As a young reporter, I was fascinated by a news service item dispatched every day. It was a budget or list of what would be on the front page of The New York Times the next morning. The theory was that editors at newspapers large and small across the country would see what the Times thought was important and would adjust their own news judgment 'accordingly. You know, many did -- and do.
That sense of almost magisterial authority runs through Sam Sifton's useful new book, "Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well" (Random House, $18). Once the Times' restaurant critic, where he would spend T-Day answering calls from panicked readers, and now national editor, Sifton is not shy when it comes to telling you how to observe the holiday -- and use his book.
"You are going to page through this book -- read and digest, argue and discuss, make plans and write lists -- and then you are going to cook and serve a meal that will bring praise down upon you like showers of rose petals,"'' he writes.
Sifton laudably warns readers early that ".'Thanksgiving' is not a book for everyone." He's right. The feast he outlines is a traditional, turkey-centric one. The foods and recipes are familiar ones rather than new or trendy. Sifton's "Thanksgiving" does not entertain compromise or can-opener cooking or balancing dinner plates on one's knees in the living room.
"Put it plainly, we are going to cook Thanksgiving correctly© the italics," he declares; italics his.
Sifton does cook Thanksgiving correctly. He's there, ready with ladles of practical advice, humor and reassuring words, to get you through the holiday successfully. Nothing is missed as he moves from taking a quick kitchen inventory before the holiday through the meal preparation and service to the cleanup and what to do with the leftovers. The sometimes brisk, Timesian© tone works, I think, because there comes a time when you must stop dilly-dallying and simply get on with it.
And Sifton does just that with the goal of reassuring you, the host, that "everything really will be all right."
-- Bill Daley