A Case for Salad on the Table

We had big camping plans for Thanksgiving with a large group of friends last year. We planned to drink cowboy coffee early in the morning and play cards in lantern light until howling coyotes scared us into our sleeping bags. As the self-professed “food person” in our group, I was really looking forward to it; I had furiously Googled how to rig a string of turkey legs over an open fire and considered recipes for mashed potatoes on a propane stove. Of course, Texas had a different plan.

We were rained out of the state park but were still determined to have a good, old-fashioned time in “nature.” A last-minute booking led our ragtag group of inside kids to a farmhouse about an hour outside of town, fitted with acres of sprawling pasture, a stack of 1000-piece puzzles and, luckily, an oven for the turkey. The bottomless beer cooler was fully stocked with Texas’ finest craft, and the coyotes kept their distance. The backup plan wasn’t all that bad. It was a true vacation for the urban millennial: Instagram reluctantly refreshed while the fire pit crackled, the kombucha flowed while the knitting marathon commenced and no one mourned the lack of Wi-Fi. We were happy with the entertainment of coaxing a herd of cows to the fence with carrots (spoiler: it didn’t work), and we didn’t miss the city one bit. It was bliss.

thanksgiving sides 2

In true Type-A fashion, with my menu spreadsheet at the ready, I was fully prepared to cook my first “adult” Thanksgiving dinner, start to finish. I laid out the oven schedule to accommodate our 18-pound bird, with cornbread dressing and sweet potato casserole on deck. Potatoes and green beans bubbled away on the stovetop, an endless snack plate kept everyone happy and the dog waited patiently at the kitchen entrance for the occasional scrap. The table was packed to the brim with dishes of honey-glazed winter squash, warm challah dinner rolls with obscene amounts of butter, an orange-scented cranberry sauce and pie. So much pie! The turkey turned out a little dry, but I blame it on the spatchcock technique I attempted at the last minute. It was nothing a little gravy couldn’t fix. But my favorite dish on the table? The salad. With all of the rich flavors on the table, a bright and fresh element was essential. Don’t get me wrong, mashed potatoes took up significant real estate on my plate, but a palate-cleansing salad helped curb the eating exhaustion before we moved on to second helpings. Our Thanksgiving salad was packed with plenty of crunchy vegetables, sweet-tart fruit, fresh local greens and a zesty, mustard-based dressing that never made it to the designated leftover container.

It was when I was sitting around an unsteady table in a farmhouse, miles from my inbox and reliable streaming services, that I looked around and realized the fruition of my chosen life in Texas — a boisterous gang of late twenty-somethings surrounded by food and engaged in an animated discussion about the best movie of 2018. We had all made plans to be together for the holiday and looked forward to it for months; I was so thankful for that. I had made the decision a few days prior to apply for an extended internship in Boston, confident that temporarily leaving the state would reset my career compass. But, sitting at the table as I made my friends cheesily recite what they were thankful for that year, I realized that I already knew where my roots were meant to be planted. I came back from the internship four months later, embraced by my chosen family, and we are currently booking this year’s weekend in Wimberley. Even if this year’s table doesn’t look the same as it did a year ago, I know it’ll be in Texas with a big salad on the table.

By Rachel Johnson