Thanksgiving: The great American meal

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

The periodicals lining the supermarket check-out lanes this time of year tantalize with their gorgeous cover models: turkeys, skin perfectly browned, alluringly surrounded by bouquets of fresh herbs; mouth-watering pumpkin pies with piles of fluffy cream; and luxurious mountains of mashed potatoes and other stunning side dishes.
The magazines’ headlines make the same claims each November: “Perfect Roast Turkey Made Easy”; “Your Best Thanksgiving Ever”; “Favorite New Family Traditions.” But “perfect,” “easy,” “new” and “best ever” seem exactly the opposite of what the holiday is all about.
It’s the imperfection of families, the long-held favorite recipes, the awkward dinner conversation moments and the overcomplicated preparations that make the celebration all that it is – our great communal meal.
Just think of it: On this one day each year in homes across the nation, we are sitting down to some version of the exact same feast. The nuances of family and heritage add happy distinction, great pride and unrelenting devotion to debates such as dressing versus stuffing. At its essence, however, Thanksgiving is about commonality.
This year, as for centuries, millions of Americans will feast on the same meal regardless of where they live in the nation. The meal will be the same one they had last year at this time and possibly identical to the meal they’ve eaten once a year for decades. It’s an incredible fact.


My mom has gifted each of her children with a passion for cooking. We are people who consider a home-cooked meal an act of love. Thanksgiving is for us a grand display of affection made edible.
My mom’s stuffing recipe sits protected in my family recipe binder. Handwritten by my mom ages ago, I follow her instructions closely. The only deviation – the addition of a pinch of clove, which is noticeable in a subtle way and links the bready side dish aromatically to the Pinot Noir wine we drink.
When I spoke with the owner of Honcho, the Los Altos lounge at 235 First St., I learned that his Thanksgiving features cloves, too. But for Rod Newman, it’s in a mulled wine.
“For us, it wouldn’t be the holidays without bubbles to toast with,” he said. “This year, we are raising glasses of Lambrusco, a luscious red Italian sparkling wine. While we are sipping, chatting and cooking, the back burner on the stove is reserved for mulled wine, which is fantastic to accompany dessert on a chilly evening. The aroma from the cloves, cinnamon, green cardamom pods, star anise and oranges simmering along in the wine provides the perfect scent for a day of being thankful with friends and family.”
Newman’s mulled wine recipe is featured at Honcho during the colder months. The lounge’s unique sparkling wine selection includes a Lambrusco.
Alex Cala, Honcho’s beer maven, shared that her family’s traditions serve to personalize their Thanksgivings.
“We celebrate Thanksgiving Colombian style,” she said. “Everyone gathers in the kitchen to help make our favorite traditional appetizers: empanadas, pan de bono and buñuelos. While we’re cooking, we drink refajo, a refreshing drink made up of Colombiana soda – a champagne cola that has a flavor comparable to cream soda – mixed with lager beer.”
Throughout the holiday season, Cala also enjoys drinking stout, a dark beer that is especially welcome in winter weather.
“I highly recommend High Water Brewing Campfire Stout, because it will leave you wanting s’mores,” she added. “Stone Brewing Stone Xocoveza, an imperial stout inspired by Mexican hot chocolate, is really interesting, too. Both of these unique, locally made stouts are best shared with a warm circle of loved ones.”
photo credit: Alex Cala
Juan Origel, owner of independent grocer Ava’s Downtown Market & Deli in Mountain View, enjoys being a part of his customers’ Turkey Day preparations.
“Shoppers are stocking up on everything from cheeses for appetizer platters to Marianne’s ice cream for dessert,” he said. “But what we really sell a lot of is wine for the day.”
He recommends Gruet Brut for the start of the meal, Anselmann Riesling for white wine drinkers and Estancia Meritage for guests who prefer red. These wines are well priced for large crowds and offer flavor profiles that complement the various side dishes.


For Andrew Welch of ASA Los Altos, Thanksgiving is about always finding space at the table.
“For years, we’ve numbered 30 to 50 guests. Friends who might need extra love – depending on what is happening in life – are invited to join us,” he said. “Our day starts with a hike and then a core group of us spend hours in the kitchen cooking.”
Welch, who shared that a slow-roasted Dungeness crab gravy is the star of the day, encourages his home kitchen crew with flutes of Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne.
“We start toasting during the preparations and keep on going throughout the day,” he said. “We always have an abundance of good things to drink to.”


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