever.

  24. Chip Erway

    For anyone who was wondering, in Thanksgiving cooking I am and was the Tradition guy (Dad) with whom Cathy discussed cooking ideas, along with my younger sister and some of Cathy’s cousins. It was a fun debate of what to cook, how to do it, etc. and the results were very good.

  25. Jon

    I have to say she does seem a little bit more full of herself in this post than before. But hey, if you are going to post a blog about all the stuff you cook, you have to have a little confidence in it.

    Not to agree with the first poster in his tone or comments, but something about this one did turn me off a bit. Not going to think about it too hard though!

  26. ChiChar

    I had the same experience. I was in charge of Thanksgiving this year and it seemed like the originality that I had envisioned for each dish was slowly chipped away on the day-of by my parents. A brine? That sounds wierd and way too salty. Homemade stuffing? The boxed kind has such a nice flavor. Etc. And re: the debate, it’s amazing how easily people who care a lot about the quality and preparation of food are accused of snobbery. And I think the Food Network, while apparently the symbol of snobbishness for some here, is almost overly cautious about this one. It seems they are very worried about intimidating the home cook or, worse, using a French term or something.

  27. Wm Bucaram

    Within Durban the MYNAH BUS, is a common and dependable local bus carrier that ferries passengers between the north and south beaches, the CBD and surrounding suburbs.

  28. EC23 shop


    Yao Ming the Rockets in the first four West teams, and without Yao Ming, 7, west of missiles, level 8. Yao is the time limit Versace Beltswill be healthy next season, the best league in the center. Miller Center for his fine skills to the main Eydelmana a great role to play. Hill, is a good rebounder, but was not yet developed other features.


    Houston is not more than 50 games in regular season victory, and the West, and four to the top. When the playoffs start, missiles, Versace Belts as expected, collapse of the Western Conference final last July, heavy fighting is the last door

Leave a Reply