Nothing warms the cockles of one's heart quite like the anticipation of an abundant Thanksgiving table--a juicy, perfectly browned, 25-pound turkey, individual sweet potato pies topped with perfect pillows of marshmallow crème, rustic sausage stuffing, cranberry compote dusted with orange zest, and freshly baked seven-grain rolls with softened butter...
Is your mouth watering yet? Almost sounds like a dream, doesn't it? Like a two-page spread in a magazine?
That's because it probably is.
Image: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr
I've seen many a Thanksgiving over the years, and, suffice it to say, my dinner has never looked like that. If I may be so bold, I'd say our Thanksgivings have maintained their original charm, much like a house with wood paneling or tiny pink tiles in the bathroom. Vintage, almost.
With familiarity, though, comes comfort, which is why I believe many things remain the same year after year, despite the chefs with gourmet aspirations, the turkey fryers (have you seen the fires on YouTube?), and the countless resources designed to help spice up your pumpkin pie. I'm pretty sure the Turducken has fallen out of favor as well.
With the tried-and-true, you know just which areas of the turkey to avoid, knowing you must have a glass of wine nearby to coax any errant bits down your throat. Where the stuffing is cooked is irrelevant. Someone's prepared the ceremonial "in the bird" stuffing, but because we all know about salmonella now, it's got its own pan. And then there's the other pan, you know, with the Stove Top. Turkey flavor. Part of you knows it's tacky, believes it would be simple to just whip up a bigger batch of homemade, yet you don't deny the pure joy created by that frail snap of partially rehydrated celery between your teeth. And you covet the lumps, the underblended wads, you mine from the bowl.
The Stove Top's clearly got to stay.
And while you may have Champagne wishes and caviar dreams about slow-roasted vegetables and parsnip purée, you'd still ask for the canned peas if you could not find them. And since we’re getting fancy here, why not ask for the ones with the mushrooms and pearl onions?
I've personally lobbied for a cranberry sauce a little less gelatinous over the years. I've expressed my desire for berries, real berries, just once. And when we tried the whole berry, I was met with the whimpers of Thanksgiving purists, protesting for their can-shaped, sliceable cylinder. One year, we even served both. But, ultimately, the can-shaped stuff won. I no longer attempt to introduce fresh fruit into our Thanksgiving harvest.
Brown gravy is not so hard to make, is it? Pan drippings, a little Gravy Master, and some flour, right? And what’s at our table each year? Heinz. With that straight-from-the-assembly-line tang. The consistency is unnerving, the taste is bland. In general, a bad choice. Would someone refill that gravy boat, though, please?
I could go on, I could talk about the year crazy Aunt Lerlene forgot the stuffing, or the time Grandma went a little overboard with the maple syrup, or the year Uncle John watched a little too much Emeril and Bammed! the turkey to death, but I'm sure you have your stories. I'm sure you had that "fat-free" Thanksgiving, the "everything from scratch" Thanksgiving, and the "Thanksgiving in a Box” from the grocery store, but I imagine your meals have reverted to their original glory as well.
For the most part, Thanksgiving dinners can be mediocre. We know the players, we know the game, and, in general, we like things the way they are. We do, however, love watching our grandparents' eyes twinkle when they tell stories about their youth, relish the laughter around the table, and adore the familiarity of eating that same meal, year after year, on those Corelle plates with the green daisy borders. Then we take it home and eat it again. And again. And we make turkey soup. And turkey sandwiches. And we look forward to the next year.
You can keep your raffia-tied silverware and pancetta and sourdough stuffing, Martha. Maybe I'll try it next year.
This year, though, I'll be enjoying my dinner in a bridge chair, atop a plastic tablecloth, right next to that cranberry tower.
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