Hi and welcome back! It’s Thanksgiving today in Freedom Land. Ideally, it’s a day spent with loved ones to celebrate what’s most important. My better half, Mr. Captain, and I trade off on menu creation for this day, since he’s not a real fan of the usual fixin’s. This year, it’s his turn to set the menu. But we ended up setting it together — and it might turn out to be our favorite of all.
When I first began dating Mr. Captain some 17 years ago, I knew he hadn’t been enjoying the very best meals. So I wanted to give him something special that afternoon. I invited him over for lunch.
I was sorta-kinda wanting to show off a bit.
Around that same year, 2003, Glamour magazine printed a story about “Engagement Chicken.” Its creator claimed that for years, she’d been giving this recipe to her female friends, who would then prepare it for their boyfriends. She called her lemon-and-herb-roasted concoction “Engagement Chicken” because it was so incredibly tasty that these men inevitably proposed marriage after eating it. Indeed, Glamour claimed that this chicken dish had sparked 70 marriage proposals.
(Incidentally, it’s quite good. If you like chicken, even if you’re like me and usually iffy on that lemon-and-roast-chicken combo of flavors, I definitely suggest you try it. Here’s a recipe.)
I didn’t find out about this particular dish till years later. But it’s not like similar ideas haven’t been floating around for ages. It’s also not oriented gender-wise this way all the time. Men and women both have known for years that a good meal can create strong bonds between those sharing it.
Either way, a vegetarian like Mr. Captain wouldn’t go for roast chicken.
Adapting to the Circumstances.
Instead, for lunch that spring afternoon I made fingerling roasted red potatoes with gorgonzola cream sauce, pan-fried asparagus with a bit of lemon and oil, and strawberry and spinach salad with a homemade strawberry vinaigrette.
For dessert, I went simple and seasonal: strawberries with saba, a sort of balsamic vinegar that’s not aged. The result: a syrupy, thick dark liquid with sweet-and-sour notes. It became popular around 2003 — but was surprisingly difficult to find in the town I now called home. Once I found some, I discovered that it pairs very well with fresh fruit. So it went on the menu.
Oh, and I set out a nice tablecloth and linen napkins I’d hemmed and embroidered myself.
When Mr. Captain showed up at my new apartment for lunch that day, he was quite surprised!
One Definition of Success.
Half the stuff on the table was stuff my new boyfriend had never even tasted before that day. But by the end of the meal, I got to see a living example of what one 1938 writer defined as “success” in this social context:
The lightest thing I have been able to offer with success (by “success” I mean that placid benevolent relaxed expression that begins to steal over a man’s face halfway through his meal), consists of two large slices of bread toasted on one side, topped with generous wedges of cheese, sliced tomatoes and ham or bacon strips, all placed under the broiler for six or seven minutes, served with plenty of pickles and olives and two or three cups of coffee.
Compared to all the monstrosities of 1930s cuisine that were coming into fashion for women, a basic grilled cheese sandwich probably was indeed quite a hit for men.
What I didn’t know yet was that seventy years later, vegetarians sometimes found themselves in the same exact situation.
(Around the same time, when I sought out officially-vegetarian recipes from official vegetarian sources, I found myself occasionally horrified by what I found in that genre. I bought a few cookbooks, despaired at their contents, and decided just to cook stuff from sources I trusted — and food would appeal to us both. Mr. C just got a perfect bill of health from his annual checkup and bloodwork tests, so I guess I’m doing something right.)
By the end of that meal, Mr. Captain told me years later, he found himself thinking in more permanent terms about our association. What I made wasn’t “Engagement Chicken,” but it’d had the same effect.
Improvising, Adapting, Overcoming.
Of course, it’s winter now, not spring. A Thanksgiving meal, not a spring-fling date lunch. And strawberries aren’t exactly in season! So I’ve adapted the menu somewhat to account for these shifts. 2020 has been almost nothing but improvisation, adaptation, and overcoming, so nothing could be more appropriate anyway.
Instead of strawberries in saba, I’ve made crème brûlée. I’ve got a gorgeous balsamic vinaigrette for the salad, and toasted pine nuts besides. If I can’t have asparagus, then we’ll piece things together with pan-roasted Brussels sprouts. Also, I’m in a mood for roasted carrots, so I’m adding those to the menu.
The important parts are all still there:
Effort made and appreciated.
Love given and received.
A delicious meal.
Touched bases with family and friends, even if it must be virtually done.
A pause during these anxious, hectic days.
And a Thanksgiving to remember.
Happy Holidays, friends, however you spend it. Be safe, and we’ll see you tomorrow!
NEXT UP: How evangelists get reputations for soulwinning success — even if they don’t experience it in reality.
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Also, today is an Off Topic Wonderland! I see we’ve already been sharing our menus and recipes, so why change a good thing? Bring on your Thanksgiving faves! Happy Thanksgiving!