Archives for posts with tag: Thanksgiving

Each year, I am amused (and sometimes panicked) by how quickly my holiday schedule turns from “Plenty of time” (my assessment in the week after Thanksgiving) to “Holy moly!  Where did the time go?” (a not uncommon exclamation when only a few shopping days remain).  Thank goodness for the internet and next-day shipping.

As I noted previously (see December 22, 2012), in past years I have been up late completing my preparations for our holiday celebrations.  In fact, there have been Christmas Eves when I have not gotten to bed until well after one o’clock (which is very late, for me).  More recently, I have made some effort to get more organized and to do less (where possible without sacrificing anyone’s enjoyment) and consequently, have been able to get to bed earlier.

But as exhausting as it is to stay up that late, I wonder if it wasn’t a good thing in at least one way.  At Christmas, I’m still a kid at heart and in my excited state, often find it difficult to get to sleep on Christmas Eve (the opposite problem of Sniffles in the 1940s Warner Bros. cartoon).  Staying up late and being so tired meant that I had much less trouble falling asleep.

Now, I’m in bed sooner but do not necessarily get any more rest.  And as late as I have been awake, I have yet to see Santa’s arrival.

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In an article in this month’s (i.e., November’s) Bon Appétit, the writer Michael Chabon describes his family’s Thanksgivings as having never been bound by geography (“Michael Chabon Reminds Us That Thanksgiving Is Where the Meal Is”).  His clan has no permanent host or default cook and each year they do something different (and non-traditional in the strictest descendents-of-the-Mayflower sense).  That got me thinking about the nature of the Thanksgiving holiday and the roles of Guest versus Host in its celebration.

Lately, I consider Thanksgiving to be a stay-at-home holiday, a day when I would need a very good reason to go someplace else.  For many years now, we have been hosts to a small number of guests and we cook a fairly traditional meal.  After much trial and error, we’ve gotten to a point where we can get several dishes on the table, most of them still hot (sliced turkey, for instance, cools off very quickly), at more-or-less the appointed hour.  It is heartwarming to be able to say that for a few of our friends and family, when they travel over the river and through the woods (quite literally), it is to our house that they go.

But this has not always been the case.  When I was a kid, hosting the Thanksgiving get-together was shared primarily by my parents and by my maternal aunt and uncle.  The venue would alternate between our house and theirs but the guest list remained fairly constant and large:  my family’s six, my aunt and uncle’s seven, and my maternal grandparents.  As my siblings and cousins got older, the crowd swelled with the addition of new spouses and—a few years afterwards—nieces, nephews and cousins once removed.

When I left home for college, I continued to be a guest at the Thanksgiving meal although when it was located at my parents’ house, I would assist in its preparation.  This remained true after I met Rachel (being at Cal at the right place and time is something I am eternally thankful for!) with each of us visiting our own family for the holiday.  (One year, Rachel celebrated with the family of her then-boyfriend, but let’s speak no more of that!).

My last year as an undergrad, though, my two roommates and I took our first stab at hosting and cooking a Thanksgiving meal.  We scheduled it for about a week before the actual holiday—when most of us would be traveling elsewhere—and planned a menu based on our collective family traditions (there was a good deal of overlap).  We gathered our recipes, made several shopping trips (we probably never had so much food in that apartment) and spent the entire day cooking.

I don’t remember where we got tables and chairs we needed to seat the eight people who joined us that night (all of whom brought a dish to add to the menu) but we managed to fit everyone in a diagonal arrangement crossing the kitchen and living room.  The meal was a huge success, everybody ate and drank until filled and all were happy they came.  We were thankful to have them.  We all ended up guests at our respective families’ formal dinners but we got a healthy taste of what hosting the event felt like.

I didn’t try hosting Thanksgiving again until a few years later when Rachel and I were living in Oberlin, Ohio (Rachel was a professor at Oberlin College).  The first year we were there, we spent Thanksgiving with her parents (it was a welcome dose of the familiar during a period that was marked for us by tremendous change, both cultural and personal).  But the next year, Rachel’s parents and brother came to us—a road trip of at least eight hours duration—and we spent the holiday and most of the weekend together.  Once again, we planned, shopped for and cooked a traditional dinner.  It was a very satisfying—even if stressful—experience.

When we moved to New York City, the following year, we spent the first few Thanksgivings with Rachel’s parents.  At first, we assisted with the meal preparation—making us both host and guest—but soon, we had commandeered the kitchen and were cooking the entire meal.  We were on our way to becoming the traditional Thanksgiving hosts even if the meal was not always completely traditional (for the several years that we ate vegetarian, our menu included everything you’d expect except a turkey).  The only thing we needed was our own home in which to do the hosting and that followed after a few years (the story of which is fodder for separate posts).

And so, fast-forwarding several years, we have become one of the more constant elements of the Thanksgiving holiday.  But we have no delusions that this is any indication of stability or a resistance to change as Michael Chabon might fear.  For one thing, while our menu is usually based on a traditional template (turkey, dressing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and something green), it is different every year.  And although we usually act as hosts, we can be enticed to experience the holiday as guests and to partake of—and be enriched by—what constitutes tradition in other families’ homes.

The only thing that is truly constant and will never change is that we are thankful for our wonderful families and friends and grateful for every opportunity we have to share a meal and a few moments of togetherness with them.

With the exception of the basil, the herbs did not do very well this year.  The yields from the sage and thyme were particularly meager.  Last year’s sage bush practically took over the garden and produced so many thick, velvety leaves that we are still using what we stashed in the freezer last fall.

Similarly, over the course of the summer and fall we seasoned several meals with oregano from the side patio which has been growing there for two or three years now (it seems to be perennial).

Still, there was enough rosemary and thyme to include in this year’s Thanksgiving meal (e.g., Cornbread, Sausage and Pecan Dressing from this month’s issue of Bon Appétit).  And we’re hoping that the mint holds out long enough for us to try Minted Lamb Burgers, a recipe that we clipped (several years ago) from Gourmet magazine.