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Anyone else dreaming of a non-traditional T-day dinner?

I don't know if this is an age thing (I'm 22) but I'm really tired of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner (please don't tell my mom). She throws an incredibly classy dinner-- a fantastic bird, incredible sides, amazing desserts, all made from scratch... but suddenly the thought of going through the turkey-stuffing-cranberrysauce-pumpkinpie routine AGAIN, no matter how good her versions are, is getting to me. Please someone chime in because I feel badly about this but I'd rather eat my hand than say anything to my awesome mom. At least knowing there are other chowies out there feeling the same will help, especially because I need to rally myself to help out in the kitchen on Wednesday.

And if you are putting together a non-traditional menu, I'd LOVE to hear it and keep your ideas in mind for when I can experiment on my own!

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  1. I am so with you on this, Amandine. To me, traditional Thanksgiving food is the blandest you can find. Even growing up I saw nothing special about it; I would have rather had any our typical Sunday fare than any of than the "special" Thanksgiving dishes. I haven't decided what I'll be making instead, but I'll keep checking this post for ideas. We will have one dinner guest this year, so I probably won't go too far out there.

    1. I'm completely with you. Thanksgiving has never been a favorite holiday of mine because I strongly dislike the traditional food (turkey, stuffing, etc.) But this year I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving because I get to go to my italian vegetarian SOL's for dinner. I have been told that the menu contains a lot of pasta and veggies. I can't wait!

      In the past this is what my mother did to try to "spice" up the traditional dishes.
      Instead of plain cranberry sauce-> cranberry mango, cranberry orange
      Instead of pumpkin pie -> pumpkin cheesecake
      Instead of sweet potatoe pie -> sweet potatoe pie with a pecan pie topping
      Instead of plain mashed potatoes-> mashed potatoes with leeks and cheese (I can't remember what type)

      1. While I'm totally with you on the food aspect, amandine (when was the last time T-Day dinner was a memorable culinary experience, especially for a Chowhound? Kitchen's too small, menu and guest list are too big to execute anything well, most of the food hits the table lukewarm at best because domestic kitchens generally only have one oven and most people have no idea how to cook a turkey anyway because they only get one crack at it a year -- and when they finally do, they're confronted with the tactical and logistical problems cited above). Instead I would encourage you to try to accept that, even for Chowhounds, Thanksgiving isn't actually about the food at all. It's about the family and friends surrounding you.
        Take it from a professional culinarian who has spent the past 12 Thanksgivings either working or searching in vain for a Chinese delivery place that stayed open. Count the blessings and endure the food. And try to have fun in spite of the inevitable annoyances. Good luck and good eating.

        6 Replies
        1. re: diropstim

          Well said diropstim. Enjoy Mom's stuff. There will be a day you will miss it more then you know.

          To the OP no offense but it sounds like you need to move away and do your own thing...or get a SO whose family does something different...or travel during the holiday. I use to take my Mom's cooking for granted...then I moved away and I never did again.

          1. re: ML8000

            I very much agree with this. My Mom's been deceased for over 12 years and I'd give anything to have her dry dressing with too much sage for Thanksgiving this year.

            1. re: Janet from Richmond

              That's what I was thinking, as well, Janet. That's likely why I was so touched by the recent thread about the daughter who wanted nothing more than marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. What I wouldn't give to have my mom be able to make those again.

              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                My mother passed away 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. It was her favorite holiday, and our table would have your traditional Thanksgiving fare plus celebatory Chinese food. It was a fusion Thanksgiving before I even heard of the word "fusion"! Like others, what I would give to have my mother back again, sitting at the dining table with the rest of us.

              2. re: ML8000

                Even if I could, I would never willingly have T-day away from home. The menu can change, the people and the place should not!

                You are right though, I guess I was taking the cooking-with-mom thing a bit for granted. But I made the post mainly as a reaction to all the other posts I've been reading about what seems like family fights and internal conflicts springing up over who-brings-what and how to please everyone's dietary requirements while maintaining allegiance to the T-day traditions. I don't think any other day of the year can fire up so much consternation over food!

                1. re: amandine

                  Hey I'm all for non-traditional. Maybe one day when your mom gets tired for the full-on t-day thing (mine did) you can step in and do the non-traditional thing or a variation. It might be a good thing, be prepared. That's sort of what happened with my family.

                  As a kid an uncle and my brother went fishing and brought back fresh fish and my Mom was sort of tired and someone said we should cook the fish that day or it would be a waste/shame and we had the turkey a few days later. Funny thing is Mom suddenly saw the light, i.e., let someone else deal with it. At that time I actually felt a little weird that my family didn't to do the traditional thing until years later I realized it was less tense. Now my family's tradition is not to worry about it until the end. Keeps people much calmer.

