Images of smiling, multi-generation families crowded around tables heavy with roast turkeys and casseroles are everywhere this time of year. The message seems to be - the more people you gather together at your home at Thanksgiving, the better. But the problem is, it creates expectations that can't always be met. As a result, many feel that if their Thanksgiving doesn’t look like this, it’s not a good one; that something is lacking that year.
I say, “That’s crazy thinking.” Thanksgiving is the holiday that holds the widest range of memories for me, and most of them were great whether I was with a large group or very small.
As an only child of parents who relocated far from family, some Thanksgivings found us ordering our roast turkey and stuffing at a restaurant, just the three of us. Other years we joined gatherings of friends and neighbors. While the grownups shared news of the neighborhood or the nation, us teenagers huddled together to complain about homework and the unfair teachers who assigned it, or giggled about our latest crush.
As an adult who didn’t marry for a very long time, “too long” according to my dad, Thanksgiving was often large, rambling dinners for orphans - adults living too far from family to make back-to-back trips home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. One year, a gang of twenty of us 30-somethings kicked off the ski season up in Tahoe by christening a house we had rented for the season with a huge Thanksgiving dinner. We lined up two long coffee tables, end-to-end, and dined on the floor in front of a roaring fireplace while snow fell outside.
For many years I spent Thanksgiving with either Ina or Gwen, both close friends who gathered me close into their families, and for several years now, my husband and I have traveled back east for some wonderful family Thanksgivings, some with four generations of family sharing a meal. But my favorite year was the Thanksgiving I turned 50. Ten of us drove up to Sea Ranch, a seaside community two hours north of San Francisco, for a weekend of cooking, hiking, wine tasting, and friendship.
I’ve also had my share of solitary Thanksgivings through the years, with hikes in the countryside far from boisterous crowds, sighting a flurry of hundreds of birds suddenly taking off from a protected inlet, and quiet dinners at inns tucked away in the trees. I enjoyed those years just as much, but they were very different. Those Thanksgivings were days of quiet reflection with heartful thanks for the loved ones in my life, and remembrances of those who were gone. Those years were about reconnecting to nature, and to myself, and being grateful to pause my life for a few days.
So if your Thanksgiving gathering is small this year, even a gathering of one or two, it can still be a memorable day filled with a different kind of abundance, surely as nurturing to the soul as spending it with a crowd of family and friends. It’s just different; not more, and definitely not less.
What does this have to do with a scalloped potatoes dish? Very little, except that you can make a large dish of it for a crowd, or scale it down to a serving for one or two. Both are perfect.
- I use Emile Henry mini casserole dishes for this dish that measure 7” X 5½” X 1½” deep (not including the handles). The recipe is per casserole dish and can be easily quadrupled without making any adjustments.
- Feel free to adjust the spice amount upward, particularly if the spices aren’t new.
- These little casseroles can be completely baked a day in advance and reheated in a 350˚F oven.
Scalloped Sweet Potato Casserole with Apples
- 1 small sweet potato peeled (about ½ pound)
- 1 apple cored and peeled
- a few shavings of red onion
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 ½ tablespoon coconut sugar or brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon cardamom
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon gorgonzola cheese
- ¼ cup Half and Half
- 2 tablespoon oats
- 1 tablespoon pepitas
- Heat the oven to 350˚F. Thinly slice the sweet potato, ideally using a mandolin. I slice mine on the thinnest setting of my small tabletop mandolin. Thickly slice the apple into ¼” thick pieces using a sharp knife.
- Melt the butter, coconut sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt together. (I zap mine in a microwave safe dish for 30 seconds, and stir.)
- Arrange two layers of thin sweet potato slices in the small casserole dish. Spoon over ½ of the spicy butter. Arrange the sliced apples and onions on top and dot with gorgonzola. Layer the remaining sweet potato slices on top. Pour the half and half over the layers.
- Stir the oats and pepitas into the remaining spicy butter and spoon onto the top of the casserole.
- Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove the plastic and slide it onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. The potato slices should be fork tender, and the casserole should be bubbly hot.
- Serve warm.