Bah Humbug to Tradition @Thanksgiving: Time to Change it up a Bit

November 16, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Editor's note: Read to the end to see recipes and to learn the correct technique for carving a turkey. 

The younger generation and especially Millennials are supposed to be the ones who are shaking up the universe—moving on to new jobs more often than boomers did and often starting their own ventures; not rushing to buy a home since they’re content with apartment living which they’ve helped to make more luxurious; cooking up a storm, photographing every morsel and posting the images on Instagram for all to see; and rethinking how to stay in touch by bidding landlines goodbye, eliminating snail mail from lives and making texting 24/7 part of ours, too. 

So, it’s been a bit of a surprise for us boomers when it comes to planning holiday meals, especially Thanksgiving, to learn that we’re the ones pushing for change. Not the younger ones. We’re not sure what that’s all about, and if our millennials are an exception or this is a wide-spread generational attitude. 

And why? Maybe, just because of their fast-paced changing lives, they look to us to comfort them with stability and familiar routines. They can be surprisingly sentimental when it comes to tradition and rigid about change when it’s about their—and our--Thanksgiving feast. Same goes in our families for
Passover, too. 

We, however, find it a tad boring, however, since each of us loves to host and prepare the meal. The more the merrier we think as we extend the table, add some water to the soup and set out another place setting. We even change the dishes we’ve used in the past, maybe break out the good china, new placemats, new holiday-themed decorations and flowers or festive tablecloth. 

And because we like to cook so much--and especially bake, we think it’s more fun not to be a slave to tradition and prepare the same-old menus year after year. For Barbara that has meant squash-apple soup served in shooters, turkey (see how to carve it at the end of the blog), grilled salmon, her homemade cornbread stuffing with pecans and more, both mashed and sweet potatoes (and yes to marshmallows), the notorious green-bean casserole (yes, we’re editorializing) and a mind-boggling display of traditional pies, from apple to pecan to pumpkin, plus a chocolate cake and something that’s a surprise, sometimes from her younger daughter who’s a star with key lime pie and more. 

Margaret’s usual repertoire consists of a crisp green salad, roast turkey, stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole made with Campbell’s soup, Durkee’s fried onions and canned green beans, roasted root vegetables and brussels sprouts, and sweet potato pudding. Then add the desserts: apple and pumpkin pies and her late sister-in-law’s chocolate buttermilk cake. 

And then we each tried to mix it up but quickly found that doing something new is not how it was going to be, despite our valiant efforts. When Barbara made a mashed potato casserole that the New York Times newspaper said was fabulous and could be made a day ahead, she went for it. Same with a sweet potato recipe of sliced potatoes and no marshmallow topping, which also could be prepared in advance, one daughter heard of this change, which she considered traitorous, and went, well, quite ballistic. “What do you mean, you’ve changed things without asking?” she said by cell phone while getting a ride from daughter No. 2 from the train station. Barbara tried to calm her down and explain that preparing a huge meal for 16 or so, required advanced work. And nobody had been there to help. “Maybe, next year you both can come earlier and help plan?” she said, hoping to diffuse the tension. The explanation didn’t cut the mustard, to stay with food lingo.

 So, the next year it was back to the traditional meal, though a Brussels sprouts dish was added for those who usually found the string-bean dish quite unappealing, to be kind. 

Two years ago, Margaret tried a gourmet version of the green bean casserole using cream of mushroom soup she made from scratch and fresh green beans instead of canned. Ironically, this dish was canned, as Margaret’s daughter said, “What happened to the green bean casserole we love?” So much for change. 

Barbara also decided trying to be different wasn’t worth disrupting peace in her extended family. She focused instead on making the table setting look different each year, using a blackboard-style runner that could be drawn on with chalk one time, then a green floral runner that was dressier but made whimsical with little cars and trucks for her grandsons. And last year she used turkey placemats that were meant to be colored in and each guest was given an individual pack of crayons. She also used little vases for flowers rather than one staid arrangement. 

With today’s countless dietary lifestyles—vegan, vegetarian, lactose and glucose intolerant, paleo, plus the latest diet fads, Margaret who will seat 12 at her table this year, will be challenged to meet the needs of all. She is toying with idea of doing either a mushroom bourguignon or a cauliflower steak with a special salsa she saw online for the vegetarians. Perhaps, an angel food cake for the gluten-free or meringue cookies with ground pecans and tiny chocolate chips for the gluten- free and lactose intolerant. She also might eliminate either the apple or pumpkin pie but is thinking of tossing this idea out before the kids arrive to avoid a mutiny!

