Because I am an immigrant, I have no family here other than my husband and daughter. So I’ve adopted a family, some people of my heritage, with whom I share experiences and with whom I socialize. Each year at Thanksgiving, we do a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner at my restaurant. Each of these families boasts of at least one fabulous cook, so each brings a dish designed to show off their culinary artistry. This year, in a moment of total madness, I decided to do all the cooking myself. I invited all these friends, telling them that if they even tried to bring a dish, they would be turned away at the door.
If you’ve never seen the movie, Babette’s Feast, I recommend it. It’s the story of a former chef in the Royal Court of France who escaped to a Scandinavian country ultimately going to work for a farm family in rural Denmark. She had won a lottery, and because food was so important to her, instead of using the lottery money to travel, or to spend on herself, she decided to put on–by herself–a fabulous dinner for her host family. She used the money to import the most expensive ingredients for her dinner from Paris. The bulk of the movie was the story of her preparation for the dinner. One gets tired simply watching how hard she worked to prepare the meal. At the end of the movie we see the family and the family friends eating everything she prepared, but without any kind of changed expression on their faces.
Now, two days before my wild idea of cooking a meal for sixty people, all of whom appreciate good food, and most of whom are themselves gourmet chefs, I am using my stash of truffles, candied orange peels, gourmet cheeses, and as Hercule Poirot says, “using up all my gray cells,” to create dishes that would have to be totally new to this group of gourmet chefs.
Of course, as a compromise to the kids born in America who have no knowledge of Thanksgiving without a turkey, I’m including in my menu turkey, pecan pie, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, all of it catered by a friend, who is also a local chef. But I’m also preparing and serving my popular specialties of hummous, muhammarah, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pies, rice with pine nuts, and lentils with dumplings, sauteed fava beans, tabbouleh, and red beet spread.
But my own hubris requires that I create even more dishes, such as potato with French truffles gratin, jalapeno and cilantro dip, roasted yellow sweet pepper spread, vegetarian kibbehstuffed with sauteed Swiss chard with walnut and pomegranate stuffing, jeweled rice (rice with pistachio nuts, pine nuts, almonds, sweet peas, and carrots).
For dessert I am preparing knaffeh, maamoul stuffed with sweet cheese, coconut milk rice pudding, Italian pears, poached in red wine, and my own creation, chocolate baklava.
What I’m now concerned about is the potential of absolutely no expressions of delight on the faces of those I’m inviting for dinner on Thanksgiving. What I’m hoping for is that they will all request recipes at the end of the meal.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE.