A Welcome Thanksgiving

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By Jacqueline Church

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. – Thornton Wilder

Too many of us have experienced holidays where grudges simmered right alongside the gravy and proverbial eggshells were strewn about the room. Which is why I decided a few years back to make Thanksgiving a tradition of welcome in my home. In my house, Thanksgiving is about open doors, open hearts and full plates (and football) whether we’re talking a crowd of four or forty.

thanksgiving-welcomeAt my Thanksgivings, everyone always has seconds and leftovers to go home and no one worries about their weight, or if their job is impressive enough, or whether their date measures up. Each person is welcomed just how they are, which is why each year’s gathering is so unique. There was the year a surprise toddler guest smeared butter on the wall. There was the time Catherine’s Artichoke Dip slipped right out of my hands and down the stairs and I had to turn to my neighbor’s stove for backup. One year a friend was in the midst of a separation . . . and then there was the mis-measured brining incident. Don’t even ask.

My Thanksgivings are never perfect, which is what makes them—ironically—perfect every year.

Whether it’s family, friends, or some combination of both, here are some of my tips for creating a welcoming atmosphere:

  • Give Assignments Ahead of Time – It makes people feel a part of the gathering when they get to help shape it. Put someone in charge of bringing flowers, another of planning music. If you have friends who like to cook, parcel out some of the courses—I’ve taken to tucking my favorite recipes into a binder that I revisit year after year.
  • Put People to Work – People feel more comfortable when they have something to do (and it’s a great way to break the ice between guests too). Put a few to work cutting crudites in the kitchen, ask others to light candles or set the table, or recruit someone to manage the bar before dinner.
  • Mix it Up – Put away the china and silver and ask your guests to bring their own place settings (if it’s an especially large crowd, ask them to bring a chair too). Mixing things up actually helps people relax.

jackie-thumbJacqueline Church is an independent writer whose work has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese, Edible Santa Barbara, and John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. She often writes about gourmet food, sustainability issues and the intersection of the two on her blog Leather District Gourmet. Currently, she’s at work on Pig Tales: a Love Story about heritage breed pigs and the farmers and chefs bringing them from farm to table.

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Boozy Orange-Pecan Truffles

by Jacqueline Church

One of my favorite desserts to make during the holidays is Chocolate Truffles. They’re super easy and freeze beautifully which means you can make them well-ahead. This version features three flavors perfect for the Thanksgiving table—orange, bourbon and pecan—and packs a lot of pleasure in just a few bites.

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (roughly 55% cacao)
2 oz dark chocolate (over 65% cacao, depending on your taste)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup rice cereal (like Barbara’s Brown Rice Crispies)
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3 tbsp bourbon

For toppings (you’ll need about 1/2 cup total):

  • Dark chocolate cocoa
  • Powdered sugar
  • Finely chopped toasted pecans

Fill a medium saucepan a third of the way full with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to maintain a vigorous simmer. Place chocolate and butter in a metal bowl bigger than the mouth of the saucepan and rest it on top of the pot. Melt the chocolate, stirring constantly, until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Take chocolate off heat and mix in pecans, cereal, orange zest and bourbon. Place bowl in freezer for 45 minutes, until mixture has firmed up enough to scoop.

Line baking sheet with foil. Scoop a teaspoon of truffle mixture, roll it quickly in the palm of your hands to smooth it into a ball, and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the mixture for a total of roughly 30 truffles. Transfer baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 30 minutes.

Spread toppings out on three separate plates. Using a fork, roll one truffle at a time through a topping to coat and shake off excess before transferring to a serving platter or back to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining truffles with your choice of toppings.

Makes 30 truffles (Serving size, 2 truffles)