I used to dread Thanksgiving. As a then-vegetarian, I found the whole turkey ritual disturbing and loathsome. I wasn't a big fan of the sweet, heavy dishes that accompanied it. Watching sports on TV, and football in particular, is a foreign activity to me. About the only thing I ever looked forward to was my mom's pecan pie.
So pretty much as soon as I could, I began making excuses to miss Thanksgiving gatherings. (I like my family, I just preferred to see them for other occasions.) There was a notorious incident one year where my two best friends decided to host Thanksgiving dinner at the house we all shared in San Francisco, and I flatly refused to participate in any way, even as a guest. I've blocked out exactly what happened, but I took refuge somewhere else and they've teased me about my Bah Humbuggery for years.
Once I started to eat meat again, and to see cooking as something to enjoy rather than endure, Thanksgiving began to look a little more appealing. Last year, I started small, inviting two friends to join the Potato and I for my first-ever turkey. It was an 8-pound organic Mary's Turkey from Berkeley Bowl, about the size of a large chicken. I had ordered a 10- to 12-pounder, but they'd lost my order and I took what they had left. I made stuffing with blue cheese, apricots, and walnuts along with the usual celery, onions, and breadcrumbs; mashed sweet potatoes; cranberry sauce; a salad; and an apple pie (I think).
I brined the turkey as instructed by Cook's Illustrated, and roasted it breast side down, then up. It came out reasonably well, moist and juicy, although the thighs were underdone and had to go back in the oven. None of us had the faintest idea how to carve the bird, and our attempts to follow a cookbook diagram resulted in a pile of shredded turkey. We drank a lot of wine. For once I didn't eat like an ancient Roman. The TV remained off, until we decided to watch some Eddie Izzard standup comedy saved on the DVR.
Basically, we had a good time, and my attitude was realigned about Thanksgiving. The food might be the focus, but it's really about the company.
This year, we're getting ready to drive up to Strawberry, about two hours in the mountains from where we're staying in Phoenix. We'll be spending the holiday with about 30 of the Potato Non Grata's Dutch-Indonesian Arizona family, including Omniwhore and her husband E.I.Ho. Apparently two turkeys have been bought, one for the grill and one for the oven. Rumor has it that one is organic, in deference to the Ho and the Queen, and the other is not. There will be pies from Costco, and who knows what else. There will most assuredly be football on TV, as most Arizonans and Texans love their football.
There have been a lot of articles lately about how Thanksgiving represents a vanishing way of life — a time when families actually sit down for a meal together that they've cooked (or at least a few of them have partially cooked). To me, that's a tradition well worth preserving. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where my mother cooked — later, my father did too — and we ate dinner together every night; no one was allowed to leave the table until everyone was finished eating. While I did not appreciate at the time how hard that must have been to orchestrate, especially given my picky eating habits, I do now.
I'm thankful for it. And though I won't be having children, I hope to host more Thanksgivings in the future for family and friends. I don't see cooking as a chore anymore, but more as a pleasurable activity in and of itself — rather like hiking versus walking on a treadmill. I also feel incredibly lucky to live where we do, where we can construct an entire feast of ingredients from local farms, including heritage turkeys. Next year, I intend to have a 100-Mile Thanksgiving — with a few warm-up dinners first.
Today, I'm going to try to be thankful for many things, including the two organic and the factory turkeys sacrificed for this family gathering, and for the fact that I'm not responsible for feeding 30 people. (I'm so not ready for that.)
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.