Give what you give thanks for: Bringing talents to the Thanksgiving table

You know what’s great about each of our different passions? They’re different. Within this vast array of different skills and interest, we find much in common.

I’m all about food, wine and writing. When I’m learning about, creating or enjoying any of these three passions, I feel my most grateful self. I believe I’m not alone. I bet that when every one of us is involved in the tasks, hobbies and work that stokes our creativity, we are filled with gratitude – that intoxicating emotion that comes from appreciating what brings us joy.

We feel gratitude when involved in our favorite pastimes because we’re good at them or because we thrive within the challenge found in these endeavors.

It seems to me that the Thanksgiving meal is an edible embodiment of how contrasting attributes make the whole better. The dinner includes disparate flavors all working together. What other meal would you find cinnamon and sage, turkey and marshmallows, clove and cornichons all welcome and playing a meaningful role in the day?

Sharing our passions

While Thanksgiving is the ultimate American celebration of food, I suspect that for many, food is not their passion or even their comfort zone. This Thanksgiving, I’m suggesting we change up what we bring to the proverbial and literal table. Rather than feeling the need to all become master chefs for the day, we should each give what we give thanks for. Let our passions be what we bring to the holiday.

I can rely on a dear friend to always be well informed on world affairs. His knowledge has generated countless meaningful conversations.

Another friend consistently ensures our dinner isn’t too serious by cracking the perfect one-liner just when it’s needed. We so appreciate her sharing her gift of wit.

Still another always brings some zany parlor game along for kids and adults to play. It’s her ability to make community that she is sharing when she shows up with these games. That’s just a few examples of gifts guests can share.

Have family who are musicians? Ask that they arrive with guitar in hand and play something as part of pre- or post-dinner revelry. Inviting a friend who is a hobby florist? That’s your centerpiece sorted. Dinner guests who are skilled wordsmiths might offer a written-for-the-day prayer or toast.

I have an in-law who is an astronomy buff. He often sets his telescope up, then positions it on some celestial body. Bundled up, we tumble out into the dark of Thanksgiving night to “oohhs” and “aahhs” in admiration of the constellation or planet he is sharing.

Another friend of mine used to offer her calligraphy skills to her son’s school as a way to give back to our community. Her handwritten notes are ones I cherish both for her stunning penmanship and how she used her skill to express love. If you have a friend with this talent, perhaps they would like to create handwritten invitations to your feast or make table place cards.

My son is an avid runner. I’m hoping he’ll get us all out for a pre-meal jog. My daughter is the baker in our house. I’ve tasked her with making our family’s all-time favorite Thanksgiving dessert: pumpkin chiffon pie (see recipe below).

If you’re the host but not a cook, consider ordering your meal from one of our local gourmet markets. Draeger’s, Zanotto’s and Whole Foods all have spectacular menus to choose from.

In addition to the gift of your home and hosting, your ability to purchase a meal for family and friends is a beautiful gift. I also appreciate opportunities our community has for giving back this time of year. Food insecurities exist year-round, and gifts made during the holidays can lead to greater involvement. Even if a one-time donation, gifting to organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank ( or Loaves & Fishes ( is a beautiful way to mark Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving grazing board

If you’re still uncertain what you can bring to your Thanksgiving, you might want to put together a charcuterie board – cornichons and all. Grazing boards remain all the rage and are ideal opportunities for creativity to let loose with entirely store-bought items.

I strive to create grazing boards that entice all the taste buds and offer something for everyone. I include marinated, fermented, dried and fresh items. I use briny and creamy, sweet and savory treats. I also like to focus on the colors of the board. Choosing items within the color palette of autumn is particularly appealing for a Thanksgiving spread.

My board will include white stilton cheese with cranberries, sage derby, truffle mousse pate, herb chevre, sweet and savory pumpkin preserve, salami, rosemary ham, cornichons, dried apricots, fresh raspberries, tarragon Dijon mustard, cheese sticks and various crackers – all of which are available at Trader Joe’s.

Turkey Day wine picks

As for the wine, likely someone in your family or friend group has a passion for picking the perfect bottle – maybe something from their wine cellar they are generously sharing or a selection from a local shop.

I was especially excited by the made-for-the-day wine recommendations from wine department manager Emmett Welch of Draeger’s in Los Altos, because each bottle is the result of a winemaker collaboration, adding an extra layer of meaningfulness. Moreover, they are expertly paired with the meal.

I think sparkling wine is the little black dress of wines – it goes with just about everything. Welch’s recommendation for this Thanksgiving will delight. Racines NV (2018) Sparkling Wine Grand Reserve ($69.99), from the Santa Rita appellation of California, has intimate connections to France.

“This wine is really interesting. It’s an incredible example of sparkling wine from our Central Coast. Rich and creamy with a lingering finish and good minerality, it will pair with everything from soup to nuts. It has a great story, too,” Welch said.

The wine is a made by a wine dream team. Justin Tyler Willett of Tyler Winery in Santa Rita joined forces with esteemed winemakers from France, Étienne de Montille and Brian Sieve of Burgundy and Rodolphe Péters of Champagne.

“The meal itself can be tricky when it comes to wine pairing, because of all the flavors of the day. But Zinfandel is a solid choice,” Welch told me. “This year, I’m excited by a Zinfandel with deep Sonoma County heritage. 2018 Once & Future Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel ($51.99) is made by Joel Peterson, who rose to winemaker stardom with his former label, Ravenswood. His focus is still on what made Ravenswood so successful – old-vine Zinfandel and family. The fruit is sourced from Bedrock Vineyard, which he owns with his son, Morgan Twain-Peterson.”

The 2018 Once & Future Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel is a big and strapping wine that will electrify bold wine drinkers. Draeger’s also carries a red blend produced by Morgan Twain-Peterson. The 2018 Bedrock Wine Co. Red Wine ($49.99) is intense and exciting with deep raspberry and layers of spice. Also made with fruit from their more than 130-year-old vines, it is a field blend with a Zinfandel focus and Carignan and Mataro expertly included.

Placed side-by-side on Draeger’s wine shelves, it would be a treat to purchase both bottles and enjoy a vineyard vertical tasting at your Thanksgiving.

I’ve yet to add a member to our social circle or family who is passionate about doing the dishes. But one can hope! In the meantime, I have family who appreciate my efforts in the kitchen enough that they always jump in to clean up without complaint. This is such a gift to me.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I ate this pie on every one of my childhood Thanksgivings. I didn’t even know that other versions existed. I was rather dubious when I first encountered the more traditional pie. This is my all-time favorite holiday dessert, in part because I’ve never made it myself. I don’t enjoy baking.

While I often like to prepare every aspect of a meal (food is a way to express love for me), I’m more than happy to outsource this pie to others. If you’re not a fan of baking, don’t let that stop you from trying this pie. It really is fabulous. Seek out the dinner guest you know enjoys baking and send them the recipe.

Graham cracker crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  • 1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup dark-brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: salt, ginger, nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Blend together graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter and press into 9-inch pie pan. Bake crust 8-10 minutes.

While crust bakes, make filling.

In saucepan over medium heat, combine pumpkin, sugar, salt, spices, gelatin and egg yolk. Stirring with whisk the entire time, bring mixture to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Whip cream. Then fold whipped cream and egg whites into custard mixture. Mound in cooled pie shell and chill.

Can be made a day ahead.

(originally published in the Los Altos Town Crier)


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