I love Thanksgiving. In our family it is a special time we can all count on eating a great meal together, relaxing for a day or two and having the time to catch up with each other. It always gives me so much pleasure. But the Thanksgiving feast can be less than satisfying when it includes, as it too often does, dry turkey, overcooked stuffing, or cranberry sauce that is saccharine sweet or too sour or straight out of the can. And then, of course, there is the problem of overeating. Every year I tell myself that I’m going to exercise some restraint and the next thing I know, I’m lying on the couch, stuffed and uncomfortable.
The best thing about Thanksgiving is that everyone celebrates it together, regardless of religious affiliation. It’s a time to give thanks for surviving Superstorm Sandy, for living in a nation where our leaders are chosen by the people and for the bounty of our nation. We work hard for hours to create special and memorable holiday meals. But sometimes you need a break from turkey. To break the monotony of our leftovers, a few years ago I decided to make a new dish called Chicken Mezra, that I had discovered on a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The recipe met all of my post-Thanksgiving criteria—simple, delicious, different and easy to make. This dish can be prepared in advance and finished later by putting it under the broiler for a few minutes.
Recently I overheard a man on the street say, “Of course I can cook. I am Italian!” Was this overly confident? Not necessarily. One’s roots are significant and Italian heritage by definition brings with it a culinary sophistication and expertise. Further, the joy and love of Italy’s culinary traditions are wrapped in family life and the 21 regions of Italy itself — each of which are tied to distinct agricultural products. So while Italy is one nation, it has many distinct food traditions tied to the regional cuisine and wine of their ancestors.
Food evokes so many memories for me: Hot dogs at the ballgame, Paella and Risotto with my sons, and waffles and soft scrambled eggs my mom would make for me on Sunday morning. Smell is, of course, associated with food and stimulates our memories even further. I recall visiting Tel Aviv walking past an apartment where to my surprise the smells and aromas drifting past reminded me of my Lithuanian grandmother’s cooking over 25 years earlier. A friend had a similar experience when riding the underground tube to school in London. He knew when he was one stop from the university where he debarked because he could smell the curry that wafted through the windows and open doors.
Today’s heightened concern about nutrition and healthy eating has made the salad more important than ever. We are fortunate to have available to us a variety of greens and dressings, limited only by our imaginations and appetites.
The different types of greens now available in most grocery stores offer many opportunities to experiment in combination with creamy or plain oil and vinegar dressings of many kinds. Most greens are even found locally in colder climates given the popularity of indoor growing including arugula, chicory, endive, mesclun, romaine, radicchio, and spinach among others.
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