Learn A Culinary History Of Thanksgiving In America

culinary history of ThanksgivingEver wonder how pumpkin pie and roast turkey came to be synonymous with Thanksgiving? You may want to get yourself to Brooklyn restaurant The Farm on Adderley on November 13, when food blogger and “historic gastronomist” Sarah Lohman hosts an evening of “American Cookery” with a culinary history of Thanksgiving. Taste and learn about all of the holiday favorites, from mashed potatoes to green bean casserole, the origins of each recipe, and the traditions associated with each dish. Lohman is also an educator with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and a curator with many New York-area institutions, and regularly leads talks and walks around the five boroughs with an emphasis on culinary history. She’s previously teamed up with The Farm for events like a pre-industrial dinner.

Visit TheFarmonAdderley.com to learn details on the event.

[Photo credit: Flickr user riptheskull]

Planning An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Dinner, Portlandia-Style

farmersAbout four years ago, I wrote an Edible Aspen story on Brook LeVan, a farmer friend of mine who lives in western Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. Brook and his wife, Rose (that’s them, in the photo), raise heritage turkeys, among other things, and part of my assignment was to ask him how to celebrate a locally sourced, cold-climate Thanksgiving.

Brook, whom i’ve since dubbed “The Messiah of the Roaring Fork Foodshed,” embarked on a lively discourse about apple-picking and root vegetable storage. It was inspiring, and sounded like fun … to a food geek like me. But how many urbanites realistically wanted to make their own pumpkin butter, or sausage for stuffing?

Fast-forward to 2011, when a little TV show called “Portlandia” blew up with hilarious, bitingly satirical (and dead-on) skits about farm-to-table dining (Remember Colin the chicken?), mixology, and preserved foods (“We can pickle that!”). Suddenly, being an avid home cook, home brewer, and fermenter of sauerkraut had become part of our cultural zeitgeist.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer up Brook’s lovely ideas for making Thanksgiving not just eco-friendly and delicious, but fun and educational for family and friends. Ideas after the jump.

farmGet an early start on future holiday meal planning, especially if you want to order a heritage turkey – meaning an antique breed raised for flavor, rather than maximum output and yield. If you can’t find a heritage or organic bird, serve a different type of poultry or farmed game bird. The LeVan’s usually sell out of pre-ordered turkeys by July.

If possible, order your bird from a local farm, and make a field trip of picking it up. Maybe you can pick apples or winter squash as well, or purchase eggs, cider, preserves, or homemade bread or stuffing-mix.

Shop your local farmers market, food co-op, or specialty store for locally and/or sustainably-grown ingredients for your holiday table: potatoes, onions, or other root vegetables; winter squash, apples and pears, persimmons, pomegranates, even cheese.

Preserve seasonal foods. Whether it’s a bumper crop of summer peaches or pickled celery root or beets, there’s no end to the type of ingredients you can put up to last throughout the winter. Apple butter, fresh cider (you can often find local distilleries or farms that will press apples for you), poached pears, or pickled radishes all make wonderful additions to the holiday table.

Even if your Thanksgiving shopping consists of nothing more than a trip to a local farm stand or specialty market, it makes a difference, from both a taste and food security standpoint. As Brook said to me back in 2008, “When you make your dinner from all that local, fresh or preserved food, you’re going to put a taste memory in your family. It’s all about the little things we do, as individuals, each day. It’s flavor, and love.”

For more information on the LeVan’s family farm and learning center, Sustainable Settings, click here.

[Photo credits: Sustainable Settings]

Photo of the day – Toronto turkey

photo of the day
It’s Thanksgiving today in America, and thus time for the obligatory turkey-related photo. Our friends over at Matador called our attention to this turkey-shaped building in Canada, of all places. The University of Toronto‘s John P. Robarts research library was designed to look like a peacock, but bears more of a resemblance to tonight’s main course. The concrete and vaguely Soviet structure was taken by Flickr user Jiang Long and is also known as “Fort Book.”