            2. I definitely am! I'm jealous of Dommy!'s Thanksgiving this year... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/342879

              I think part of it is I don't like MIL's traditional Thanksgiving food as well as my mom's and we're all going over there this year... I'm a tad bitter, but trying to be a good sport! I suggested a Mexican Thanksgiving this year, but they vetoed that, although they did decide to do a Mexican Christmas! Another part of it is that I'm ready to skip over Thanksgiving and move on to Christmas... I've got most of my Christmas shopping done and I'm ready! I think one of my grandmas has done it the right way... they usually go out of town for Thanksgiving, last year was Vegas! ;-) No pressure to the traditional thing with her!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Katie Nell

                LOL!! You don't know HOW many year I had to fight for this though... even when I'd tell my friends that I didn't want turkey their reply was "But it's Thanksgiving!!!" as if that period of 24 hours magically made that vile gamey animal more tasty...

                But as we've talked bout it several times here on CH, the food in this holiday is so much MORE than a nice dinner to some folks. Even Bobby Flay recently admited that a member of his family won't come to his dinner if he doesn't have that awful can of jellied cranberry sauce...


              2. nope,
                looking forward to pumpkin pie, roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy with giblets, etc. Its only once a year. I dont get why some folks have an issue with tradition. Save your "fancy" meals for New Years Eve, or a Saturday night get together.

                2 Replies
                1. re: swsidejim

                  Just for the record, I adore tradition, probably to the extent of being an annoyance, but just not into Turkey Day, for some reason!

                  1. re: Katie Nell

                    For me its less about what I eat that day, and more about the family and friends I get to enjoy time with. But for me there is something about the great smells of roasted turkey, pumpkin pies, etc that fill the house that brings back great memories of childhood.

                2. That's why we go out to dinner!!! When my Mother was alive she loved it!!!! I always pick a place that is serving turkey and stuffing so DH can have it but we're going Italian this year so I don't have to eat that stuff - never did like turkey except on a salad.

                  1. I'm with you. The hassle of trying to figure out which side of the family we'll spend Thanksgiving with, the frustrations at knowing we'll be driving for hours in traffic makes me just want to stay home in my pjs with my husband, a big stack of movies, games and a pot of soup or stew, a bottle of wine and some decadent autumnal dessert.

                    Mom's still alive, but hasn't hosted Thanksgiving in years. I wouldn't mind having some of her stuffing - sourdough with parsley, sage and celery that's a bit caramelized with chewy, crispy bits - but it's not something I crave regularly.

                    I deeply value tradition, but ultimately the traditional Thanksgiving foods, and even being with family are all side dishes to me, so to speak. The most important thing to me is taking time to be grateful, thankful and deeply aware of my many, many blessings. I can do that with turkey or minestrone.

                    1. We're having Chinese Hot Pot for Thanksgiving.

                      In addition, I am making my tarot root and tapioca pudding cake for dessert (none of that banal pumpkin pie stuff...)

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Growing up in an immigrant family, we had Chinese food everyday, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I left for college and finally got introduced to "traditional" foods, I couldn't figure out what all the shouting was about: even a perfectly cooked, moist turkey with gravy is bland compared to kung pao chicken, and black bean garlic crab!

                        1. re: Claudette

                          My Chinese family learnt to adapt Western cooking. My mother stuffed her turkey with a minced pork, water chestnut and black mushroom mix that tasted infinitely better than the bland turkey. And she marinated the bird in a soy, garlic, vinegar blend. Funny, I had just about forgotten this.

                          1. re: cheryl_h

                            My aunt used to stuff turkey with sticky (or glutinous) rice, tofu, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and fatty-pork.

                            It was like a zong-zi with a turkey as the "wrapping" instead of the usual bamboo leaves.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              That sounds wonderful! I recall a stuffing for roast duck which is similar - glutinous rice, chestnuts or lotus seeds, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, I think. The duck was deep-fried to give the skin a nice crispiness, then steamed until done. Another distant memory from childhood.

                      2. Due to different life styles, my family does not spend the holidays together anymore. The last time we all were together was about 7 years ago. One Thanksgiving I will never forget was when my dad took us to Venice beach, I was about 14-15 and heard a homeless man say thank you to another homeless for an apple. That puts things into perspective quick style. Enjoy your time with your family, unfortunately my mom has passed away 14 years ago and I would love to spend at least one hour more with her.

                        1. I'm really looking forward to Tgiving.

                          Thanks to a melding of my Jewish family and my husband's Hindu family, who now all do tgiving together in one big cultural mixup, it'll be a south indian vegetarian meal plus traditional tgiving dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green veggies -- but all the traditional stuff spiced up a little to meet the indian flavors in the middle.

                          Except for my mom's dressing. Change that, and I kneecap you.

                          I'll miss the turkey this year, but that just means I'll be allowed to double up on my turkey intake in late december. ;)

                          1. I didn't grow up in the US so I have no childhood associations with TG dinners. Perhaps that's just as well! We usually have dinner with DH's family who are not known as great cooks. We suffer through the pretty awful meal for the sake of family bonds but I would LOVE to have nontraditional foods. Or better yet, I'd like to cook the meal myself, even if it does have to be traditional. But that would rock the boat so I try to be graceful about it.

