As you perhaps might have guessed, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. It is the one general family get-together not marred by some awful stress—like the presents at Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, attendance at Church/Temple/Mosque on Easter/Passover/Ridván, and in-laws at weddings. Thanksgiving gets down to what people actually enjoy in these holidays: coming together to be with family and enjoy a good meal.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, today’s column will cut the crap of my disapproving of this or approving of that. The following are merely my favorite Thanksgiving memories, as they come to mind in fond reverie, sitting by my window with a glass of Three Buck Chuck. Enjoy.
* Apple fritters and sausages for breakfast with Mom—a tradition she made up somewhere around age seven; proof of divine inspiration, in my book.
* Hot dogs and pretzels at 11:00 am at my high school’s annual football game with our rivals.
* Praying to God that all the family animals will get on with each other.
* Sweet Potato Pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Soak 2 fistfuls of raisins in bourbon for a couple of hours. Beat 2 tbsps of melted butter into 2 large, boiled, peeled, mashed sweet potatoes. Beat in an egg, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, some grated nutmeg and a little salt. Mix in the raisins, the bourbon, and 1/2 cup chopped pecans. Fold all that into a 9” unbaked pie shell, bake it for 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 degrees, and bake another 30 minutes.
* Waiting until the last minute to order a turkey, and ending up eating moo shu pork instead.
* Sitting with my family waiting while the goose comes to temperature, drinking white wine and listening to “Alice’s Restaurant.”
* The delicious, mellow devilled eggs my aunt makes every year.
* My grandmother insisting all the children sit at the little table. (“But didn’t you hate sitting at the little table when you where little?” asked my mother. “Yes, and so will they, dammit!” she replied.)
* My atheist cousins rolling their eyes at each other while my mother, the priest, says grace.
* The perfect, plain, bitter taste of mashed turnips.
* The dark green of the spinach leaves with the pale green of the stems and the white of the garlic flakes and the brown-tinged yellow of the toasted pignoli nuts.
* My uncle complimenting me on my surgical dissection of the turkey breasts: “Those slices are sandwich-quality!”
* Some little relative running around with his pants off, screaming bloody murder.
* Peas and perfect, teeny, quarter-inch carrots diced with honey Dijon mustard.
* Fennel salad with currants and a white-wine vinegar dressing.
* The seeds in fat little green beans that pop when you eat them, releasing a scent/taste of bread or barley or something—some grain that you can’t quite put your finger on.
* Brussels sprouts perfectly cooked, so that they crunch a little as you bite down but don’t get stuck in your teeth, starting out as a sweet tang on the tip of your tongue, ending in a full bitter taste on the back of it.
* Red-skinned roasted potatoes, very salty, all crusted with rosemary and dripping with olive oil.
* Perfectly puréed squash, all pale and light and billowy, comforting tang.
* The juicy, reddish part of the dark meat on the goose, right down by the drumstick.
* Very white turkey meat with a drop of gravy, or maybe a touch of cranberry sauce and one or two green beans, all speared up in the same forkful.
* Deciding between the pumpkin pie or the apple-pecan sour-cream pie.
* Queen Elizabeth Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 cup of chopped dates and 1 tsp of baking soda. Let this mixture stand. Cream 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup softened butter and 1 egg. Add to creamed mixture 1 1/2 cups of sifted flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/3 cup chopped nuts (mix the dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture little by little so no lumps occur). Then add 1 or 2 tsp of vanilla. Mix all of this creamed mixture well, and then add to the date mix. Pour into a lightly greased pan (an 8 X 8, 8 X 9, or 9 X 5 loaf pan) and bake for 45 minutes.
* Drinking “cowboy coffee” with my grandmother’s old cook in the kitchen. It’s very strong, and you have to sip it through your teeth to strain out the grounds.
* My first proper hot whiskey: you mix half whiskey (preferably Irish) with boiling water in a glass, then wedge in a slice of lemon with cloves stuck into it, so that you sip the whiskey/water through the lemon/cloves, like a strainer.
* Feeling the tryptophan from the turkey starting to mellow my brain into sleepy mush.
* My uncle pointing out that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only improper clothing” as we head out for an after dinner walk.
* Passing out in the backseat of the car on the way home.