I remember my first Thanksgiving - ten years ago- like it was yesterday. We spent it in Aspen with Kyle's mother. I barely knew her. Her husband, David was there too and Kyle's sister's boyfriend Neil- never met either before. Neil was memorable for his Brussel sprouts, prepared the good old British way. He is also memorable because, being not-American, he was somewhat of a stranger to the entire tradition too; that gave me comfort.
I wasn't sure what to expect. The food was not exactly the holiday fare back in the motherland. The turkey - I supposed - was like a mammoth chicken chosen likely for its size and the ability to feed a large crowd rather than its taste. The stuffing I did not understand but came to enjoy quickly for its amazing ability to absorb all fat and flavors- and for the mere fact that it is bread, which I love. What else was there? The braised Kale was neither pleasant nor objectionable. The gravy - I tolerated. The pie was fine- the apple I could relate mostly to, the pumpkin seemed odd. I could not stomach two things: cranberry sauce and sweet potato mash. I didn't get it - at all. Cranberry sauce I still don't get. The sweet potatoes had a breakthrough.
I don't give up- on people, goals, or sweet potatoes. I tried again and again. First problem: they are ugly, mutant/tumor-like ugly. Second problem: the sweet potato mash is just not right- mushy not matter what, sticky, unpleasant texturally. The gateway into liking them was sweet potato chips - perfect texture and flawless balance of sweet and salty. It was texture that bothered me the most in the mash and attracted me the most in the chips so I played with the ugly sweet potatoes- perfect cubes, butter, sage, and a hot oven. I found a way to love them.
I am thankful for giving sweet potatoes a second chance- because these ones are amazing. And I am thankful, of course, for more important things: my beautiful daughter Louise and my incredible husband Kyle, my mom with all her flaws, and Beth - the best friend I can ever imagine. I am thankful for dancing, singing, and writing, for challenges and dreams, smiles and sunshine, patience, persistence and forgiveness. I am thankful that I get the chance to cook food others love and that I can still find immense joy in the little things like a clean and organized pantry. I am grateful for good books, nice cheeses, good coffee, and genuine people who follow their passion. I am grateful for love and commitment and for trying harder no matter what. And I am thankful for you- the readers who come back and listen to me over and over again: thank you!
Sweet Potato Remix, my interpretation for Thanksgiving
Ingredients: 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed perfectly (you will end up with a lot of 'trim' but it is worth it); 6 tablespoons butter; 2 bushy springs of sage, leaves picked and chopped finely; salt and pepper to taste, grated parmesan for serving.
Preheat the oven to 300 and place the sweet potatoes in a roasting pan than can hold them snug but in a single layer. Put the butter in a pan over medium heat. The butter will melt, then bubble, then brown. As soon as it browns, quickly stir the finely chopped sage in and remove from the heat. Pour the melted butter over the sweet potato cubes and stir to coat them well. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and roast for about 40 minutes or until slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Serve with grated parmesan, another pinch of salt, and a little fresh ground pepper. Happy Thanksgiving.
Photography by Jennifer Olson.