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Sidesgiving makes turkey optional

The term is “sidesgiving.” Until this week I’d never encountered it, and now I seem to be thinking about it all the time — in part because this year our Thanksgiving table will host one determined-to-be-a-vegetarian, one veteran-vegan and two people who “do not really like turkey all that much.” And we have only invited six people.

Tejal Rao, the chef and journalist-author of “The Veggie,” a New York Times newsletter, started me thinking about sidesgiving when he wrote, “If the roast turkey disappeared from your Thanksgiving table, would you really miss it that much?” My answer, before even reading his entire article, was a resounding, “Yes!”

Another answer, of course, is this: “But then there would be more room for the mashed potatoes.”

For the record, I make mine with a mixture of Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes, warmed half-and-half and a lot of melted butter. A. Lot. As affirmation about how good my potatoes are, when asked what he would miss the most about the break-up in their relationship, one of my daughter’s long-ago boyfriends quickly answered, “Your mother’s mashed potatoes.” I really liked that young man.

In past Thanksgivings, the vegetables available as companions to the well browned turkey and the buttery mashed potatoes had names like “Grandma Dee’s Green Bean Casserole” or “Agnes Engen’s Green Salad.” Ironically neither were very green. Aunt Agnes made her salad with strawberry Jell-O, not lime, and the mushroom soup in the canned bean casserole, together with the added french fried onion topping, made the whole dish sort of taupe-colored. Those are less-than-colorful and highly caloric comfort foods that I still plan to make, but in smaller amounts.

My Thanksgiving table deserves better. The “sides” have it this year. I think sidesgiving is about tailoring the offerings to your invited guests and “taking into account textures, colors and flavors.” It’s about adding more nutrition-dense eating that honors a more health-conscious and changing palate.

So here’s the plan. My daughter is now married to a “Maui boy.” He has promised to prepare various root vegetable entrees. There is a chunky squash dish he knows I like, and my daughter is making something with braised Brussels sprouts and slivered almonds— as well as organizing the pies. Plural.

The vegetarian-leaning granddaughters are in charge of creating the world’s most interesting relish platter using multi-colored carrots, hearts of palm, pickled beets and anything else that appeals to their meat-free preferences. Our son is tagged to bring beverages, and I’m told pomegranate juice is one of them.

In addition to those new additions, we have an 18--pound turkey on order and a small uncured ham for my husband (who finds turkey “un beckoning”). That’s the same husband who is not required to do anything this year except eat — the husband who wanted an improved definition of “sidesgiving” as soon as I started to use the term and has already suggested I’m over-thinking this year’s menu. “We will have way too much food!”

Yes we will.

Note to self: Ask guests to bring their own empty take-away boxes — lots of them.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.