DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Nov 27 2015

Maybe It’s More than a Meal

by Dea Anne M

An instructor, who was leading a class I took recently, started off by asking the participants to go around the room and introduce ourselves and, as a little twist, to name our favorite Thanksgiving dish for everyone else. The choices ran the gamut from the plain yet delicious (mashed potatoes), to the more elaborate (a type of pie which sounded fantastic), to the outre (my own choice, my Mom’s lasagna, which I happen to love so, yes…I cheated…and yes, we have had it for the holiday meal). Folks spoke of their favorites–green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or pecans–and the enthusiasm with which my classmates spoke about their favorites made me realize that there’s real emotion tied to our anticipation of what we think of as traditional holiday food. Of course, this includes turkey for many of us.

Now, I don’t care much for turkey myself and I don’t know that anyone in my extended family was particularly crazy about it. Yet there it sat, year after year during my childhood, providing a mighty anchor to my grandmother’s table. For just a simple Sunday dinner, my grandmother set what can only be described as a “groaning board,” and at Thanksgiving that poor table pretty much gave up and begged for mercy. The bird always seemed to dwarf the many side dishes that mobbed the turkey nonetheless like a bunch of underemployed paparazzi suddenly catching sight of Beyonce and Jay Z out on a double date with Angelina and Brad. I mean, there was barely room for our plates.

How is it that such food becomes a “tradition” in the first place? Well, let’s see.

  1. Turkey may or may not have played a part in the earliest Thanksgiving menus. Certainly the wild turkey has been a resident on this continent since it strolled over here from Asia about turkey50,000 years ago, but the best known record of the “first Thanksgiving” celebrated by the Pilgrims of Plymouth in 1621 mentions “wild fowl,” which could have easily been turkey, geese, ducks, or all three. There’s some logic to the thinking that the domestic turkey later seized its holiday seat of supremacy by virtue of its size (i.e., more people fed from one dish) and its lack of utility for egg production. At DCPL, see How to Cook a Turkey from the editors of Fine Cooking for all the information you will need to prepare next year’s bird.
  2. Pumpkin is another food that has traveled. Pumpkins are native to the Americas, but the pies didn’t become popular until after the pumpkin’s arrival in Tudor England from whence it hopped back over the Atlantic with the Pilgrims. Today, many–if not most of us–who choose to make a pumpkin pie select pumpkin in a can over fresh. If you’ve ever tried to cut up or peel any sort of hard-shelled gourd or squash, then you will understand this preference–although a pie pumpkin is much smaller than the one you might select for a jack-o-lantern. In any case, pumpkins are a true harvest vegetable so their inclusion at Thanksgiving makes sense. At DCPL, see A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English, and make Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pumpkin Seeds next year.
  3. Sweet potatoes–either baked, mashed or made into a casserole–were not a part of the first Thanksgiving. bubblyBy the late 1800’s (right around the time Thanksgiving became a recognized holiday) candied sweet potatoes had developed a following in such northern cities as Philadelphia. Of course, folks in the South had already been eating sweet potatoes for a while. The addition of marshmallows came shortly afterward and the casserole’s fate was sealed. That is, unless you’re like me and prefer a crunchy, and infinitely more ethereal topping of crushed pecans, glazed with butter and brown sugar. See Clifford A. Wright’s Bake Until Bubbly: The Ultimate Casserole Cookbook to find a recipe for a sweet potato casserole that features a pralined, and thus correct, pecan topping.

While we’re talking about “traditional” food for the Thanksgiving feast, let us not forget that many, many families include dishes that reflect their cultural heritage and which are as important to a proper celebration as a specific kind of dressing or gravy (served from a boat and not a bowl) may be to you. People of Ukrainian origin might choose to include cabbage rolls and pickled herring with the meal. A Korean family might always be sure that kimchee and pa jun pancakes grace the table. From agnolotti to tamales, the presence and the taste of certain food just means holiday–and if you are cooking for others, you’d best not forget that.

I’ll never forget the year that I volunteered to make a green bean casserole. Regular readers of this blog might believe that I think of myself as some sort of fancy-pants cook–and all I will say to that is… some people would tell you you’re right. I steamed the fresh green beans to the point of perfection before mixing them with a carefully prepared cream sauce made with fresh mushrooms and spiked with sherry and lemon. Once I had topped my gorgeous dish with a layer of caramelized onions and baked it for the proper time and at the proper temperature, I took it to the potluck practically bursting with pride in my creation. Well, we all know what pride goeth before. Everyone was polite about my dish and, after all, there’s something to be said about carrying home one’s own leftover green bean casserole. It certainly reduces anxiety about what to eat for lunch the day after Thanksgiving (and the day after that). The problem, of course, was that my casserole simply didn’t have the flavor of the green bean dish that most of the guests knew. Most of that flavor comes from cans. But, that didn’t matter a bit. It wasn’t that my casserole didn’t taste good–it was that it didn’t taste the same.

I think that an excellent attitude toward food, and receiving it in the proper spirit of genuinely giving thanks, may have been summed up best by the late, and very great, Edna Lewis. Her book The countryTaste of County Cooking is revered as a true classic–both as a cookbook on southern cooking and as a memoir. Lewis was born and raised in Freetown, Virginia, which was founded by African Americans, many of them emancipated slaves, including her own grandfather. Lewis’s book is a delightful tour through the seasons and the wonderful food cooked by people whose lives were devoted to tending the earth and all of its gifts. These were people who truly understood gratitude. When Lewis’s editor Judith Jones asked her why she had not included a menu for Thanksgiving, Lewis answered with the quiet dignity for which she was widely known: “We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. We celebrated Emancipation Day.” If you have never read Lewis’s wonderful book, I urge you not to pass it up. In the meantime, look here for Francis Lam’s insightful and beautifully written profile of Lewis which appeared in in the October 28th issue of the New York Times magazine. If you are as yet unacquainted with this fascinating and regal woman, you will be glad to make that acquaintance now.


Nov 20 2015

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

by Camille B

turkeySo, the Thanksgiving festivities are on the way and you’re mingling about trying to be a good host, making sure that everyone is feeling welcome and comfortable–parents, siblings, in-laws, a few friends and neighbors you invited. Suddenly you look across the room and spot an unwelcome visitor, the same one who showed up at your perfectly planned holiday last year and wreaked havoc. That’s right, Mr. Stress himself, all decked out in his finest, lurking in the shadows and waiting for his cue to rain on your parade. Your heart sinks. Who on earth invited him?

Well, it just so happens he could have come in with any number of your friends or relatives–perhaps that aunt who, even though you tell her every year a bottle of wine is perfectly fine, always insists on bringing that special dish that nobody likes but everybody has to eat anyway, or maybe it’s your brother-in-law who goes around pushing everyone’s buttons–and oh, he’s here for the entire weekend. Then there’s your son. You clearly remember telling him to ask first, but he still arrives at the last minute with two of his buddies in tow–and they’re all the size of giants. You don’t want to be a scrooge, but there goes half the turkey!

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, the Thanksgiving Holiday–a day when we come together with friends and loved ones to relax and give thanks, not just for what we have but for each other as well–can prove to be more stressful than we care to admit, testing the endurance of even the most patient folk.

And this is true not only for the host, but sometimes for guests as well–that new son or daughter-in-law, boyfriend or girlfriend, or invited co-worker. Guests can find themselves caught in the middle of Thanksgiving sagas and dramas that easily spiral out of control from simple things (like fights over the remote, a turkey leg or a wishbone) to really heated debates and brawls that stem from arguments over politics, sports teams or just the re-ignition of old family feuds.

Oh yes, Mr. Stress will show up at your Thanksgiving dinner. You can count on it. And though you may not be able to eradicate his presence altogether, you can minimize the role that he’ll play at your gathering by being prepared and always a few steps ahead.


There’s no way you can do everything yourself, so don’t even try. Brushing away people when they try to offer their assistance, while at the same time complaining at the end of the day that you had to do it all by yourself–you can’t have it both ways. Many hands make the work light, even small hands. And yes, you can enlist your guests as well.

Things don’t have to be perfect. So your cousin Rae-Rae didn’t mash the potatoes quite the way you like them, there’s no need to blow a gasket and call for everybody to get out of your kitchen. She was only trying to help. Believe me, no matter which way you offer up the potatoes–unless they’re burnt to a crisp–they will disappear right along with the rest of the meal. Take heart if it doesn’t look like it came out of Martha Stewart’s kitchen. Your family and guests will still love it and you–and appreciate your effort and hard work.

First-time hosts: Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try and impress your new mother-in-law with your non-existent culinary skills. Unless you’re a naturally great cook with event planning experience under your belt, you’ll probably make a few blunders along the way. No love loss. A lot of people still dread Thanksgiving preparations even after umpteen years of doing it. If this is just your first go at it, grab a good friend or two to help out. Your day will come when you will be able to put forth a Thanksgiving feast just like Mama used to make.

