Whether we travel or stay at home, this week is the busiest week of the year. For one meal. We scurry through airports, plow through interstates and push our way through supermarket aisles -- just to break bread (or a turkey wishbone) with loved ones.
The anxiety is high, the lines are long and the Scotch suddenly is not strong enough. Take my friend B., a farmer in Virginia. After several intense weeks of turkey season, she is enormously relieved on Thanksgiving. Finally, she is left alone.
The husband and kid will have left town to visit his family, and she's got the house, college football and the TV tray all to herself. Instead of turkey, she will give thanks to beer, cheese and crackers.
In her book An Alphabet for Gourmets, the late M.F.K. Fisher wrote that "dining alone" has its place, however unpopular. "This misanthropic attitude is one I am not proud of," she writes, "but it is firmly there, based on my increasing conviction that sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly."
With an obsessive emphasis on family gathering, eating Thanksgiving dinner alone is perhaps the ultimate protest or an exercise in mindful meditation. Who will you argue with over the last piece of dark meat? If you lick your knife, will anyone notice? Always wanted to dine in your scuba suit? The evening is all yours.
The classic Thanksgiving menu, shrunk down for one, presents an interesting kitchen challenge. The key is to think small. Scrap the notion of roasting a whole turkey, for example. Ditto for casserole-sized sides and a trough of gravy.
Instead, consider a baked sweet potato, scooped out and mixed with scallions, olive oil and pecans. Make applesauce, with a few peeled apples, quartered, in a pot, with an inch or two of water, and cook until desired doneness, about 15 minutes. Hold off on the stuffing and make rice or a cast-iron skillet of corn bread.
And when it comes to the bird, think wings. A few smoked turkey wings added to a pot of slow-cooked collard greens is a little bit of culinary serendipity; in one pot, you get both your green veg and your bit of the bird.
Unlike its chicken counterparts, turkey wings are meaty, supperplate-worthy morsels. Smoked, they take on a hammy quality but are a respectable alternative to the traditional, belly-heavy pork butt and fatback.
Like a one-man band, the meal can come together in perfect melody, all at once. The sweet potato needs about an hour, as do the wings and greens. At the 30-minute mark, make the applesauce and a pot of rice.
Dinner will be served in an hour. Being alone never sounded so tasty.
Slow-cooked Southern greens with smoked turkey wings
Adapted from Not Afraid of Flavor by Ben and Karen Barker
2 pounds collard greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 smoked turkey wing, split in half
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small fresh chili, seeded and diced or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Cooking liquid: chicken stock, water
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean greens. They may be sandy and require a few washings. Trim the stems and remove the ribs if greens seem mature and tough. Drain thoroughly.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, add olive oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add turkey wing and brown on both sides. Add onion, garlic and chili and cook until translucent, at least 10 minutes.
Add greens to pot and allow to wilt. Using a pair of tongs, turn greens and coat with aromatics. Add liquid to barely meet the level of the greens. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Cook until desired tenderness, at least 40 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and cider vinegar. Remove turkey wing and slice off bone, into thin strips. Garnish greens with sliced turkey. Serve immediately. Rewarm over low heat.