Usually, I go home for Thanksgiving and celebrate with my siblings, mom and extended family. We eat a stereotypical meal with some not-so-stereotypical additions: my mom decorates the table with large, milk chocolate turkeys, serves a life-size, spray-painted cake in the shape of Turkey Tom, and places candy bags with fall-colored chocolate leaves at each person’s plate.
Needless to say, I usually have to lie down after dinner.
This year, I broke with tradition and visited my friend Namita in Philadelphia. We decided to make our own Thanksgiving feast, and invite two of her friends for dinner. It was my first time making Thanksgiving dinner alone, and I was a little nervous: I’ve cooked for large groups of people before, but Thanksgiving involves lots of prep work and planning. Some people start cooking days ahead of time–I arrived in Philadelphia the night before the holiday. I decided to have faith, and take it one dish at a time.
We planned out the menu ahead of time, and decided to make a mixed greens salad with pears and Gorgonzola, dinner rolls, green bean casserole with fried onions, and two desserts. We agreed on most of the dishes, except my favorite one: sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. To me, it’s not Thanksgiving without sugary, mashed sweet potatoes and crispy brown marshmallows; I can’t picture the holiday without them. But Namita had never tried the casserole, and thought the marshmallows might be overkill. Thankfully, I convinced her otherwise. We added in chopped pecans (something my mom never did), and I liked the crunchy texture.
We also decided against a traditional Thanksgiving bird, and made turkey lasagna instead. Namita had made the dish before, and even though I was skeptical, it ended up turning out well. It was nice not having to worry about roasting the bird, and spending the extra time making the other dishes.
I wanted there to be something with pumpkin on the table, and Namita wanted to make tiramisu–so we compromised. We whipped the cream with a hand mixer, and broke all the ladyfingers in half to line the pan. We folded the pumpkin into the cream, assembled the layers, and put dark chocolate shavings on top. Then, I read the last part of the directions: “let the cake set for 8-12 hours.” Everyone was supposed to arrive in 45 minutes.
Luckily, by the time we pulled the tiramisu out of the refrigerator for dessert, everything had more or less gelled together. It tasted even better the next day for breakfast, once the layers had more time to set.
Even though we spent most of the weekend eating leftovers, we found time to explore Philly’s restaurant scene. The night after Thanksgiving, we went to Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar in Center City. We ordered an ice cream fondue, which came with individually-wrapped vanilla ice cream bars, melted milk chocolate, chocolate-covered rice crisps, and a chocolate-hazelnut crumble. To balance the sweet with the savory, we also added an order of waffle fries.
The next night, we met up with another one of Namita’s friends at a restaurant in Manayunk, a neighborhood in north Philadelphia. I loved Manayunk because even though it’s close to the city, it feels like a small town. There are quaint shops, bakeries, and restaurants all along a main street. We went to Derek’s, a restaurant and wine bar with tapas-style plates. For dessert, we ordered the strawberry funnel cake with powdered sugar and vanilla ice cream. The menu said the cake was “carnival style,” but this wasn’t your average state fair dessert:
We ended our culinary adventures in Old City. I also liked this neighborhood because it had historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and unique eateries: when you visit, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
We went to Franklin Fountain, an old-fashioned soda and ice cream shop. The waiters dress in white aprons and hats, and make ice cream sundaes or sodas on the counter in front of you. We ordered a hot fudge sundae with coffee and chocolate ice cream. It was served in a traditional parlor glass with whipped cream and a real cherry on top. We scraped every last bit of fudge out of the glass.
Even though I love celebrating Thanksgiving the traditional way (i.e., consuming half my body weight surrounded by family), this year was a nice change: I cooked Thanksgiving dinner by myself for the first time, spent time with a good friend, met new people, and explored more of Philadelphia. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.