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What are you serving for Thanksgiving dinner? Anything goes

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 22, 2012 - Today is Thanksgiving. For what are you most thankful? Family? Food? Football? Those are the choices of many, though not necessarily in that order.

As millions of Americans gather today, whether around dinner tables or behind TV trays, many will be eating some version of what has come be to considered the traditional meal: turkey, stuffing (dressing to some), sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.

But after that, what's on those tables is often as diverse as the nation itself. The Beacon asked sources in the Public Insight Network to share their favorite Thanksgiving food, along with something about what makes the holiday special for them, and for what their especially thankful, this year.

For Danielle Scruggs of St. Louis, greens with turkey wings, is THE must-have dish on her family's table. Scruggs cooks up a pot of mixed greens — turnip, mustard, kale and spinach.

"It's fresh, savory and healthy. It was easy to digest as a child and now I'm able to cook anyone under the table with my own pot," Scruggs, 30, wrote in her PIN response.

Scruggs is a graduate student at Lindenwood University, where she is working toward a master's degree in communications in digital and multimedia studies. She wrote that her extended family has been gathering for Thanksgiving for more than 80 years. "It's all about family love," she wrote.

For her family, sweet potato pie is the desert of choice. "There's something so tasty about my grandmother's." They also love cheesecakes. 

"A few family members make them well, and there are always different topping requests, such as cherries, pineapples and strawberries."

When asked to sum up what she's most thankful for, Scruggs wrote: "Life. A sound mind. The ability to love and cook. Cooking is an art."

Chuck Lee of Manchester is a traditionalist who thinks first of turkey as his "must-have" food. But after that, he considers candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows the popular favorite.

Lee, 60, is a self-employed writer who remembers making Thanksgiving trips from Kansas City to Oklahoma, when he was growing up.

Now he gathers with 30-plus members of his wife's family, at the home of one of her brothers or sisters.

Lee wrote that he is most thankful for his health. "I lost my father a little over a year ago due to Alzheimer's. He had been on a slow decline for 25 years. His decline began when he turned 60, my current age.

"I'm also thankful for family. I have been married for 20-plus years, have two married stepchildren and two grandchildren. Plus we all get along very well. I couldn't ask for more."

At Judy Taylor’s table, the cranberry salad is the must-have dish. But not just any cranberry salad. "Our family loves this hearty 'relish,' even as it continues to evolve," wrote Taylor, of St. Louis.

"Some families consider gelatin fruit salad as a meek, simple staple. Our family has now adopted healthy variations — with the only guideline being to use red, sugar-free gelatin. Striving for as much nutrition as possible, we add at least three to four kinds of nuts, dried cranberries, golden raisins, mandarin oranges and any other dried fruits on hand. The object of the additions is to relegate the gelatin to the tiny crevices between all the crunchy add-ins.

"We enjoy Thanksgiving because we have so much to be thankful for," wrote Taylor, who runs her own public relations firm. "When our daughters were young, we traveled 500 miles to see grandparents for an ample food fest. Now that our children have their own youngsters, we still manage to get together."

The youngest of those youngsters represents what Taylor is most thankful for: family.

"This year, our new month-old grandbaby, Clayton Dean Birkel, reminds us what's important in life," Taylor wrote. 

For fun, the family usually goes for a leisurely walk around the park in Lafayette Square. "This practice calms the youngsters and invigorates the adults," she wrote.

"No electronic games at the Meal or on the Walk. The exercise always leads to energetic, inter-generational discussion and lasting memories."

Breaking with tradition is Greg Gibson of Breckenridge Hills. His favorite food — dressing, made by his late mother — is now just a memory.

This Thanksgiving, he will be cooking Swedish-style ribs, along with pot roast, chicken, cranberry relish, caramelized Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and salad — "Romaine lettuce that I begin by preparing on the grill."

His rib-cooking process begins the night before with a mustard-based marinade and culminates with four hours of grilling and basting with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, melted butter and honey. He adds barbecue sauce at the end.

"Folks say they're pretty darn good," Gibson wrote. "I agree."

Gibson, 60, is director of sales for a St. Louis-based pavement marking tape manufacturer. What is he most thankful for? "The prospects for a bright financial future."

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.

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