While we wait to be instructed on the lessons of Iraq by James A. Baker III — the Bush family consigliere assigned the Mosaic task of leading us forth from the Mesopotamian desert — let us consider the lessons of the Thanksgiving meal just past.
The bane of all holiday cooking is starch, and the Thanksgiving meal is the apotheosis of holiday cooking. Therefore: Thanksgiving = starch. You have your mashed potatoes, your bread stuffing, your bread, your pie crusts. By some point late in the afternoon or early in the evening, you can't believe you ate the whole thing.
How, then, to curb starch without being a killjoy? Other holiday meals will require other answers, but at Thanksgiving this year at our table, the answer was to serve succotash — the ancient Indian dish of corn and beans — instead of potatoes and stuffing. There were a few bleats about tradition, but the general feeling seemed to be that the succotash was wonderfully tasty and much less ... stuffing. It was also a tip of the cap to the Indians and the immeasurable sorrows that overtook them. Thanksgiving really ought to be consecrated in their memory and honor; we need not be self-flagelutf8g or ostentatiously guilty to recognize that but for their horrendous loss, most of us would not be here. And we do right by them and ourselves, it seems to me, when we incorporate bits and pieces of Indian life into our own evolving traditions while remembering where they came from and what they meant. If we don't do it, no one will.
As for the current fashion of brining the turkey: bah and humbug, I would say. My far simpler and less messy alternative is to rub the bird the day before with a couple tablespoons of kosher salt and a couple more of herbes de Provence. Before roasting, work some softened sweet butter and a few smashed garlic cloves under the skin at the breast, back, and legs. Roast breast side up in a hot (450 degrees) preheated oven for about 25 minutes, until the skin is golden. Flip the turkey over and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Keep turning the bird every 30 minutes or so and allow about nine minutes per pound. No stuffing, of course, and let the turkey rest under aluminum foil before serving.
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