AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL THANKSGIVING 2016

A tough year for Americans, we soldiered through an unprecedented nefarious presidential election cycle, a year of racial tensions, terrorist violence, and horrific images of innocent children suffering the effects of a no end in sight war. It was in 1863, during another notoriously difficult period in American history, the American Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. Lincoln's declaration was an expression of gratitude for the Union following victory at Gettysburg and delivered at a pivotal moment in which America needed to be reminded of what exactly propelled America to be the most hopeful, opportunity rich, and aspirational place on earth. As was true then still is true today. It is not that we are perfect, but that we strive for a collective moral conscience founded in the self-evident truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." 

Thanksgiving is in other words, a reminder of all that is good about our country, a time to take stock in what we do have, and what legacy we wish for our children. It is a time to honor progress even if that progress is little more than baby steps toward some grander, more tangible solutions to the challenges we face at home and abroad. As Americans we have depth of character and a spirited nature (albeit obstreperous at times). This Thanksgiving, consider prayers of peace and generosity of spirit. Commit to work together to fill the abysses that threaten once again to divide our nation. Consider Abraham Lincoln's words of wisdom that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."  Breath deeply the November air, share the harvest with one another, and reflect on just how far we've come since the Pilgrims shared seal, swans, and lobsters with the Indians at Plymouth in November, 1621. Let this Thanksgiving inspire hopes for peace and brotherhood among all Americans.

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Just a bit of noshing before the customarily early dinner must be expected. Guests arrive, a fire is burning, and just before a two mile before the feast Walden Pond walk, the celebration begins with OPULENT OYSTERS on the half shell (LEARN TO SHUCK!). The Wampanoag Indians most certainly served bivalves at the first Thanksgiving dinner so when someone asks if help is needed in the kitchen, the response is, "Absolutely!" Family and friends will be delighted to learn this skill--Safety first! ALWAYS wear a steel CUT RESISTANT GLOVE. For the football watching crowds, MAPLE CANDIED BLACK PEPPER BACON strips cleverly served in vases or tumblers may be served room temperature--strictly adhere to two strips per person or the afternoon feasting will need to be pushed later into the day. Each year the number one request for pre dinner appetizer is BRIE WITH FIGS, PISTACHIOS, & WALNUTS. This ready in minutes, hot from the oven, triple cream autumn appetizer may be prepared early in the morning to the oven ready stage. Serve with petite toasts and be prepared to deny requests for another soul warming wheel.

Much thought and perhaps the most experimentation goes into the decision of what to serve alongside the bird. A cornucopia of vegetables that will please those who fear green and who adhere to the belief that even Pilgrims ate marshmallows requires serious thought....and then imagination--many small plates will make most happy. The more beautiful the presentation, the more likely the dishes will disappear first. To avoid gossip and grumbles, the usual suspects must be present: squash, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, some kind of greens (a.k.a. dishes disguised by aunties and grandmothers smothering greens in cream sauce), and the ubiquitous tart and tangy cranberry sauce. Besides being the most nutritious and healthy Thanksgiving plate served, the SHELBURNE FARMS CIDER-GLAZED SQUASH & ARUGULA SALAD may be made mostly in advance--toast and chop the hazelnuts, roast the squash, and make the dressing the day before. Easy, gorgeous, and seasonal is the OTTOLENGHI ROASTED SWEET POTATOES & FRESH FIGS plate. Served room temperature, this sturdy side dish may have guests gobbling. BRUSSELS SPROUTS with PEAR & POMEGRANATE SEEDS may convert those who who look on this 13th century ancient Roman cultivated member of the cabbage family as a vegetable villain.

By no means part of the first Thanksgiving 395 years ago, few Americans today would consider the meal complete without mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and dressing. Beware, the piping hot, cloud like ONCE A YEAR MASHED POTATOES are addictive and no one except the cook need know the secret to them is 3/4 of a pound of butter and an inexpensive kitchen gadget known to chef's as a potato ricer. The MAPLE SAUSAGE, CARAMELIZED ONION & APPLE DRESSING, made in advance and safer to cook than stuffing, is for many the most important plate served. Maple sausage, dried bread soaked in homemade chicken stock, still crunchy bits of celery and carrot, fresh herbs, caramelized onions, and pieces of a locally grown tart apple create a not soon to be forgotten side dish that undoubtedly will upstage the turkey. Easy to make up to a week in advance, there is no excuse for canned cranberry sauce--unless you have a cranky in-law who brings his own can of Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce and a can opener. Try CRANBERRY SAUCE WITH ORANGE & GINGER for a delightful twist on the basic back of the bag recipe.

The grand finale must entice stuffed people to find room for a bit of sweet tooth satisfying old-fashioned final bites. While dessert seems like the obvious course to farm out, the results can be disappointing. The art of making grandma's homemade pies seems lost and is an intimidating venture for most people today. More often than not, a supermarket pie in a disposable aluminum tin is set next to all of the meticulously planned out plates for the most important meal of the year. Instead, cheerfully request that your guests bring champagne, don an apron, and set out on a mission to make three made the day before classic desserts designed to wow (sitting overnight does not ruin the the texture of these sturdy tarts). Don't be surprised when the recipes are requested. An easy "foolproof" pie dough is used for the PECAN TART with BOURBON and VANILLA and the result is a perfect edge and filling to crust ratio.  Make a traditional pumpkin pie (same foolproof crust), but bake it in a tart pan, ditto for ASA'S ICELANDIC CHOCOLATE CAKE and the dessert table is filled with a stunning, delicious trio of desserts from which guests will demand a taste of each (sitting overnight does not ruin the texture of these sturdy tarts). 

When a bottle of champagne enters a room, the anticipation of popping corks and effervescence generates grins and giddiness before a single glass has been poured. No one is as well known for champagne drinking as Winston Churchill. He famously noted that,  “A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred; the wits become more nimble.” The WINSTON CHURCHILL COCKTAIL WITH CRANBERRIES is a tribute to a man who loved the spirit of America and gave thanks for our country's great friendship. Let the wee ones join in the bubble fun with bottles of sparkling cider. Encourage young and old to give toasts and thanks before, during, and after the Thanksgiving feast--a child raising his or her glass for thanks is a memory worth making.

Thanksgiving remains a cherished uniquely all-American holiday. It is a time in which every person pauses and considers the full meaning of gratitude. The foundation for abundance in life is the acknowledgement of all the good already present: family, friendship, health, and simple gifts. When Katharine Bates reflected on her poem "America the Beautiful" in 1893, she noted that its popularity "is clearly due to the fact that Americans are at heart idealists, with a fundamental faith in human brotherhood." Let idealism and faith pave the way for a year of expressing gratitude for the gifts we have been given as Americans.

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

O beautiful for spacious skies,
   For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
   Above the fruited plain!
      America!  America!
   God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
   From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
   Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
   Across the wilderness!
      America! America!
   God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
   Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
   In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
   And mercy more than life!
      America!  America!
   May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
   And every gain divine!

  O beautiful for patriot dream
   That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
   Undimmed by human tears!
      America!  America!
   God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
   From sea to shining sea!