Try to be the most gracious host you can be. It’s sometimes hard I know. Maybe your aunt’s gesture was well intended, even though you had to chow down her questionable casserole made from that very secret recipe. It probably made her feel good just to be a part of things and offer up her contribution–and she may not be the only one you have to make peace with. Thanksgiving conflicts flare up like wild fires in an instant. Though you cannot be everywhere at once, you can do your best to ignore negative comments, steer conversations to otherwise neutral topics when you sense what’s coming (some people are habitual offenders), and basically douse water on any embers you see that can potentially erupt into an altercation.

Thanksgiving Dinner


Don’t come empty-handed. Even though your host insists that you bring just yourself and your appetite, it’s still a nice gesture to bring a non-food item or beverage–wine, flowers, or something that is needed as part of the event, like napkins, forks or even a gift for your host.

Let the host know ahead of time if you have any dietary issues. It can be really stressful to go through all the trouble of fixing a great feast only to realize at the last minute that someone cannot partake because they’re vegan or have specific allergies to items on the menu. Knowing ahead of time can enable your host to consider your diet in the meal planning.

Ask before you invade your host’s kitchen, and space as a whole, as this can be a good way to lose a limb or not get invited back next year. Unless you’re a really good friend of the family and you’re quite certain they’ll be okay with it, don’t go rummaging around in the refrigerator or cupboards, stand around in the kitchen obstructing foot traffic, or begin doing chores you weren’t asked to do.

Overall, I honestly believe that the almost euphoric anticipation we feel towards the Thanksgiving holiday and what it represents is too great–and the time and effort we put into making it the best day possible for our loved ones too precious–to let trivial matters come in and ruin it in mere seconds or minutes, causing us to sometimes forget why we came together in the first place. So this year when you spot Mr. Stress worming his way through your holiday celebrations, don’t grow wary, let him bring it! You’re prepared.

ArtOfTheVisitEase into your Thanksgiving season with the following selection from DCPL:

The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host, Becoming the Perfect Guest by Kathy Bertone

Keep Your Cool! What You Should Know About Stress by Sandy Donovan

How to Survive Your In-Laws: Advice from Hundreds of Married Couples Who Did – Andrea Syrtash, special editor

How to Cook a Turkey: And All the Other Trimmings from the editors of Fine Cooking

Holiday Collection (DVD)

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Nov 28 2014

A Nation’s Tastes

by Dea Anne M

thanksgivingtablesWho would have predicted, least of all the hardworking writers and editors of the New York Times, the level of outcry and (mostly good-humored) dismay that their November 18th article The United States of Thanksgiving would generate? The idea behind the article is that there are iconic holiday dishes unique to each state in the Union as well as Puerto Rico. (Click the image to the right for a larger version of the condensed visual overview.) Some selections make sense, such as Georgia’s Pecan Pie and Idaho’s Hasselback Potatoes with Garlic Paprika Oil. Others seem…well…questionable, like Nebraska’s Standing Rib Roast. But no selection has caused as much of an (albeit mild) uproar than the choice for Minnesota of Grape Salad. As writer David Tanis explains, this is a concoction made up of simply grapes, sour cream and brown sugar. Now that actually sounds pretty good to me, just not…Thanksgiving-ish (and no one could accuse me of being a culinary traditionalist). Responses to the choice, particularly from Minnesotans themselves, have been good-natured. Check out #grapegate for some of the outcry. Texas weighs in too, as in as this piece from the Austin360 food blog explaining that Texans don’t eat Turkey Tamales until after Thanksgiving. Perhaps the ultimate “take-down” of the Times article is Linda Holmes of NPR weighing in the next day. As Holmes, a former decade-long resident of Minnesota explains–with her usual dry wit–morel mushrooms or wild rice would more accurately reflect the culinary traditions of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In any case, the public response was so quick and dramatic that the Public Editor for the New York Times issued a piece on November 20th that wryly characterized the original article as an “epic fail” and Tanis’s fellow NYT writer Kim Severson tweeted, “The great grape scandal of 2014! Headed to your state Thurs. Will personally apologize to every citizen.”

Of course, Thanksgiving 2014 has passed but you can always start thinking about next year. To help you out, make a note now about these resources from DCPL.

Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by Sam Siftonthanksgiving

Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Everyday, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal by Tara Mataraza Desmond

Thanksgiving 101: Celebrate America’s Favorite Holiday with America’s Thanksgiving Expert by Rick Rodgers

The Healthy Hedonist Holidays: A Year of Multicultural, Vegetarian-Friendly Holiday Feasts by Myra Kornfeld

A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English

Of course, you may be like me and skip the turkey and pumpkin pie. This Thanksgiving just passed, I will have cooked what has now become my “traditional” meal which includes roasted duck, turnip gratin and chocolate mousse.