Barbara’s considering a kosher turkey and doing without the salmon for part of her crew who keeps kosher. 

Since the holiday is less than one week away, we each are quickly fine-tuning our menus; we’ve also started to cook and freeze what we can (cranberry relish and soup do well being made ahead). And while we’re both sticking to our traditional familial repertoires, we’re doing a few additions to make us old folks feel creative and young—and to meet the dietary needs of all the young folks. Margaret is offering a new take on sweet potatoes and Barbara’s changing up her cranberry relish a bit with a few different ingredients. But please don’t spill the beans to our kids until they sit down to the table and say, “Wow, Mom, we love the new dish!”

From our Kitchens to Yours 

Mary Anne's School's Out Cake

2 c. sugar
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter
1 c. water
2 c. flour
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t sea salt
1 c.milk
1 t. cider vinegar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract

semi-sweet chocolate chips
heavy cream


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place a baking sheet on the lower rack, to catch any drips when the cake bakes. 

2. Grease and flour a 9" tube pan. 

3. Put the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and 1 c. of water in a saucepan.
Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until all of the ingredients are melted and blended. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, about 15 minutes.

4. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar.  

5. When the chocolate in the pan has cooled a bit, whisk in the milk mixture and eggs, one at a time. In several additions, whisk in the dry ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and whisk once or twice, to blend.

7. Pour the batter into the tube pan and bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes (can need up to 45 minutes). Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack. Let cool completely before drizzling on the ganache.

Molly’s Sweet Potato Pudding

Serves 12

Preheat oven to 350 degrees


Six large sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered

½ cup butter melted

2/3rds cup dark brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

4 eggs beaten

½ cup orange juice

3 tablespoons apricot jam

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup fresh pineapple chunks (small)

Either miniature or large marshmallows to place on top


Butter a 2 ½ quart either square or circular Pyrex baking dish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and mash.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Mash/stir until smooth. Pour into the buttered dish.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes.

Take it out of the oven, and place marshmallows over the top.

Turn on the broiler and toast the marshmallows for about 30 seconds.

 Cranberry Relish from the Food52 Site

 Serves 6-8, so double or triple depending on guest count and how much you want left over, freezes well, so you can make it in advance. I changed the original recipe by switching to brown sugar rather than white, replaced the tart cherries for dried cranberries, added 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 full orange chopped into small pieces and added 1 cup broken pecans


 1 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries

½ cup dried cranberries 

1 cup broken pecans

1 orange, zested, and 1 full orange, peeled and chopped into small pieces

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice 

¾ cup water

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup pure maple syrup


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together cranberries of both kinds, orange zest, cinnamon, water, sugar, and maple syrup. Bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Continue to cook until the sauce has thickened and most of the berries have burst, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled. Sauce may be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week. It also may be frozen, then removed the day before and let sit out or in the fridge until it softens. NOTE: If you double the recipe, don’t double the amount of water, adjust, start with 1 cup and see how it does; you might add another ¼ but maybe not depending on how thick or think you want it. It will thicken slightly when it cools.

How to Carve a Turkey in 6 Easy Steps

Paul Kelly, a turkey farmer from Essex, has decided to share his six-step plan for carving the perfect turkey. He is the current Guinness World Record Holder for the fastest carving of a turkey,

1. Wings off first. Hold the wing by the tip. Cut it at the midsection, then do the same again to the other wing.

2. Legs off next.  Hold the leg by the end knuckle. Cut through the skin between the leg and the body and twist off, then do the same again to the other leg.


3. Breast meat off. Use the tip of the knife, cut along the breast bone (keep the 
the knife close to the bone) until the breast is removed. Do the same again on the other side.

4. Peel off both leg and breast skin. Place on a baking tray. Season and return to a hot oven form 10-15 minutes until crisp. It's delicious.

5. Slice it up. Slice up the breast meat and carve the leg off the bone.

6. Enjoy. Pour over the reheated gravy juices from the bird. Allow time to soak up the juices before serving. 




1 comment

  • Lynn Marks

    Nov 20, 2018

    For years, i’ve been listening to Susan Stamberg on NPR talk about her most unusual cranberry recipe. i was finally going to try it this year even though she says it looks like pepto bismol. But now that i’ve seen Barbara Ballinger’s cranberry recipe, THAT will be my go-to recipe to try. (and if i’m ambitious i will try both). thanks!!!

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