A few weeks ago, I came home to a cardboard package waiting in the mail. Inside was Sam Sifton's slim book titled simply: Thanksgiving, and then, further down on the jacket, How to Cook it Well. Well, I thought, sliding the book onto the coffee table, who needs a whole book on this subject?
But later that evening, I opened the book and started to read. After all, it was just 125 pages long and I'd long been a fan of Sifton's writing. When, by the end of the intro, I had started to laugh out loud as I read - a book about how to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, people - I know he was onto something.
Sifton's manifesto is a total delight. It's bossy and funny and endlessly useful. I'd say it deserves a spot on every wedding registry or housewarming gift list. It covers everything: the turkey, yes, and the sides and dessert. But it also tells you what to do with turkey stock and how to use up the leftover food. It tells you what not to eat on Thanksgiving (salad! garlic! chocolate!) and how to avoid disaster if you decide to deep-fry your turkey (braver souls than I). It has RULES and IDEAS about things as varied as the music you'll be listening to when you start to cook to just how cheap the cookware you use can be. It is, at turns, soothing and stern, funny and very focused. I have not enjoyed myself as much reading a book on food in a very long time.
And as I read, I realized something crucial about this book. Yes, it's true that you might not need all the recipes Sifton proposes. You may already be devoted to your aunt's cranberry jelly, your father-in-law's stuffing or your grandmother's candied yams (although I cannot wait to try Sifton's Braised Brussels Sprouts with Buttered Bread Crumbs and Pecan Pie, not to mention his Turkey Gumbo the next day). But the far larger deal is this: bringing all the elements of a Thanksgiving feast together, not just food, but everything, from the prep work to the drinks you serve to the seating arrangements, is a daunting endeavor. I would dare say just the thought of it has scared plenty a would-be hostess or host off the idea altogether. But Sifton has set out to make you feel brave and capable. With this book, he holds your hand and cheers you on all the way. It's a total kitchen essential.
I sadly won't be cooking a Thanksgiving meal this year - we'll be in Kassel in a too-small kitchen - but these are my perennial Thanksgiving must-haves, in case your menu still needs fleshing out:
My stepmother's Cranberry Orange sauce