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Nov 29 2013

The feast…and its aftermath

by Dea Anne M

By the time you read this post, Thanksgiving will have come and gone but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year.  Whether you host a big gathering for which you do all the cooking or you enjoy a potluck with friends, DCPL has resources to help you prepare the best holiday meal ever.

Let’s say you want to do a traditional Thanksgiving but it’s the first time you’ve siftonprepared it. Or maybe you’ve been asked to bring a dish and haven’t a clue as to how to make it. An excellent resource is Thanksgiving: how to cook it well by Sam Sifton. This is a calm, authoritative guide to everything Thanksgiving and could be the only Thanksgiving cookbook that you will ever need. Also well worth considering is How To Cook a Turkey: and all the other trimmings from the editors of  Fine Cooking magazine. A fine guide for beginners as well as experienced cooks, this book provides detailed instructions for all the well known holiday dishes.

Of course, not everyone wants to serve and eat a turkey. Maybe you are vegan bittmanor vegetarian or you just want to take the focus off of meat. For a really impressive compendium of vegetarian cooking, check out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: simple meatless recipes for great food. This book has recipes for every vegetarian and vegan dish that you can imagine as well as excellent suggested menus. You’re sure to find plenty here to prepare the most festive of holiday feasts. And keep in mind The Heart of the Plate: vegetarian recipes for a new generation by Mollie Katzen. Katzen is the author of the well-regarded cookbooks The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Still Life With Menu and this most recent volume is just as charming and visually appealing as the two older books with less of an emphasis on dairy products and eggs.

Of course, Thanksgiving usually means leftovers…lots and lots of bubblyleftovers…and for many of us that’s the best part of the holiday. When I was growing up my family would usually just make up plates of whatever each person liked best and reheat but you might want to transform your leftovers into something that doesn’t so much resemble the holiday meal. Many think that casseroles are the right and classic home for leftovers. If you agree, check out the pleasures contained within the pages of Bake Until Bubbly: the ultimate casserole cookbook by Clifford A. Wright and James Villas’ Crazy for Casseroles: 275 all-American hot-dish classics.

sandwichesMaybe you believe that soup is the proper vehicle for your leftover turkey (including homemade turkey stock!). Soup fans should check out The Best Recipe: soups and stews from the editors at Cook’s Illustrated magazine and Sunday Soup: a year’s worth of mouth-watering, easy to make recipes by Betty Rosbottom. Maybe you’re a member of the club that considers turkey sandwiches the absolute ultimate. If so, let me suggest Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: recipes, history, and trivia for everything between sliced bread or Beautiful Breads and Fabulous Fillings: the best sandwiches in America by Margaux Sky.

What will I do with leftover turkey this year? Nothing! This week, I’m heading to my mom’s house and she has already announced that the menu is to be everybody’s favorite…lasagna.

How do you like your Thanksgiving leftovers?


Nov 25 2013

Time For Hand Turkeys!

by Joseph M

hand turkeyTurkeys have long been associated with Thanksgiving, and so it’s no surprise that one of the most popular Thanksgiving crafts for kids (and young-at-heart adults) is the hand turkey. To create a hand turkey, you start by placing a hand (palm down and fingers splayed) on a piece of paper. Next, you trace the outline of your hand, then embellish the outline so that it resembles a turkey, like this:

As you can see from my attempt on the right, you don’t need much in the way of artistic skill, just a vague idea of what a turkey looks like. There are many possible variations on this basic concept. This article showcases a myriad of impressive hand turkeys created in 2012.

It’s hard to say when the hand turkey first made its appearance, but this webpage offers an amusing fictional “history” of the hand turkey that you might enjoy perusing. Happy Thanksgiving!

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The holidays are upon us, whether we are ready or not. As soon as Halloween ends, we start thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of the happiness these holidays bring us. However we never think about all of the problems these holidays bring. I really love Thanksgiving, because my mom makes all of the food that she does not make all year long. However getting the food is the problem. The grocery stores—all of them—are a nightmare the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. During this time of the year cheese, sugar and flour become hot items; they are even featured on the cover of the weekly ads in the grocery store. But once you have done all of your grocery shopping, including those last minute items that you always forget to buy, like eggs, you are okay, right? Wrong! Because the granddaddy of them all is on the way—Christmas. Christmas, not only does it monopolize the grocery stores, but all of the other stores as well. Traffic is horrible everywhere and there is never anywhere to park. Christmas is just a shoppers nightmare.

