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I've lived in Canada for as long as I am capable of remembering, but I do find the concept of Thanksgiving a bit perplexing. I know it's about the harvest, etc, etc, but there's something about celebrating Thanksgiving that has the tendency to make me feel a bit awkward, like going to someone else's church. I'm a transplanted person with my roots in one place, celebrating a transplanted holiday with its roots in another. It's easy to see how one might feel a bit disoriented.

I decided to go to Nigella Lawson for help on this one. In her notes on Thanksgiving, she says it better than I could:

"I am necessarily cautious about tackling Thanksgiving. It's not my party--though where there's food concerned, I'm always glad to be invited."

This year, once again, I have found myself in the position of going to a Thanksgiving dinner and having no idea what to bring. A couple of years ago I went to [livejournal.com profile] xandersgirl's outstanding Turducken celebration and brought carrot soup, which was well-received but not altogether practical for transportation purposes.

Lo and behold, in her book Feast, Nigella actually has a recipe for sweet potatoes with marshmallows--a dish of mythic proportions (and I have to admit, it sounds kind of horrifying). She gives a brief history of the dish and remarks that when she first came upon it, it gave her, "as a startled foreigner, much cause for alarm". It's her introduction to the recipe that sums up how I feel about this particular holiday:

"To a European reader, no doubt to any non-American reader, it is downright alienating. Although I've become an eater of sweet potatoes over the years, I've never quite taken the marshmallow element seriously, presuming it to be so positively excessive, as unfathomable as a memory from someone else's childhood." (emphasis mine)

So I tried instead to think about my childhood, and what kinds of foods my mum would make to go with a roast chicken (she doesn't like turkey). Yorkshire puddings would probably be my first choice--my mum makes individual ones in muffin tins and she has it down to a science--but I know it's not to everyone's taste, so probably best to go with something a little more conventional. Roast potatoes would probably be the next best bet, but I'm guessing that there will be potatoes at this particular shindig.

As I was pondering, I was flipping through Feast, and I did find something that my mum has made for years, and that is also quintessentially American and very Thanksgiving. Something that, thanks to my years as a heritage interpreter, I could make in my sleep.

Cornbread.

My mum always bakes cornbread to go with a hearty winter meal. She bakes it in a round tin, and then cuts thick slabs of it and puts them in a little basket, wrapped in a red-and-white checkered tea towel to keep them warm.

Nigella uses it for cranberry-orange stuffing, but her recipe calls for you to make the cornbread from scratch. I say, why ruin a perfectly good pan of cornbread by making it into stuffing?

Here--for those of you celebrating the weekend, holiday or no, in whatever style suits you--is Nigella's recipe. (I paraphrase her rather wordy directions.) I even did all the conversions from metric weight to make it easier.

175 g cornmeal (about 1.5 cups)
125 g flour (about 1 cup)
45 g caster sugar (3 Tbsp)
fat pinch of salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
250 ml full fat milk (1 cup)
1 egg
45 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (half a stick is 56.7 g, so a bit less than that)

Oven to 200 C. Grease a baking tin (Nigella recommends 23 cm square).

Standard baking procedure: mix the dry together, mix the wet together, then add the wet gradually to the dry. Don't worry about lumps. Pour the batter into the tin.

Bake for about 15-20 mins. The cornbread should be starting to pull away from the sides of the tin.

Best of all, I have most of the ingredients in stock. I just have to nip to the store to get whole milk and I'm in business!
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