Found any other animal-shaped buildings? We’d be most thankful if you could upload your pix to the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tucson’s beloved Grill restaurant closes

Tucson Grill
Today marks my second Thanksgiving outside of the US (in Turkey, ironically) and as nostalgic as I am for Pepperidge Farm stuffing and canned cranberry sauce, this week I am missing another important piece of my past: the Grill restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. A landmark of downtown Tucson for decades, Grill (true regulars know to leave off the “the”) shut its doors this week, leaving many current and former Tucsonans distraught and de-caffeinated. Open 24 hours, serving breakfast “until tomorrow,” Grill’s menu offered the helpful tip: “when dining out, insist on food.” If you were to walk by it, you may be forgiven in thinking it was just a diner, but it was much more than that.

Grill was first opened in its current iteration in 1994 by James Graham, a classically-trained chef who made it an amalgamation of a traditional New York diner fare and more haute cuisine. In addition to burgers and fries, an impossible-to-finish short stack of pancakes, and steak and eggs, you’d find surprises on the menu. Toasted and fried “Spanish ravioli” (mysteriously called “depth bombs”). A salad with hearts of palm and fresh mozzarella. Even a big bowl of Cap’n Crunch. Some of those old favorites were left off the menu when James sold it in 1999 and moved to L.A., but his original rules remained in effect: tater tots only available late night and never with cheese. No ranch dressing. Always tip your waiter (that’s just polite).

Beyond the food and coffee, Grill was a haven for many people, with a constant rotation of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. Many of Tucson’s eccentrics, artists, and just plain weirdos called it home; it was a hipster hangout before hipsters existed. I spent much of my adolescence in one of the red booths, drinking coffee, smoking illicit cigarettes, doing crossword puzzles, crying over boyfriends, and occasionally studying. Even my father, a downtown-based criminal defense attorney, was a regular for lunch and we’d occasionally cross paths, each slightly embarrassed to see the other in such a sacred space. Bringing a new boyfriend to Grill was in important test: if you didn’t respect and appreciate Grill, it was a personal affront. When I moved to New York in 1998, I had a special named after me: the Meg Lamb Memorial “You’re Gonna Make it After All” Knish Dish.

Grill changed a bit over the nearly 15 years since I left Arizona. The adjoining Red Room was a lounge space in my day, with a much-used photo booth, an assortment of motley board games, and some antique couches where my high school poetry club used to meet monthly. For the past several years, Red Room was a bar and music space separate from Grill. In my last visit in 2007, it didn’t feel quite the same, but the spirit remained the same: an oasis in Tucson’s occasionally desolate downtown, “open later than you think.”

If you go to Tucson now, you can still find a few spots for late-coffee and eats. The perennial goth favorite, Cafe Quebec, is now the worker-owned cooperative Shot in the Dark Cafe. The bikers hanging out at Safehouse are friendlier than they appear. The Hotel Congress is home to the Cup Cafe, in addition to one of Tucson’s best nightlife scenes. Later this year, James Graham will open a new restaurant in Los Angeles: Ba Restaurant in Highland Park, serving French provincial classics, a major departure from diner fare. A growing Facebook group is trying to inspire a new Grill to rise from the ashes. One question remains: how does the next door Wig-O-Rama stay recession-proof?!

Thanks for the memories Grill!

Photo courtesy James Graham, circa 1994.

Automotive accidents mapped out by state. Drive safe this Thanksgiving!

Looking for a reason to “drive carefully” as they say about holiday travel by car? This graphic from The Guardian of automotive accidents mapped out by state should be plenty of reason to get holiday drivers in the right frame of mind for going over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house.

“Auto travel remains the preferred method of travel this Thanksgiving with 38.2 million Americans traveling via automobile, also up 4 percent from last year. Auto travelers make up 90 percent of all holiday travelers,” AAA said in a news release.

369,629 people died on America’s roads between 2001 and 2009 and here we see the what would appear to be the areas of danger. Pretty much anyplace east of the Mississippi requires extra caution. Westerly drivers? Still take care, just because the population is a bit more sparse, does not mean the driving is easy.

On the west coast “You need to get where you’re going to be by Wednesday, ” Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding “It’s going to be wet, and snowy in the Sierra, on Thursday. It will be a good day to be inside.”

AAA predicts there will be a 4 percent increase of Americans traveling 50 miles or more this Thanksgiving holiday. Be safe. Drive carefully. Live to tell about it.

Turkey Day Travel to Climb 4%