Am I a bad person if I admit that many of the traditional fall and winter foods consumed in the United States are not terribly interesting to me? Because, well, they aren’t. Many of them are things I don’t particularly like, or do like when executed well, but they are so very rarely executed well that I just avoid them on principle, so as to avoid the inevitable disappointment.
Let’s take overcooked green beans, for example, a ubiquitous side dish at ‘holiday meals,’ often served out of a can. Now, people, the green bean is a beautiful thing when fresh and crispy. I like to toss them very briefly, just enough to warm them through, and eat them when still crunchy and bright green. I may even caramelise some onions in the pan first to add a little something extra, toss in some toasted almonds, or dash them with sesame oil and some basil for a bit of a pop, as it were. But those greyish, limp, shredded things in a bowl on the corner of the table, those are not green beans. Those are a violation of all that is right in the world, an abomination that should rightly be sent directly to the compost pile or the chicken coop, not presented as a legitimate food item.
And cranberry sauce out of a can. Now, I understand that some people have acquired a taste for this, and this is not aspersion on your tastes, it’s just an expression of personal preference, but I find few things in this world quite as horrific as rounded jelly slices of electric red nastiness, with the lines of the can still trembling along the sides. Likewise for cranberry sauce with crap in it. If I wanted almonds or walnuts or candied oranges or Pete knows what else in my cranberry sauce, I’d ask for it. It is deeply revolting to spoon out a delicious helping of cranberry goodness, only to find that it has been adulterated with suspect substances. Cranberry sauce contains cranberries, water, and a sweetener of choice. Nothing else. And light on the sweetener, please, it is the tartness we want.
Sweet potatoes mashed with marshmallow fluff? Seriously? This is a thing? People eat this? The first time I encountered this dubious culinary offering, I wondered if the end days had finally come and this was my punishment, because it is quite possibly one of the most bizarre and revolting things that has ever been forced on my innocent tastebuds. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potatoes in general and prefer them in a highly controlled environment, and I am extremely suspicious of marshmallow fluff, and it is my opinion that the world would have been a much better place if the twain had never met.
Turkey. Turkey (or Tofurkey as the case may be) is a ritual offering at many holiday tables in the US, and it’s one of the most boring, unimaginative meats on earth. Give me a hearty duck, a goose, or, hell, some scrumptious roasted vegetables. Take your dry, white, dull meat somewhere far, far away, along with your dour facsimile product designed to make vegetarians and vegans feel like they’re somehow missing out by not being able to eat the turkey. (Trust me, you’re not.) If I wanted to be bored to death by the contents of my plate, I’d eat cream of wheat; at least it has a reasonable moisture content.
Squash, served on its own, with no attempt at dressing up. I love me some squash. You know what I love more? Squash with flair. Squash roasted to a caramelised finish in the oven. Squash stuffed with wild rice and goat cheese. Squash roasted with bacon strips and a hint of brown sugar. There are so many exciting things one can do with squash. Steaming it and dumping it in a bowl without any adornment is just a tragic and cruelly unnecessary thing. Why would you want to leave squash all naked and out in the cold like that? It’s just wrong, people.
Unidentified flying vegetables. I would class this under ‘green beans,’ but, really, overcooked, limp, greying vegetables of all stripes are a common violation on the dinner table, and it needs to stop. Vegetables are delicious. They are packed with colour and flavour and excitement. They do not deserve to have the life cooked out of them and to be left, neglected, on the corners of the table, only eaten by people who are truly desperate. Vegetables can be prepared in a myriad of lovely ways, none of which necessitate a fundamental sacrifice of life, flavour, and the pursuit of happiness. Let a carrot be a carrot, I say, and stop presenting bland, tragic, and highly questionable bowels of things I can’t even identify and passing them off as ‘vegetables.’
Egg nog out of a carton. People. People. People. I should not even have to explain why this is not acceptable. And I hasten to note that, for those concerned about food borne illness, there are methods of preparing actual egg nog that include steps to eliminate bacteria. I think it’s not as tasty or as exciting, but that’s a personal preference, and I respect the need and desire to avoid unnecessary risks. The thing is, people, egg nog out of a carton is just a pathetic attempt at greatness that should be quietly taken out back and fed to the hogs. Yes, real egg nog requires more work, I am not going to lie to you, but once you have tasted that effervescent, transcendent, crisp flavour experience, why on earth would you want to go back to glugging flavoured cream out of a carton?
Indifferently spiced apple pie. Apple pie is one of the most fantastic things on this planet, and one of the greatest gifts to humanity. Don’t ruin it by dumping in a bunch of sugar and little to no (!) spices. Apple pie should tickle the senses and delight the tongue, not taste like a pile of sweetened crap scraped onto some cardboard.