THANKSGIVING: HOW TO COOK IT WELL
by Sam Sifton (Random House, 133 pages, $18).
Never mind what the title says, this is not really so much a cookbook as a memoir that celebrates Thanksgiving, past and present. Oh, sure, there are recipes for creamed Brussels sprouts, apple pie and maple-glazed carrots -- as well as mac-and-cheese -- along with instructions on how to cook a turkey. But the driving force behind this slender book is Sam Sifton's description of how Thanksgiving should be and, in fact, has been for him over the years. That explains his comments about parsley on turkey ("And, finally, at least if you were raised by my mother, you will need a small bowl of finely minced parsley to sprinkle over everything before it goes out to the dining room because that is how dishes of carved poultry are meant to be served").
The picture he paints of Thanksgiving tradition is as specific as Norman Rockwell's, with a message unspoken but evident: that the holiday should be the way it always has been, because that's the way it's supposed to be. ("Ideally, there should be a tablecloth, as thick as you can manage, clean and ironed. White is the classic color, but really anything that is not pastel will do. Romantically, there might be that runner down the center, red and inviting, in honor of my wife.") His version of the holiday is the tale he tells.
Sifton covers the span of the meal, from the table setting ("Thanksgiving is a holiday that calls for a table set as if for a sacrament") to the cleanup ("Do not be afraid to delegate"). He provides tips for the cook, among them to use instant flour for a lumpless gravy and to use napkins appropriately ("A napkin stuffed into a wine glass is tragic").
Sifton, formerly the restaurant critic and food editor at the New York Times and now its national editor, pays tribute to this humblest of holidays with grace, humor and an abiding love for the occasion, along with 50 recipes.