                            I look forward to Christmas and New Year which we celebrate at home with whatever I want to eat.

                            1. Many years ago, during my selfish lazy faze, I scoffed in the face of the Thanksgiving tradition and did a slap-up Italian feast for a number of friends who thought the same way as I did. Food was great, the mood was horrid. Autumnal weather and Pilgrims are not conducive with lobster fra diavolo.

                              1. I'm not a turkey fan...I usually do T'giving with friends, and they insist on doing a turkey...I have done a capon, or a goose, or pheasant in the past, but this year I'm doing pork belly.

                                1. Dammit Amandine you should be ashamed! Not looking forward to Pumpkin Pie??? I eat that stuff year round!!!

                                  All kidding aside... I don't get tired of this bland meal as you guys label it... because I rarely eat "American" food. So what you should really do is eat more ethnic / exotic cuisine year round... then relish in the Thanksgiving meal so you don't break your poor mom's heart.

                                  Anyway... I do enjoy kicking it up a notch though... we have hosted Thanksgiving several times... here are a few winning ideas....

                                  > Mashed Potatoes are for losers... its such a common dish, it has no place in a celebration meal. Try... mashing a different plant... say plantains, cauliflower with parmesan or some white beans with bacon fat.

                                  > Instead of the usual gravy... get yourself some divine Oaxacan mole, or maybe an Indian, Thai, or Japanese curry.

                                  > Roast the Green Beans to a crisp instead of the usual steaming / parboiling prep

                                  > Emeril has a great bread stuffing recipe... with artichokes & spinach (it will block up your arteries but it is sublime).

                                  1. After years of eating the same not-very-good Thanksgiving meal at my aunt's house, last year I decided to cook my own version for my family on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I was wooed by lovely sounding recipes- cranberry jelly made from actual cranberries with Sauvignon Blanc, brined, organic fresh turkey, etc., etc. To make a long story short, the meal was just as boring as our usual, however cooking it nearly did me in.

                                    This year we're staying home. I'm doing the cooking. No turkey, no stuffing.

                                    Our Menu:
                                    "Mock Porchetta" with roasted root vegetables - Zuni cafe cookbook

                                    steamed green beans- my one nod to tradition

                                    Creamy polenta

                                    radiccio salad with buttermilk dressing- Sundays at Lucques

                                    Apple and quince galettes for dessert.

                                    Let me just say that a perfect storm of circumstances surround this very non-traditional meal. My husband must work early Friday morning, therefore no out of town travel for us. It also happens that this year on thanksgiving day, I turn 40. So I lobbied with the argument that we will have many thanksgiving meals, but only one 40th birthday meal.

                                    That said my mom had to prepare my very traditional dad weeks in advance and still gives him daily reminders. ("You know, we're not having turkey for Thanksgiving.") She asks me daily, "Are you sure you want to spend your birthday cooking?" Yes, I'm sure. AND she's making turkey on Wednesday.

                                    1. I love Thanksgiving food, especially turkey and stuffing, but always with plenty of garlic and herbs, deep deep deep gravy, and a large assortment of sides, then my own tart-sweet apple pie. I'm going to do the Thanksgiving feast myself this year even if it kills me. I just moved and can't find anything, the kids and dogs are under my feet, my brother and his girlfriend have become vegetarians, my father won't come to the table while football is on, my niece and my youngest son vy with each other in "eeewwww, I'm not eating that!!!" but I'm gonna do it anyway. Last year we tried going out for a very non-traditional meal at a highly rated Chinese restaurant, Daimo, and we had the worst service I have ever experienced, having to ask for menus, ask for our order to be taken, get up and get our own water and forks, and having the item we ordered for our "centerpiece," garlic roasted crab, completely forgotten. The food that did arrive was delicious, but the meal was a complete debacle.

                                      1. amandine I feel the same way during the holidays. Maybe you should suggest a themed Thanksgiving to your mother Maybe german or something of the sorts. Last year for Xmas I cooked Spagetti and italian sides. Everyone loved it and it was soooo much more easier. I doubt making suggestions will hurt her feelings..I mean I personnaly dont look forward to the food I look forward to the family friends aspect.

                                        1. There is one tradition in my house and that is to never have a tradition. This years thanksgiving was "A Thai Thanksgiving" Every year we do a theme, and in the last 30+ years we have served turkey 3 times, once it was fried, once it was brined and the this year in a Thai dish.

                                          Last years thanksgiving was seafood and the year before that was Ethiopian food.

                                          I have a saying: “Life is too short to eat food reruns – never make the same dish twice.”

                                          1. I wish I could remember who called turkey "that great feathered swindle" because I completely agree. Since it was just my husband and myself this Thanksgiving, I made Nick Stellino's Lasagne with Bolognese Meat Sauce. It's a recipe that is best made over two days since it entails three different sauces. But it's ten times tastier than the usual T-day menu.