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Pumpkin Buttermilk Pudding

Last week, a friend who runs an ice cream-related business hired me to help him with a catering event. He was in charge of the dessert course for a charity event, the attendees of which numbered around 270. He's the ice cream guru; I was brought on for my experience doing private parties and plating more desserts than seems reasonable.

Another outfit was in charge of the first and second courses, so I didn't concern myself much with it. Plating restaurant-style food isn't difficult, provided the food is ready to go and you have the proper tools. However, those two things are crucial; they are everything. You can make up for a lot with food, but the food has to be there and it has to be good and there has to be plenty of it.

Nothing about that dinner went well. It was the worst kind of snowball--one I could feel rolling around coolly in my stomach as things fell apart. You could almost see sparks coming from the sous chef as things went wrong faster than he could compensate for them.

The chef (and the food) showed up late. The food wasn't ready. Not all the components were there. No one seemed to know what the menu was nor how the food was supposed to be plated. There wasn't enough food. The food was getting cold faster than it was being plated. No one had planned a vegetarian entree (and there were 40 vegetarians). And then, guests started leaving. I grabbed the floor manager and started shoving desserts in her hands. We plated and served the dessert course in a fury, rushing to make sure everyone got to taste the one course of the evening that was complete.

We were all shell-shocked. I was so surprised at the turn of events that I couldn't panic. The sous chef looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or sob. It was a little like an out of body experience where you can see yourself from above and are calmly watching things unravel without having the power to stop the madness. It was just...beyond.

I tell this story on the veritable eve of Thanksgiving not to scare anyone. If anything, I'm bringing it up to offer a bit of perspective. Even if your turkey burns to a crisp or it comes out of the oven raw; even if your potatoes are gluey and oversalted; even if the stuffing is greasy; even if you drop the pumpkin pie face down on the floor, Thanksgiving will not be ruined.

Even if everyone shows up two hours early and you are two hours behind schedule; even if your zany uncle shows up already toasted; even if the calligraphed name cards aren't in place and the gold leaf-covered artisanal candles made with beeswax from hives on the tops of buildings in Paris don't show up in the mail, Thanksgiving will not be ruined.

I get the distinct impression that there's a lot of pressure to perform at Thanksgiving. That even though we all talk about family and friends and thankfulness as the centerpieces of the day, we're secretly fretting about the crust for our pumpkin pies and making sure the carpets are vacuumed so it will seem like we have it all together.

Who exactly is doing the pressuring? Hard to say. There are the easy targets like the big food magazines rife with center fold spreads of Thanksgiving bounty that no fewer than half a dozen food stylists have fussed over. There's Martha Stewart--she's easy to blame. But I don't think that's quite it.

We have fewer and fewer rituals in our lives. We seldom sit still long enough to just think. We are bombarded by busyness and information, but we don't have time to absorb it. This is the work of the ritual. Rituals take many forms--meditation, church, yoga, even cooking.

Thanksgiving is one ritual that we have managed to hold on to. We crave it. We crave the turkey and the cranberry sauce and the pumpkin pie, not because we think these are the best foods but because the ritual demands it. We might even overdo it a little bit. Things start to matter more than they should. We feel pressure to make it count.

Suddenly it's really important that the crust on the pie be perfectly braided just like the one you saw on Pinterest. Or you spontaneously start to cry when your red tablecloth bleeds into the white napkins in the wash. Maybe you can't even accept help in the kitchen from guests because you planned the menu months in advance, and everything has to be perfect.

Calm down. Slow down. None of us have it figured out. We're mammals that walk on two legs living on a spinning water planet that revolves around the sun in a universe that we can't comprehend. Take a step back. Put the turkey baster down. Have a glass of wine. Laugh with your family and friends. If the turkey isn't done, cook it more. If it gets singed, cut off the burned parts and make extra gravy. Order Chinese food. Have more wine. Hug your kids. Sit down. Breathe.

Other Thanksgiving desserts you might enjoy: Deep-Dish Caramel Apple Pie, Pumpkin Maple Pie with a Buckwheat Crust, Apple Dumplings

Pumpkin Buttermilk Pudding
Serves 10 to 12

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish.
Whisk in a large bowl until light:
           4 large eggs
Add and combine well:
           1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
Whisk in:
           2 1/2 cups buttermilk
           1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Whisk together thoroughly in a separate bowl:
           1 1/2 cups sugar
           1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
           1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
           1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
           1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
           1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
           1/2 teaspoon salt
Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and whisk until well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared dish. Bake until the top is deep golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed, about 50 minutes.
Serve the pudding warm or cold with:
           Bourbon Whipped Cream, below

Bourbon Whipped Cream
Makes 2 to 2 1/2 cups

Beat at high or medium speed until thickened:
           1 cup cold heavy cream
           1 tablespoon sugar
           1 tablespoon bourbon
Beat to the desired consistency. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate.

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This recipe is easily scaled up and down. Just figure on 4-6 ounces of protein, 3 ounces of dried rice noodles (slightly more if they are “fresh”), and a heaping cup of greens and sliced...