In his new book, Thanksgiving, How To Cook It Well, former New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton gets to the heart of the Thanksgiving conundrum on the very first page: "You may be sharing family traditions or creating them or fighting against them or all three at once."
Sifton then goes on to give a brief history of the holiday (it is not exactly the history we've collectively come to imagine), and gives a few warnings: This is not a book for those of you looking for the latest Thanksgiving fads. It is a book about turkey and tradition.
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And it's not a book for those looking to find the easy way out: there are no shortcuts or "easy Thanksgiving" recipes. This is a book about how to do the big traditional meal, with gravy (and everything) from scratch, and -- as the title says -- how to do it well.
As such, the true sweet spot of Sifton's book is the young and somewhat ambitious cook aiming to attempt the holiday for the first time, or someone who has always tried to do Thanksgiving right but has never quite felt confident in the outcome of their efforts.
As a cook who has made Thanksgiving dinner for years with a fair amount of success, I found Sifton's book a pleasure to read, and some of his cooking advice will probably even work its way into my repertoire (the creamed Brussels sprouts look especially good, and endeared me immediately by beginning with the sentence "Thanksgiving is not a day to consider healthful eating."). But the book is not exactly aimed at me - I know how to make a very good gravy; I have my own, set-in-stone ideas about how one should set the table.
But for a cook who could use a helping hand, Thanksgiving is everything most cookbooks for first-timers are usually not: smart, savvy, friendly, and neither condescending nor high-minded. It almost feels loving, in keeping with the holiday it celebrates.