Topside Turkey

by Caroline McKenzie | 11/17/06 6:00am

In case you hadn't already realized just how many of your friends at Dartmouth are from the Eastern seaboard (or, in particular, the New York metropolitan area), fall's first holiday vacation makes the geographic breakdown of the College's student body abundantly clear. At Dartmouth, Thanksgiving isn't about people coming together to share in a bountiful harvest; it's about the kids who have relatives within driving distance of Hanover visiting their families for home-cooked Rockwellian spreads, whilst the rest of the population tries to decide whether an outrageously expensive roundtrip plane ticket is worth it to avoid gnawing EBAs pizza crusts on the last Thursday of November.

But that's simplifying the situation a wee bit. Spending Thanksgiving at Dartmouth isn't all that bad -- for one thing, you do get to avoid awkward family situations and the stress of the holidays. But the thing most surely missed by students staying in Hanover over break is the traditional Thanksgiving feast. And, let's be honest, now: Hallmark cards might tell us that Thanksgiving is about honoring American heritage and counting our blessings, but, when push comes to shove, the culinary tradition of Turkey Day is really what it's all about.

To students stuck in dormitories during this national day of gluttony, the recreation of the feast proves rightly intimidating. It's far too daunting a task to even consider basting a bird, hand-mashing potatoes, boiling string beans, mixing up stuffing, latticing pie crusts and footing the bill for all of this. But it shouldn't be a Herculean task to prepare a meal that has at least a modicum of similarity to the traditional Thanksgiving feast. And this, my friends, is why the Pilgrims founded Topside.

With a little ingenuity and whatever is left of your $200 Topside budget, is it actually possible to create your own Thanksgiving feast from Dartmouth's pseudo-cornershop? The answer is, somewhat amazingly, yes. Furthermore, it's an appealing option: It costs you pretty much nothing (nobody counts DBA as an actual currency) and it's not that hard to do -- even if you have no skill whatsoever.

The first step is to find some kitchen assistants. No real Thanksgiving meal can be made by one man or woman alone -- such a concept defies the very science of Thanksgiving. Seeing how people on this campus are drawn to attend even the most boring of lectures by the lure of free food, it shouldn't be too difficult to assemble a battalion of sous chefs.

Another scientific law of "real Thanksgiving meals" is that there must be three courses. So, naturally, we'll start with the appetizer (call it an "hors d'oeuvre" if you must, and delude yourself into believing it came from a Michelin-starred restaurant instead of the second floor of Thayer). An easy and amazingly crowd-pleasing first course that can be created from Topside's offerings is a carrot-honey soup. It's warm, it's tasty ... and it's orange -- an essential color in the Thanksgiving aesthetic that evokes visions of bountiful cornucopias even if most of your ingredients originated from a can or a commercial refrigerator. The only dilemma involved in this one is that it requires a blender. So before your Northern friends vamoose next Tuesday, find your favorite Dartmouth hard guy who has a thing for blended protein shakes and convince him that, in the spirit of sharing set forth by the pilgrims and Native Americans so many years ago, he should let you borrow his culinary power tool over the holiday. Once such a food processor is procured, this recipe is no problem.

Moving on to the main course, this is where Topside really works in your favor. The fact that Topside doesn't carry whole turkeys is in no way a roadblock to your Thanksgiving success -- it's actually a lifesaver. Nobody in their right mind really wants to pull giblets (I have made it a goal to never actually educate myself as to what giblets really are -- they're just gross) out of a dead bird's body cavity, and who wants to spend hours cooking a turkey, anyhow? Topside ingeniously offers an easy alternative: "pre-carved" deli turkey slices, which are notably absent of any unidentifiable entrails. But you're not going to just plop those things down on a plate. Hells no -- some

effort must be put into the ceremonious poultry product. Instead, wrap that bird up in a pleasing presentation by making cranberry-turkey rollups. Using turkey slices along with cranberry sauce and cream cheese spread on a flax-grain wrap, it's easy to create autumnal flavor in finger-food form.

As for the side dishes, simplicity is the best policy. Topside's habit of stocking Minute Rice makes preparing an autumn rice pilaf an appealingly easy project. Mixing in raisins, apples, and celery into your pilaf creates a complex and tasty addition to your fall feast that looks fancy but is rather simple. And since the goal of side dishes is to amuse your palate without over-filling you before dessert has arrived (everything revolves around dessert), the second side should just be a clean, light vegetable, minimally prepared. You could pick whatever vegetable you like, but I would suggest visiting the Collis salad bar, buying yourself a lot of corn and dressing it up simply with a little olive oil and a goodly amount of salt and pepper.

As well as being rather tasty, corn, like the carrot-honey soup and the cranberry sauce in the roll-ups, has the added benefit of bringing seasonal color to the table that helps evoke the festive spirit of Thanksgiving. Not that anyone will notice, but at least you can say you attempted to be artistic.

This brings us to the best part of Thanksgiving: dessert. Courtyard Caf seems to have predicted that people would be sticking around campus for Thanksgiving as they have recently introduced a line of pre-made pies. But why buy a pie when you're already on such a roll? Your very contemporary (cranberry-turkey wrap ups surely count as haute new America cuisine) feast begs for a finale more original than pre-made pumpkin pie anyway. Instead, opt for a homemade apple crisp with vanilla ice cream on the side. It smells and tastes delicious, it puts to good use the fabulous local apples that DDS has recently made available, and it is amazingly easy to make if you just recruit someone to do your apple chopping for you (got a pledge handy?). Plus, it's really fun and allows you to indulge in regressive behavior: Making the crisp necessitates you mash together the butter, sugar and oatmeal as if it were Play-Doh. Plus, a dollop of vanilla ice cream (or good fro-yo) really makes any dessert a masterpiece.

Okay, so you've got a menu, a shopping list, a communal kitchen and a loaded Dartmouth Card -- all that's left is planning the party. Dartmouth students already seem sufficiently skilled in this department, so I don't feel the need to make any grand suggestions. Just pop open your celebratory ginger ale, take in a whiff of your dorm-cooked creation and revel in the fact that all over the Northeast, your classmates are having to choke down Aunt Edna's over-caramelized candied yams, while you have just created the finest meal ever to be born of DBA. So sit back, relax, and give thanks for Topside.

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