I think Thanksgiving may be our best holiday. Christmas is actually my favorite holiday because I really love candles and Christmas trees and advent calendars. But, I think Thanksgiving is probably the best one. I, like many of us, need reminders of the powerful effect of thankfulness. I like to say I'm not a worrier, I’m a, ahem, troubleshooter. This means that to keep from getting down on life, I need to give myself little pep talks. If I sit, and really, truly think about, and let myself feel thankful for, the many wonderful things I have – life, health, family, clean sheets (not that often, but it’s great when I do), creativity, the lake, branches against the sky, a nose (seriously, never forget to feel lucky that you have a nose on your face; stick figures don't) – I feel much better. Sometimes, when I really feel like I'm messing up on things or something seems totally wrong, I make myself sit and feel thankful for the fact that I will somehow find the wherewithal and energy to make it better. And I think it helps. Which is like weird hippie voodoo combined with The Secret. Soooo, let’s change the subject. Pumpkin pie! Is really what Thanksgiving is about. I look forward to it all year long.
Some of my best ever Thanksgivings have been celebrations with friends, rather than family. Or, as it is now widely known: Friendsgiving. I am thankful (eh, eh, see? Thankful!) to live near my family now, and we can celebrate Thanksgiving together. But, rather than Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving being alternatives to one another, I now like to see them as complementary. i.e. a way of getting two meals with pumpkin pie (or at least something like it).
The most efficient and least stressful way of celebrating Friendsgiving, is to make it a potluck. But, if your friends are anything like Caitlin, our media manager, they’ll all just bring chips and salsa. So, if you are hosting, give your friends guidance as to what dish they should bring, based on their culinary affinity. You can even send them a suggested recipe (or two) each. That way, you’ll be sure to have a complete meal. To help you plan, we have assembled a menu for you, tailored for an arbitrary – yet compelling, we think – cast of archetypal characters. Which we made up entirely based on who could come to our actual potluck. We’ve assigned each person something to make complete with a link to the recipe(s).
You the host: Eschew a full-blown turkey for something simpler, but still Thanksgiving-y, by making turkey meatballs. Accompany these with a super simple cranberry-apple chutney. Then, make some mashed potatoes, or roasted sweet potatoes, or both! And, as the host, you’re in charge of a welcome cocktail. Here is a stunning seasonal favorite of ours that is easy enough that it requires no measuring, so you can set it out on the buffet and give basic instructions to people.
Pear Mule - Add one shot of Øvrevann Aquavit to a tall ice-filled glass. Top with a couple ounces of pear juice (or pear nectar) and a couple ounces of ginger beer. Squeeze in lime to taste.
Your friend who can’t cook: Tell them it’s ok, then ask them to bring crackers and a cheese plate (if they look bewildered, say: get a sharp cheddar, a brie, and a goat’s cheese, plus some olives). And they can bring a bottle or two of red wine (my personal suggestion would be pinot noir from Oregon or New Zealand).
Your friend who is a self-proclaimed foodie: Put them in charge of notoriously finicky Brussels sprouts. They may have a favorite recipe already, but if not, ask them to make Momofuku’s zinger of a side, which combines roasted Brussels with a funky, spicy fish sauce vinaigrette.
*Your friend who worked on the farm during college: They know what’s in season and what to do with it! Ask them to prepare a medley of roasted seasonal vegetables, like these roasted root vegetables with miso-maple sauce. (Tip: suggest that they use lime juice in the dressing instead of rice vinegar to give the earthy veggies extra brightness.)
Your friend who does CrossFit: Let’s face it, in addition to talking about how many burpees they did that morning, they talk about bacon all the time, so tell them to bring something with bacon. An especially delightful option is sautéed pears with bacon-mustard dressing.
*Your vegan friend: Make sure they have enough to eat by assigning them something substantial like roasted squash stuffed with wild rice dressing. (Note: the linked recipe includes butter, but this can be replaced with olive oil to make the recipe vegan.) If they’re willing, see if they could also make a mushroom gravy for everyone to enjoy. (Tip: for any gravy, the flavor of the stock or broth makes a big difference, so for a vegan gravy, make sure the vegetable stock is really good. Adding some miso also adds more richness.)
Your friend who stress-bakes: Will probably be more than happy to be in charge of dessert. If they are like me, nothing is more soothing for the soul than making pie crust. In this case, by all means let them make the pie of their dreams. But, if they’re one of the 98% of people who freaks out at the thought of making pie crust, suggest a crustless pumpkin custard accompanied by a plate of molasses-spice cookies. You, as the host, can supplement with whipped cream (and if you’re extra on the ball, some sorbet or baked fruit for anyone who is vegan or gluten and dairy free).
Your friend who knows what amaro is: Can have their chance to shine by providing ingredients for a bracing after-dinner cocktail to aid the digestion. Amaro and aquavit are both wonderful after a rich meal, so we came up with this digestif cocktail, if your friend is looking for inspiration.
The Bitter Norwegian - Stir 1 ½ oz. Øvrevann (or Voyageur) Aquavit, ¾ oz. Cynar, and ¾ oz. sweet vermouth with ice to chill. Strain into a glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.
Skål! Happy Thanksgiving friends!
*Dish recommendations inspired by original recipes from Ellen Vaagen, Creator & Author of the soon-to-be-released blog, Vaagen's Vegan Sauce. Keep an eye out for more Vaagen & Vikre collaborations!
Follow Ellen on Instagram at @vaagensvegansauce