Pass the Potatoes, Please

November usually seems like a long month with the arrival of colder weather, shorter days, and no holiday to celebrate but this year felt like it might be extra-bleak so I proposed celebrating a bonus holiday – American Thanksgiving – to my family a few weeks ago.

We have beloved friends in Ohio and, hearing about their celebration every year I thought sharing in their fun was a logical step. The response from my family was lukewarm until I reminded everyone that they would have no greater tasks than normally assigned for a regular meal but end up with an extra dose of turkey and stuffing. It didn’t take long for people to get on board once they saw my vision for more of their favourite foods and very little extra effort on their part.

Rather than just repeat what we had done in October, I felt like I should put some research into celebrating the holiday ‘American-style’ so I turned to WPL’s beautiful magazine collection. We are so fortunate in the weekly delivery of content from our neighbours in the U.S. which can include anything from cat enthusiasts to sports, fashion to journalism. In planning the celebration of a much-loved holiday, the American magazines are ready to tell us which side dishes to try, new ways to include pumpkin, and the best ways to decorate our tables with leaves and branches we can find in our own backyards! Even with the constraints of the pandemic the editors of magazines across the U.S. have been creative in encouraging the magazine-reading public to celebrate this tryptophan-filled day in beautiful new ways. I was thrilled with many of the inspiring ideas I found in the spread of magazines available to me on the shelves and online through PressReader and RBdigital in WPL’s Digital Library.

A new favourite of mine is Southern Living magazine. This periodical is an elegant read from start to finish and you really do feel like you are stepping into another world from the moment you read the letter from the editor. I could almost hear the soundtrack to Steel Magnolias the first time I read an issue and it was a balm to my soul. Just glancing at their listing of homes for sale is enough to make a person salivate, forget their annual issue dedicated to food. The tone of this magazine is just flawless. Every page is worth a re-read and several featured recipes could be included in a family’s celebration as they look spectacular but their ingredients lists are not outrageous. In the September food issue they chose to highlight seven chefs who weren’t afraid to turn Southern staples into something totally different and the profiles from across the Southern U.S. read like a travel journal. The apple crostata they included from Jerelle Guy of Texas is going to replace our usual pie (and will probably make an appearance on other nights) – check her out @chocolateforbasil on Instagram. Choose any of their fall issues and just relax as you turn the pages, take a trip through some of the beautiful cities they feature, and meet people from the American South in magazine form.

We won’t be switching up our recipe for stuffing – I can’t imagine the consequences if there were something different on our ‘holiday’ table – but the November issue of Good Housekeeping (also available through RBdigital) offers three recipes for someone who is looking to shake things up in that part of a holiday meal. They include a fairly traditional herb stuffing with thyme and parsley, plus alternates with apples, pecans and dill and a cornbread, sausage and cherries choice too. For each of the recipes they have great images that would assist a novice cook who might be making stuffing for the first time or for someone who just likes looking at gorgeous food. There are clever ideas in this month’s holiday-related articles about planning ahead for December and some tasty tips for your side dishes but I think they’ve done a stellar job of providing fresh options for what we can do with our leftovers (it’s sure to happen, even in planning a ‘bonus’ Thanksgiving).

I can never get enough of Real Simple magazine’s content which their editors say is dedicated to making life ‘easier’ but I tend to think of as being ‘soothing’. Some of the work that their staff does to find ingenious ways for us to wrap our device cords or clean sponges more efficiently have really been game changers but it’s the tone in which they write these suggestions that is so pleasing. Almost like they are in on the joke, like they are saying “we know that sorting your junk drawer this way isn’t going to stop your kids from fighting or get dinner magically on the table, it’s just going to give you a little more control and that’s still worth it, isn’t it?” The sense of calm that comes from reading a new issue of this magazine cannot be beat and in November 2020 they chose to feature potatoes. Potatoes! Right on the front cover there is a bowl filled with heaps of mashed potatoes and you can see puddles of melted butter. If that isn’t a sign of all that is right about a winter holiday, well, I don’t know what is. Let me set the stage for you here; they have ‘garlicky herb-butter layered potatoes, salt-and-vinegar roasted potatoes, cheesy potato and pancetta bake, maple sweet potatoes with spicy pecan praline and creamy mascarpone-mashed potatoes. The Count would say “That’s five! Five delicious recipes for potato side dishes in a magazine!”

Both Martha and Oprah had their staff provide lovely content dedicated to the holiday this year. The pies on the cover of the Martha Stewart Living issue for November were almost too beautiful to look at, I just can’t imagine anyone cutting into them. The featured holiday spread is one of family and friends celebrating ‘casually’ but the recipes included are Martha-style casual so I don’t think I’m up for adding any of them to our family’s dinner this year, but they were fun to look at. The entire issue is filled with interesting tidbits and she continues to highlight American artisans each month. Oprah was setting her holiday table outdoors on the cover of her magazine but dedicated her personal letter and some of the content of the issue to remind fans/readers that the 2020 election was one of great importance (she is really going to be celebrating gratitude at Thanksgiving this year). Recipes have never been a large part of the O magazine’s content but they have some interesting choices for leftovers and, as always, her list of things to buy might motivate you to get started on your holiday prep a little earlier. Perhaps we won’t be purchasing things on Oprah’s level but there is always something on those colourful pages that inspires.

Whether you turn to our magazine shelves (in person or through the convenience of the Digital Library) to create a holiday meal, a weekday dinner, or for distraction from November we hope that you find some inspiration and calm in those pages and maybe, if you are lucky, a delicious new recipe for potatoes.

— Penny M.