Happy Thanksgiving week! I’m gearing up for my first Turkey Day post-vegetarianism, which means I can’t use “no main dish” as my excuse to eat mashed potatoes until they leak out of my eyeballs anymore.
When I mentioned this to my mom while we were planning our Thanksgiving menu, she decided it was time to reveal a secret she’d been hiding from me for 10 years. My mom makes delicious homemade challah stuffing; it’s in my top five favorite foods, and I could probably eat a bucket of it right now if you handed it to me. For Thanksgiving, she makes two versions: the inside-the-bird version, and the casserole-dish-vegetarian version. And for the past 10 years of vegetarianism, I’d happily eaten the casserole-dish version.
And my mom decided it was time to tell me the secret to her vegetarian stuffing recipe.
It’s a trick she picked up from her grandmother’s Yiddish recipe, and every Thanksgiving for the past ten years, my mom has tricked me into eating turkey liver. Which is almost as funny as it is disgusting that I’ve been eating chopped up turkey liver for ten years. Apparently my sister knew too, and every year was like a game of “see if we can distract Aileen while we add the turkey liver.” And even though I am in the kitchen with them cooking all day, SOMEHOW I’VE NEVER KNOWN ABOUT THE TURKEY LIVER. IT IS NOT GOOD FOR FAMILIES TO KEEP SECRETS LIKE THIS. THEY WILL END IN VOMIT.
I’m still in recovery. Luckily I’ve got the true start of the the holiday care package season to distract me. Just after Halloween, there’s basically a snowball holiday effect that makes it continuously appropriate to listen to a smooth jazz version of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” on repeat in your cubicle, with no headphones and your speakers on medium. Nobody can get mad at you because it’s the holidays, and everybody is joyful. And, during the holidays, baked goods have no fat or calories, so you can eat like two gingerbread men and a handful of lemon crinkle cookies for breakfast, and there are no consequences!
Since Thanksgiving is the more meat-and-potatoes winter holiday, I searched around for a way to turn turkey and gravy into something sendable to Afghanistan. But since I’m not a physicist, I settled on just turning dessert into more sendable dessert.
My inspiration for the care package was a dessert Jonathan’s family introduced me to: pistachio salad. The first time Jonathan mentioned it to me, for some reason I was expecting an actual salad…like, with salad greens, and pistachios, and maybe a light wine vinaigrette. WRONG. It’s salad as in waldorf salad; just whipped cream and crushed pineapple and 8 other kinds of sugar mixed together in a bowl. Delicious. When I asked Jonathan which holiday they usually make it for, he said “Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and anytime I want.”
Pistachio salad is very serious.
So I chose two recipes to base my care package on: cran-pistachio cookies and cranberry pistachio biscotti. Since Jonathan’s version of pistachio salad comes with maraschino cherries, I decided to replace the dried cranberries in both recipes with dried bing cherries. And because biscotti is supposed to last for about a month, I figured it was worth the half-a-day it takes to make biscotti.
What makes biscotti time-consuming is that it has to be baked twice, and removed from the oven three times during that baking. You beat the tacky ingredients into submission, roll them into a log, bake the log partially, let it cool, and then massacre it.
Despite being time consuming, the biscotti was not difficult to make. It did, however, put my hand-me-down hand mixer through quite an ordeal. Good market research for my wedding registry (slash proof that I really do need a KitchenAid to survive.)
The pistachio salad cookies took about half the time of the biscotti to make. Again, I substituted cranberries for cherries, and, staying true to Jonathan’s pistachio salad recipe, this time i mixed some pecans in.
Mission accomplished: Jonathan received the package about a week before Thanksgiving, and the cookies were still moist, and still delicious (I know they were delicious to begin with because I think I ate about four of them during the baking process). The biscotti, however, was apparently chip-toothable. Fuck you, biscotti. You and your promises.
The good news is that, however the care package turned out, at least there was no secret chopped-up turkey liver in the food.
…Or was there?