A “Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving” suggests a variety of images to Americans. For some, it’s a reassuring message of anticipating a better future in difficult times. For others, Rockwell’s famous painting of a family Thanksgiving tableau is pure paradoxical kitsch.
Taking a closer look at the 1943 “Freedom from Want” painting, we observe Grandpa hovering above the scene, perhaps clearing his throat before giving a blessing. Nine other table participants, at various stages in life, are engaged in animated conversation. Grandma is placing a turkey on the table.
I wonder, is this a grass-fed turkey from a local organic farm? Do I detect only a few stalks of celery on the table? Is that molded thing cranberry sauce from a (gasp) can?
Where are the cornucopias of towering fruits and vegetables, the mashed potatoes with truffle oil? Where are my lattice-laced pies? Where is…. the zinfandel?
The painting, for me, is inviting not because of the food, but because the table participants are engaged, happy. At the time it was painted, America was an economically depressed nation struggling through war.
David Kamp, in an article for Vanity Fair, writes, “In our current climate of remorseful post-affluence — in our collective pondering of the question ‘What were we thinking?’— Rockwell’s painted vignettes draw us back to the quotidian, dialed-down pleasures of American life before it got so out of whack.”
Thanksgiving can be a time for introspection, to revisit the proverbial table and feel gratitude, whether that be for food, shelter or a good friend. According to Kamp, Rockwell ” … was never close to his parents, nor could he remember much about them… He painted life as he wanted it to be.”
How is your table painted? Who are the characters around this hypothetical setting, and what are their expressions?
In my painting, a grandchild is sobbing because he doesn’t like the food. My son’s head is bowed in reverence. Not in prayer, mind you. He is texting his friends. In my painting there’s also a bottle of wine. Perhaps two.
My husband, Richard, and I break tradition by celebrating the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Our children are building their own traditions, and Sunday is the only day everyone can share ours.
As for Thanksgiving day “proper,” I simply roast a turkey breast, mash sweet potatoes, roast some Brussels sprouts, and I’m done.
Turkey breasts may be a good choice for your celebration for several reasons. They are easy to manage and usually roast in an hour. Many folks don’t like dark meat. You can circumvent this issue by only roasting a breast. If you’re worried your bird isn’t big enough, roast a breast on the side; they’re also a cinch to grill. And finally, you don’t have to contend with carving a beast.
As with chicken breasts and pork, I sometimes brine my turkey breast before roasting. The salt water solution injects flavor and juiciness into the turkey breast. Brining was the culinary darling several years back and grocers had trouble keeping kosher salts stocked. I’ve eaten, however, way too many meats that lost their unique flavor and texture when over-brined.
That being said, brining a turkey breast ensures the meat will not be tough and dry, even if slightly overcooked. The message above bears repeating: an extra hour or two in the brine may yield overly salty turkey with a texture of rubber bands. I’d rather eat turkey jerky than an over-brined bird.
Double check the turkey breast packaging and ensure it has not been injected with “flavor enhancers” or has been pre-brined. I select an Amish turkey breast which has not been doctored up.
The following recipe was inspired by a recipe found in Sunset Magazine. The first time I made it, I ruined the sauce because I was multitasking. I ended up with spun sugar stuck to my pan. When pouring the stock and cranberry juice into the browned sugar, make sure you’ve reduced your heat and have that whisk in hand. If the sauce clenches, keep whisking. It will soon turn into a lovely “jus.” I also added cornstarch to the recipe. To my taste, the sauce was too runny. You may certainly skip the sauce altogether. A traditional gravy is simple, and everyone is happy.
As Kamp and Rockwell so eloquently said, “What does it mean to be an American? What virtues are ours to uphold? What are we like in our best moments? For Rockwell, the answers to these questions lay in the idea, as he put it, ‘that everybody has a responsibility to everybody else.’ ”