Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year with its focus on gathering people around the table for a meal, connecting with loved ones and expressing gratitude for all that we have. I find meaning in the cooking, the eating and the gathering around the table with friends and family, and for me it is an ultimate expression of loving and being loved. Slow down and savor the connections, the conversations, the flavors. Remember to focus on the present moment… and during the busyness of the day perhaps take a moment to pause for a delicious cup of matcha tea. If possible try to get outside as a group and maybe take a walk after the meal
I have always taken my cues from my Virginia grandmother, who all summer long canned fruits and vegetables from her gardens, which were set up in lovely rows on the banks of Carters Creek just off the Rappahannock River. Everything she cooked was fresh and made from scratch with love and attention to detail. She was a bundle of energy (a ball of fire really) and had routines in place for every day, and special traditions for the holidays.
This year we are spending Thanksgiving at our friends’ house where various families and multiple generations will come together to cook together, share a meal and give thanks. My friend Mia has always made sure her family is intentional about their choices for the day around food and activities, the only requirement is that everything needs to be stress free and everyone comes early in the day so that we all cook together.
I have offered to set the tables (we’ll have multiple tables of guests) and hope to create a serene scene with rustic centerpieces, lovely linens (natch), and personal touches for the celebration so that everyone feels special.
Recently I’ve been perusing cookbooks and social media for inspiration on the sides that we’ll bring to complement the meal. Below are a few that inspire me along with their recipes. I hope you find some inspiration too.
I always love having appetizers around the kitchen and house when guests arrive. This allows everyone to nibble while they catch up, cook and prep for the meal to come.
Beets are a versatile vegetable that when used as a dip add a beautiful ruby color to the table.
Mia’s signature dish is her beet dip, which is divine, healthy and colorful. She purees beets, soaked cashews, lemon juice and salt. You must try it – it is earthy and addictive, served with sliced cucumbers and crackers. I hope she’s making it on Thursday.
London’s Yotam Ottolenghi makes lush gorgeous vegetable dishes. His Plenty and Plenty More cookbooks are some of my favorites to flip through, especially when I’m looking for sides. This muhammara with feta would be an amazing starter for the meal along with elements from a board of olives, pita bread, chopped veggies, rice crackers and more.
I love cranberry sauce, seriously love it. Any way it comes, relish, chutney, from the can, all of it. And no holiday meal goes unadorned without it. My sister Coree is famous in our family for her cranberry sauce (and pies) but since I won’t have hers this year, I think I’ll try this recipe from Fare Isle.
I think the side dishes at Thanksgiving are where you can get really creative, and not only rely on the standard traditional fare, think bright colors and varied flavors.
For this stuffing recipe you can add or subtract as needed. Gluten-free? No problem, swap out for a gluten-free loaf of bread. Vegetarian? Use veggie broth instead of chicken broth. You get the idea.
In addition to the green beans, salads, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, think about pasta as an option too!
Thanksgiving is a time to bring out many types of dessert for the dessert table. Three years ago I made a banana trifle and chocolate cake to mix things up a bit; however, traditional apple and pumpkin pies are always a hit.
Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends. Read more about her inspiration here.