To help deal with the holiday stress, check out these books.


Nov 19 2012

On Thanksgiving and Gratitude

by Jnai W

Thanksgiving is on Thursday and the holiday has sneaked up on me this year. As of now my Turkey Day plans have not been solidified and the only signifier in my cupboard of any impending holiday feast is a can of jellied cranberry sauce (and I suspect it’s been sitting there since last year). Still, I’m finding that I’m slowly but surely getting into the spirit of giving thanks (turning off CNN helps a lot) and am taking stock of the things that matter most—family, friends and loved ones, colleagues and life in general.  With a great debt of gratitude owed to the internet, I’ve found many great poems in celebration and observance of Thanksgiving. Please allow me to share one of my favorites here:

by Edgar Guest

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

Happy Thanksgiving, Readers!


Oct 31 2012

Talking Turkey!

by Amanda L

If you have been reading DCPLive for a while, you might have picked up that I love the outdoors and I love to cook. November is a great time to be out enjoying the change of seasons. With Thanksgiving approaching, my thoughts turn to turkeys, both in the great outdoors and for eating.

I’m sure most people know that the turkey might have been our national bird if the bald eagle had not been so majestic. Over the years, I have had a lot of personal experience with turkeys. One year, I was sitting on the ground being real still and quiet when a hen walked up to me within three feet. We startled each other and then she went running off. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the woods close to dark and it sounded like an invasion in the sky. To my delight it was a flock of turkeys going to roost.

The Library has a few books on turkeys. Wild Turkeys by Dorthy Hinshaw Patent is a children’s book that talks about the life cycle, habitat and behavior of these birds. The Turkey: an American Story by Andrew F. Smith is an adult book that looks at the symbolism of the bird, the characteristics and habitat as well as how to cook the turkey. If you ever wanted to call in a turkey while in the woods, you might want to check out Turkey calls and calling: guide to improving your turkey talking skills by Steve Hickoff.

As I said, I love to watch these birds in their natural surroundings but I also like to eat turkeys. I have eaten a wild turkey once and I have to say that it was much dryer and smaller than those that are raised domestically. The Library has a few cooking books dedicated to this bird. How to Cook a Turkey and all of those trimmings from the editors of Fine Cooking magazine covers dishes for that big Thanksgiving day dinner. Looking for a few recipes to try for your slow cookery? Try the Italian Slow Cooker by Michelle Scicolone. Finally, the Butterball Turkey Cookbook by the Butterball Turkey Company has everything you wanted to know about cooking a turkey all in one book.


Nov 28 2011

Giving Thanks for Football

by Greg H

I am a football fan but not a fanatic.  College or professional, most weeks during the season I’m content to find out the scores and watch the highlights on ESPN.  There’s only one occasion on which I feel like I must have football and that is Thanksgiving Day. “But why?”, the purists might ask. “What does football have to do with giving thanks?”  The short answer is if  Thanksgiving has a big enough tent to accommodate an enormous, inflated SpongeBob balloon, well then, there’s room for football too.

If you insist on a longer answer, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s website, many high schools and colleges played football games on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that has “faded into oblivion”.  I seem to remember hearing my mother talk of how there used to be a “Turkey Bowl” game played every Thanksgiving by some of the men in my home town.  The point is, I guess, there is precedent, however ancient.

The Detroit Lions have remained at the forefront of the Turkey Day football tradition.  The Lions have played on every Thanksgiving Day since 1934 with the exception of the war years of 1939 through 1944.  Considering the Lions’ mostly woeful performances since the 1950’s, it’s kind of nice to think that for one day a year, even if viewers are only too zonked out on tryptophan to change the channel, the eyes of America are on the Detroit Lions.

After your leftovers are gone you might want to check out the following items available through the DeKalb County Library System:


Nov 23 2011

Hurrah For The Pumpkin Pie!

by Joseph M

Unlike some other holidays, there aren’t many popular traditional songs associated with Thanksgiving.  In fact, the only one that I can think of is “Over the River and Through the Woods”.  It was composed by Lydia Maria Child (who is best remembered for being creator of the piece despite her other work as a writer and social activist) and was originally published in 1844 as a poem in her book, Flowers for Children, Volume 2.  DCPL doesn’t own that title, but we do have several illustrated versions of the poem, as well as a collection of her letters.  Click here to take a look at the catalog listings.

As the title of this post suggests, I’m ready for some pumpkin pie!  Pumpkin pie covered with whipped cream is quite possibly my favorite traditional Thanksgiving food.  What meal component are you looking forward to the most?