Well Butter My Biscuit

Like clockwork, come mid-November, one particular recipe on BitterSweet starts getting a flurry of fresh page views. Thanksgiving revives long-forgotten cravings for tried-and-true, classic comfort foods, so I would expect any of the pumpkin pie variants to attract new attention, or perhaps the more adventurous Cheeseburger Stuffing, but no. That would be too obvious.

Of all things, it’s the Garden Herb Biscuits that go viral. Created without any holiday in mind, and still not one I would necessarily associate with a traditional Thanksgiving feast, there’s apparently a spot at the festive table for them in many homes out there. If you ask me, we can do better.

By no means am I suggesting you go biscuit-less (heaven forbid), but let’s make something special this time around, fit for the occasion.

Soft as butter itself, with equally tender yet flaky layers and a subtly sweet flavor, these alluring magenta biscuits are the perfect fusion of southern comfort and southeast Asian flair. Purple sweet potato could do in a pinch, or even the average orange-fleshed yam, but part of the appeal is definitely the gem-like periwinkle hue.

Accented with the tropical aroma of coconut milk, each bite, each crisp but supple crumb melts away in a pool of nostalgia on the tongue. Memories of happy childhood meals and celebratory dinners bubble up to the surface, buoyed by an undercurrent of wanderlust, satisfying the need for new and novel experiences.

Who knew such a simple biscuit could contain these complex, seemingly conflicting characteristics, all with incredible grace and always, great taste? Apparently all the people searching for them in years past; I’m the one late to finally get the message.

Don’t let the holiday season pass you by without a batch or two of these brilliant biscuits gracing your plate. They’re not just for dinner, after all. Leftovers make for some of the best breakfasts one could dream about… If you can resist their lure fresh out of the oven, that is.

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Solo Celebration

Thanksgiving, a time of abundance, celebration, and above all else, togetherness, looks considerably different this year. Global pandemics really put a damper on group festivities, traveling, and essentially all the annual rituals we tend to associate with the holiday. The writing has been on the walls for months, but it’s only just starting to hit home now. No endless buffets of home cooked excess, no tight, endless hugs with mom or dad, no laughing over a dwindling fire about our embarrassing childhood stories. Instead, I’ll walk in the door to an echoing, empty home. A vacant dinner table. A cold kitchen.

Although I’m alone physically, I know my situation isn’t special. Everyone’s in the same emotional boat, flailing about, rowing frantically just to avoid capsizing. It’s hard, it’s awful, but it would be so much worse to get sick, or make someone else sick. Fighting the very human nature that calls us together as a community goes against everything instilled in us since birth. This Thanksgiving will be a test of endurance, though it doesn’t have to mean days, or weeks, of self-imposed suffering.

Let’s do this thing together, separately. What does that look like in practice? For me, it means paring down the bountiful feast to just the essentials. At bare minimum, it’s simply not Thanksgiving without:

Don’t go crazy. Don’t make enough for an army. Don’t even turn on the oven if it’s too much. You can easily fill out this menu with delivery or prepared dishes from the grocery store, at a fraction of the cost of the typical, enormous spread.

That’s all it takes. More importantly, don’t forget to invite everyone you know and love! No, don’t actually have them over, but get them on the line with Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook, WHATEVER. Throw their faces up on the big screen TV if you’ve got it, put the monitor right on the table with you, and pull up a chair.

It’s hard to be thankful when so many obstacles have been thrown in our path this year. Not a single person on this planet has gotten off easy. No one can claim to be unaffected. There’s still so much in life to be grateful for, and I know I’m going to make the most of it, no matter what. There’s nothing stopping me from enjoying the traditional foods I love for the holidays, or enjoying time spent with the people I cherish. Cheers, to brighter days ahead; let’s eat!

Hot Potatoes

Remember years ago when sweet potatoes had a moment in pop culture history, akin to the fervor perpetually surrounding everyone’s seasonal darling, pumpkin spice? Oprah Winfrey essentially discovered the orange spud, according to online sources- And you know that if it’s on the internet, it must be true. All of a sudden, health gurus and foodies alike raced out to clear supermarket shelves of the tubers. It was as if no one had ever noticed them before, or at least, fully appreciated their flavorful potential.

Like all food trends, the extreme pitch and tenor of that enthusiasm quickly died down to a low roar, eventually settling back into a quiet hum of indifference. Where are all the sweet potato proponents now? Is there really only room in the oven for one autumnal vegetable superstar?

This year, I’m bringing sweet potatoes back. I’ve already professed my support for their simpler starchy brethren, so it’s time we dig a bit deeper into the root cellar for more colorful, flavorful possibilities.

Warm spices and dark, rich molasses join forces with the supple amber flesh, transforming the nostalgic, simple pleasure of the humble rice crispy treat into a seasonal delight. The satisfying crunch of toasted pecans punctuate the chewy, tender squares, rivaling the experience of a full slice of Thanksgiving pie.

Better than baked custard or scratch-made pastry, though, the instant gratification of transforming basic ingredients into a instant dessert surely squashed the competition. That’s definitely something to be thankful for.

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Stuff and Nonsense

Stuffing has always perplexed me. By definition, shouldn’t it be inside of something? The dictionary uses ambiguous terms, like “material used to fill,” be it cotton batting inside a teddy bear or beans inside a burrito. Please explain to me why, then, when Thanksgiving rolls around, we lose all sense of spacial relationships and present so-called stuffing as a standalone, completely exposed side dish?

Granted, I never grew up with the stuff, so my confusion stems from inexperience. My family was never much for casseroles or any sort of hotdish to begin with, which is why our festive holiday table followed suit. Separate rolls, roasted vegetables, and plenty of gravy their own distinct dishes? Of course. Combined together? On the plate, sure, but not in the oven.

Devotees might be aghast at my unstuffed childhood, but I actually consider it advantageous in my later years, as I have no frame of reference to constrain my reckless creativity. That’s why I connected the dots between stuffing and… Cheeseburgers.

Before you click away in horror, hear me out. This is no White Castle fast food abomination, but a humble celebration of Americana. You’ve got your classic aromatics and seasonings, enriched with meatless grounds for protein, and bulked up with a bit of bread. Beefy broth soaks in to bind it all together, and a quick sprinkle of cheese on top seals the deal. Now, that doesn’t sound so crazy, does it?

The end results are a little bit Thanksgiving, a little bit backyard BBQ, and 100% comfort food. It’s a dish you could serve as a side for your grand feast, or simply make as the main feature any day of the week. If you had to go and put a dab of ketchup and a pickle on top, well… Who am I to judge?

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Hello Gourd-geous!

No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a pumpkin pie on the menu. Over 50 million of the crusted custards meet their demise on this fateful day, despite the fact that the pilgrims didn’t serve a single slice at the first harvest celebration. Somehow, the American love affair with the warmly spiced, sweet and simple pastry blossomed into an obsession spanning the generations. Everyone has a secret recipe that their grandma made, or a special twist that no one can replicate.

My enthusiasm for pumpkin pie is admittedly a bit tepid at best. It’s just so predictable, so plain! Every bite has the same flavor, the same texture, the same sugar overload. That was, until at a friend’s behest, I tried topping tradition- Literally.

Crisp, buttery streusel, the best part of crumb cake and bakery muffins, turns ho-hum pumpkin pie into the legendary dessert that everyone will crave all year long. The creamy filling itself is still the main attraction, sweetened with a balanced hand and highly aromatic, redolent of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Considering its popularity, there’s no need to give the classic pumpkin pie a gut renovation. Just a light touch-up, once in a century or two, may help win over some new fans.

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