Mise en Place: A New Thanksgiving

Just when my readers thought I might be building a head of steam in the direction of family farms, sustainable agri and farm-to-table restaurants, I’m about to veer off-course… but only for the next 24 hours.

Thanksgiving Eve.  Yes, I began cooking today.  It would be a reasonable assumption to think I was doing prep work for the annual Thanksgiving Day Roasting of the Bird Ritual.  Defrosting the turkey, proofing bread dough, baking pies.  Essentially, mise en place (meez en plas).   For the uninitiated, mise en place translated from the French is “everything in place.”   A master chef teacher of mine some years ago was fond of saying, “Mise en place will save your [dot, dot, dot].”  Of course, he was right.  But, no traditional prep work this year.  So, if not the traditional meal, what prep?

Meatballs.  Red sauce.  Focaccia.  Huh?  I’m pretty sure there’s no truly equivalent holiday in Italy to the American Thanksgiving with, perhaps, the exception of La Festa del Ringraziamento (the Festival of Thanks).  This series of (religious) holidays is actually tied to honoring patron saints, with clearly no commonality to our Thanksgiving origin.

OK, hands in the air.  I give.  I’m making dinner this year for a small number of family members, and I just decided to do something different.  I’m still thankful.  I still see it as a happy, genuine celebration.  I’m still serving (literally and essentially) my guests.  It’s still my favorite holiday.  I just decided to step outside the expected and ratchet it up a bit in favor of simplicity.

Naturally, there is significance in a traditional Thanksgiving menu: turkey, stuffing, beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie.  I get that.  There is, in my view, no less significance in the locally grown regional ingredients that are the stuff of my red sauce: home grown Roma tomatoes, single-stem garlic from the Hyde Park market, small red onion and dried oregano (the last of my garden), white stock (previous post).  I frequently make my own pasta (farm eggs, flour, white wine… simple); however, I’ll admit to using a good quality commercial pasta tomorrow.

Rule #1: The dishes that make a meal, even a holiday meal, are less relevant than their origin and quality.  When great quality is in place and you know where the raw ingredients came from, the dishes take care of themselves.

Let’s see how it works out tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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