My mother loves travel guides. Whenever it was possible, she’d load us in the car and get us traveling, always with a stack of travel guides in tow.
It was how I got to perch at the top of the Grand Canyon when I was ten, overload myself on guacamole when we’d cross the border into Mexico before I even knew how to say por favor, and, eventually, how I got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa as a tween. No matter where we went, she’d hunt down the historically relevant site, take out her travel guide and read from with perfect enunciation and authority as if she were reciting a speech in a high school civics class.
Every time she’d pull that book out, my siblings and I would let out a unanimous, overexaggerated groan, but I’m full of factoids as a result. For example, I know Cesar Salad comes from Tijuana and not Italy, and that Michelangelo laid on his back atop precarious scaffolding to paint the Sistine Chapel.
Her insistence on sharing knowledge has rubbed off on me in the kitchen, and morphed into a desire to constantly try new recipes and flavors. Something that my family is generally up for except on the most sacred eating day of the year: Thanksgiving. They once humored me and let me handle the whole menu but they put the kibosh on that when I tried to line my father’s favorite Pecan Pie with a layer of spiked dark chocolate on the crust. I thought it innovative. He thought it a cooking sin of epic proportions.
So, over the years, we’ve kept the odd “Green Jello” recipe that combines cream cheese, pineapples, walnuts, and lime Jello; we’ve always had the requisite green bean casserole; and have never, ever, messed with Dad’s Pecan Pie.
In exchange, I’m allowed to throw a few curve ball recipes in to complete the menu. And, as our family has grown, we’ve had to round out the sides to accommodate the various eaters, be they vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, or flexitarian.
This year, I’ll be serving a few side dish switch-ups, which I wanted to share before you finalize your Thanksgiving menu. First up is this Chipotle and Toasted Walnut Wheat Berry Salad, which is a little spicy, slightly sweet, and filling enough to make my vegetarian sister feel like she got a real meal.