Thanksgiving packs a bipolar wallop.
All of the anxiety associated with cooking for extremely judgmental and picky eaters/public speaking/creepy things like spiders/bathing suit season, combined with the joy associated with extremely quiet and giggly newborns/fluffy puppies that you aren’t personally responsible for training/unlimited top-shelf happy hours/eating with your favorite people in the world, goes into the preparation and consumption of the Thanksgiving meal.
The Harvest Festival was created for and by rugged, religion-crazed pilgrims hell-bent on carving a Puritanical life for themselves out of a hostile environment half a world away from their hometowns and everyone they know.
One must proceed with caution when walking in the footsteps of (possibly insane) giants.
I’ ve always felt that if you don’t emerge from dinner with a goofy smile on your face, in addition to a few new burns, cuts, knife blisters and hurt feelings, you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong.
This Thanksgiving, my husband and I headed up to my parent’s house in Connecticut to cook and break bread with my parents, three of my mother’s siblings, Stephen’s father, Stephen’s brother, our dog Penny and my parent’s dog (and Penny’s best friend), Sadie.
We arrived with a batch of my Coconut Yum Puffs, cranberries candied in a basic simple syrup (we ate them over ice cream and as garnish in drinks) and the most incredible Deep Dish Pecan Pie I have ever made or eaten. (Recipe adapted for The New York Times from The Diner in Brooklyn.) Aside from setting off a Pecan Pie-related fire alarm at 4:30 am in our White Plains apartment and forcing my non-insomniac husband out of bed at the butt-crack of dawn to casually fling open the windows that I had been ineffectually clawing at for 30 endless seconds, my morning was as smooth as a good, homemade, buttery gravy (just a few lumps here and there to give it character).
Then we arrived at my parent’s house.
A quick hello, a few hugs? No time!
My dad had to run out to buy corn for the corn pudding, Stephen had to run out to buy ice for the homemade ice cream, one aunt was napping, the other aunt was cooking sausage for stuffing, my mom was cubing toasted and herbed bread for stuffing, I was told to dry-brine the turkey, my in-laws were still on the road (and lost) and my uncle was sitting at the kitchen table giving pointers to anyone who would listen and watching Mom and me chop, laugh, plan, argue over details and wonder aloud when we could crack open a bottle of something tasty without seeming like total lushes.
Seven hours of cooking, feverish debates over degrees of done-ness for absolutely everything and a few cocktails later, we were ready to sit down to a surprisingly delicious feast of countless dishes, courses and tall tales.
Three hours later, we all left the table, stuffed, sated and sleepy.
The best part? Leftovers: the memories will last a lifetime (cue the Lifetime Holiday Movie music), but the food, not so much. The next day, my Mom and Dad weighed us down with parcel after parcel of carcasses, meaty bits, butter-logged casseroles, oil-slicked veggies and countless empty carbs.
Even when I’m throwing together the most rudimentary of meals, I feel like some sort of medieval wizardess cooking a meal from scratch. But when I’m creating dishes from cobbled together remnants of a meal made by a team of my favorite people? I feel like I’m gathering bits of their essences too — good karma to pile in the pot.
First, I conjure up a picked over carcass, some chopped veg, spices and a few gallons of water; I heat the materials I’ve gathered; I fuss; I wave my
wand spoon around; I shriek and cackle; I threaten and cojole. Finally, I pour my creation into a bowl, sit down with my husband and sup.
Humble, paltry, bland ingredients brought to heel and transmorgified by little more than fire and a pinch of know-how. Below, a few items I threw together for a Harvest Festival Part II.