Last week a friend and I were discussing the benefits of Thanksgiving over Christmas and its cousins. There is no shopping beyond the grocery store. No need for mind reading or gift giving. No awkward mistletoe to be avoided (or worse, wind up under all alone). No weirdo office parties. No writing of Christmas cards or mass emails or individualized emails like Christmas cards because you don’t want to waste money on stamps, er, are trying to reduce your carbon footprint. Or whatever sounds most correct. There is no stress in Thanksgiving. Only eating.
One must simply buy a turkey—or be invited by someone who buys the turkey—and cook it, without a care in the world over flavor or texture or even cooking because these things are never good in turkeys. And then, if you are the one with the turkey (which I contend is the very best option), you farm out the preparation of the sides, set the table, have a drink (or, depending on your patience with your family, maybe two or three). When people are finished futzing and arriving, you eat. You try not to fight, so perhaps you eat a little quickly. No matter, though. Men will wind up watching football and parades, and you (if you are me) can retreat to quieter parts of the house for a peaceful cup of tea and very long nap.
Or so I thought. Now that the day is upon us, I couldn’t agree with The New York Times more. It is Thanksgiving, and we are doomed. There is turkey which will be cooked by me and of course it will be bad. If I am making the stuffing (and I am making the stuffing) it is always the same stuffing with chestnuts and fennel and pancetta. I am not Italian. I have no Italian family. I have no idea why I have always been making this stuffing with chestnuts and fennel and pancetta but it is mine now, and I don’t want to try another one. But last year it was too fennel-y. The year before that it was too watery. I am the only person who notices these things out loud, but I can feel their criticism, and smushy bread has come to inspire so much stress. Cranberry out of a jar is revolting, and the real thing is so lovely. Or so I think. It is easy to make, but I am the only person who likes or eats it, and always wind up hurt because I am the only one who likes and eats it. Even that tiny bit of effort seems wasted. And pumpkin pie is gross. Pecan pie has always scared me. And people always, always fight. Someone will wind up in tears. God forbid that one be me. Oh help.
Instead of recipes to inspire still more stress, then, I thought the better use of this space might be to leave you with a new-found favorite chicken dish of mine which is flavorful, simple, autumnal. It’s also one for which I’m very, very thankful as its components came to me in the form of a gift. A friend with a CSA doesn’t like turnips. He brought them to me in a big canvas bag with their greens still on, smelling of rich, cold earth. I cooked them on a Sunday afternoon not so long ago. And a meal made with the help of family and friends is something to be very grateful for indeed.
Soy-glazed chicken with turnips
Chicken, 4 thighs, or a whole one, cut up into parts | turnips, scrubbed and halved if small, quartered if big | pepper | 4 tbsp butter, softened | .3 cup soy sauce
Rub 1 tbsp butter over the chicken and turnips, and grind some pepper over everything. Place in a small roasting pan and allow to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. When it is close to time to cook, heat oven to 400 F/200 C. When the oven is hot, place the chicken and turnips inside to roast. It will be done in about 45 minutes.
After about the first 15 minutes of cooking, pour the soy sauce into a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a hard boil. Let reduce for a couple of minutes, swirling from time to time so the bottom doesn’t burn. Then turn the heat down, add the rest of the butter, and let bubble for several minutes longer, until you have a sticky-looking glaze. There will not be much. This is okay. When you have about 20 minutes left of cooking time, use a brush to paint the glaze over the chicken and turnips. Or just pour it over. Finish roasting. Then let rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with rice, perhaps some broccolini, a crisp salad to follow, and, if you like the Japanese theme, perhaps some simmered daikon with citrusy miso to begin.