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When I was a child I did not like Thanksgiving. More accurately, I did not GET Thanksgiving. It was boring; all people did was eat. It was nice to get together with family but stuffing oneself to the gills as a purposeful end result was how I saw it and it seemed void of deeper intent.
As an adult I grew to take pride in contributing to holiday meals and even hosted my entire extended family at my very small rented homes or apartments. I would slave all day, deliver a sumptuous meal with my own senses too saturated to eat and then collapse with a kidney infection the next day. That was fun.
Like a good wine I’ve mellowed with age (insert eye roll here). I have grown to appreciate the opportunity to reflect and give thanks as a more core focus than seasonal gorging. It’s been on my mind and in my thoughts how attached our memories are to food. On the eve of this Thanksgiving I find myself in a familiar quandary; do I stick with a tried and true annual recipe or step out of the box to try something new? Simple question but with potentially perilous consequences not to be remedied for an entire year.
This was an example of inserting a new dish that has become a new favorite: Chipotle Sweet Potato Gratin. Perhaps having found soupy mashed potatoes with mini marshmallows the standard prior, and horrifyingly so, this dish liberated my palate to accept sweet potatoes as not only tolerable but addictive.
Why is it that the mere selection of the key Thanksgiving dishes bears so much weight? So what if you try a new cranberry sauce and it doesn’t work? I’ll tell you; it is not the same on any other day of the year. There is no Thanksgiving ‘redo’. I’ve had those and they don’t rank. We develop sensory reference points for our food on holidays, especially Thanksgiving, without fulfillment of them annually it is almost like a partial holiday or a holiday missed.
A number of years ago we spent Thanksgiving with friends. When divvying up dishes we’d each make we began to talk about the time to eat. My friend said ‘no one eats in the afternoon; my kids can’t eat earlier than 5:00 p.m.’. The priority was being together, not the time we ate (or so I thought) so being the hostess I swallowed hard and uttered a meager ‘oh…..okay’.
Everyone in my household, old and young, cooks for Thanksgiving; by their choice. One of our younger chefs thrust up their hand to make Grasshopper Pie this year. I shuddered at the absence of pecans, pumpkin and mincemeat but there is no denying the lusciousness of this pie so it’s on the menu!
In my family we ALWAYS have eaten in the mid afternoon and as an adult continue to do so. The morning is full of bustling in the kitchen. Near misses with multiple cooks artistically and athletically interweaving one another like an awkwardly choreographed dance recital to meet the end dining time. Football blaring on the TV, light hearted visiting and noshing filling the house with warmth and verve.
I think Thanksgiving, more than any other food-borne holiday, can teeter when staple foods or routines are changed risking the feeling of a deficit. It’s almost like muscle memory in a sport. You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase ‘it’s just like riding a bike’ of course meaning once you’ve learned how to you cannot do it for 20 years and climb right back on. I think Thanksgiving is the same but turned around; if it does not play out commensurate with one’s personal experiential vault of familiar foods, timing, and even participants, it does not feel the same. In the case of the late day meal, it WAS much more relaxing to have the entire day to cook though the house felt empty and other than familiar dishes, it felt like hosting friends to dinner on any day of the year due to my holiday reference points. .
I did not come into this reflection head on. It was more of a sideways consideration about what our household menu would include or not this year. Suggestions of rogue pie types that clearly fall outside ‘our norm’ (one of which I agreed to but not without a second ‘security blanket’ pumpkin pie on the list). I’m a flexible, open minded person with a serious case of wanderlust and compulsion to seek out new experiences. The realization of my need to stick to an unconsciously accepted list of repeat dishes to define my holiday as one that feels authentic and true has prompted the realization of how we punctuate our lives with food memories. As strong as physical memories, sight, hearing.
Certainly not a poultry glamour shot, this pic was of last year’s Thanksgiving turkey. Though the photo does not do it justice, the turkey was so beautiful and perfect looking when pulled from the oven I had to take a photo. What on earth would I ever do with that photo? Who knows but it speaks to the impact of Thanksgiving food (at least for me!)
Maybe in this ever changing world, despite my attraction for all things new and different, I find solace in those foods predictable and give thanks for the opportunity to share them with a group of loved ones who have defined their holiday in kind. I don’t know for sure but do know I too carry an imprint of what defines the texture of the true Thanksgiving holiday for me despite not being able to fully articulate it.
I would like to close this inconclusive ponderance by saying Thank You. Overall this holiday reminds me how the most simple of things, health and mental well being (and maybe an occasional new lip gloss), are the most important things to me and for those I love. I’ve always maintained time is the most valuable gift to be exchanged between people and for the time you’ve taken to read this I thank you and appreciate you. For my American readers, best of the holiday, however you define it, to you and yours! For those not tethered to your stove enslaved to this holiday for the next few days, thanks for stopping by and have a beautiful day!
What about for YOU? What is the ‘it factor’ that makes Thanksgiving what is for you? Are you flexible, mixing it up every year? Or do you too have those unspoken cornerstones that make the holiday whole for you?