November 24-26, 1999

Thanksgiving

Over the river and through the woods
To grandmother's house we go
The horse knows the way
To lead the sleigh
To grandmother's house we go
    -- traditional

This year's festivities promised to be interesting right from the very start. But of course, it's difficult to predict the future, so I had no idea how interesting things would get before it was all over.

Where to begin? Ah yes, I suppose it's as good a place as any, to begin with my parents current lack of a house.

As told in earlier entries, my parents decided to sell their house this summer and it was in fact sold, before school started this fall. My parents were optimistic that they would be in a new house by Thanskgiving. Since Sabs' mom always goes to New York to spend this particular holiday with her friends, Sabs and I usually just spend turkey day with my family, in the way that my family has had Thanksgiving ever since we moved back to the States.

When we lived in Europe, Thanksgiving often turned into one of my mothers famous parties in the enormous dining room of our house. I have very fond memories of those parties, but it's awfully hard to have a party like that without a dining room whose walls are made up of the gargantuan oaken panels of a medieval castle.

Thanksgiving re-entered the realm of a family affair for us. An affair that involved my father's brothers, and taking turns going from one house to the next year after year. Everyone would help out in some way, bringing food and pairs of hands to work on the bird, the stuffing, the potatoes and all of the yummy extra stuff.

There was a period of actual sit-down dinner, followed by girl-talk and guy-talk and computer game playing and football game watching and rounds of catch in the back yard, snow or no snow. The food was left out on the buffet table and a constant stream of going back and forth for more turkey or another slice of pie would go on during the course of the day until it was time to go home. Then we climbed into the car, stuffed and sleepy and happy from renewing the bonds of family love to go home and roll into bed. The next day always involved apple pie for breakfast and turkey sandwiches with apple sauce for lunch.

In more recent years, the size of the party has dwindled further to just us : Mom, Dad, Tom, Ted and myself, plus or minus the odd friend or boyfriend.

But it's always been about coming together and doing things together.

And that is something that I'm most desperate to preserve.

House, or no house.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I was getting quite gloomy about the prospect of trying to squeeze the six of us into my parents' apartment for the usual festivities, when I found out that Sabs' mom still hadn't been invited up to New York. A stroke of inspiration hit me, and I suggested that perhaps we could have Thanksgiving all together at her house and make a new family tradition.

This seemed like a positively brilliant idea at the time, to combine both families into one and thence, both re-create my happy fuzzy memories with a new twist and make sure that Florence wasn't alone on the holiday.

As the day drew nearer though, I began to have misgivings. Florence seemed too worried about the menu, the time to have the meal, everything but simply relaxing and having a good time. We kept trying to reassure her, but then she'd call again, asking what she should or shouldn't make.

That's when I began to worry about my happy, fuzzy holiday being turned into an elegant dinner for seven.

However, I was still optimistic, and I figured, once we got there and got cracking on the food, it'd all settle down and a compromise between perfectionism and fun would ensue.

We ordered a fourteen pound, free-range turkey from Fresh Fields and brought hard cider, apple juice and Yukon gold potatoes with us. We packed up Pearl in the kitty carrier and brought her with us, leaving the rest of the brood with the food dispenser and an admonition to "be good."

We got on the road in the early evening on Wednesday, and encountered little traffic, arriving just around 9pm at Florence's house in the back woods of Hockessin, De.

I made the rub for the turkey -- herbs broken up and doused with a little bit of vinegar to release their flavor, and olive oil. We rub this into the skin after the turkey has been stuffed, but before it goes into the oven and it infuses better if you do it overnight and let it chill.

We then settled down to watch some TV and let Pearl loose. She stayed under the couch, for a long time but finally poked her nose out to explore a bit right before we went up to bed. We took her up with us, to sleep in the guest room where we had her food and a litter box.

The following day, Pearl got down to the real business of exploring and was all over that house like a small child with a new toy. She loved it, couldn't get enough of all of the space, or the fun of running up one set of stairs only to run back down on the other set.

During her antics, she would occasionally stop by to say hi and rub against our legs and then she would promptly vanish again to go sniff the plants in the solarium.

Unfortunately, all was not bliss in the kitchen.

Florence was quite down about a number of things and was desperately trying to keep herself "up" by keeping as busy as possible. But I wasn't aware of that until Sabs clued me in a little bit later. I was so busy trying to recreate what I'd had before, that I didn't notice that brittle edge in her behavior.

So her need to keep busy and be in control, collided head on with my need to make this a happy, fuzzy, family Thanksgiving. We got into several minor spats over how to do things, mostly concerning the gravy, but other things as well, that left the atmosphere in the kitchen tense and cool, instead of warm and relaxed.

I kept trying to tell myself that none of this mattered, that I was being petty and silly and should just back off and let her do what she wanted. But I let my own desperation get in the way. And that's how we wound up arguing about giblets or no giblets, corn starch or flour.

In the end, the gravy had no giblets, but I did use flour.

And the entire meal was delicious.

Sabs and I make a mean turkey. You start out cooking the bird upside down, then flip it half way through and baste it all the while with a cider/oil baste and the juices from the bird of course.

Florence made stuffing straight out of Martha Stewart, I made the kind of stuffing my mom usually makes, i.e. you wing it and just toss a bunch of stuff, involving apples, onions, celery and some liquid into the bread, herb it and put it in the bird. Florence made cranberry relish, glazed carrots and buttercup squash. Sabs made red wine mushrooms, I made green beans and we made Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and apple sauce. Mom brought butternut squash and apple pie.

And that gravy? Some of the best damn gravy I've ever made.

Dad said later that that was the most delicious Thanksgiving he and Mom have ever had.

The other big downside for me, was that my brother Tom didn't come. So we were six at the table after all, and some of the things I'd made, were specifically with both Tom and Ted in mind.

It just wasn't quite the same without Tom. Usually, the three of us would adjourn at some point during the evening and leave the adults to their adult business and go play pool, or cards or something.

But this evening ended with everyone on the couch in a state of fuzzy-headed, full-stomached bliss. My mom and Florence bonded over the dishes, my Dad behaved himself and didn't make a single obnoxious comment all evening. My mom, Ted and I wound up in a comfortable huddle on the larger couch, watching Top Gun of all things as the sun went down and the pie made the rounds.

Finally they left around 8pm, since Ted had to be at work at the Farmer's Market the following morning at 5am. Though I was sad to see them go, in the end, this Thanksgiving wound up being exactly what I wanted it to be: a cozy family gathering with some bitchin' good food.


Friday wound up being a slow-to-get-started day, neither Sabs nor I had much energy and Pearl was happy just running around the house. I'd talked to my Dad about the project he's had me working on and I realized that we should be getting back to take care of things and do some work on the project. I wanted to get on the road in the early afternoon, but Sabs' arm started hurting badly after lunch and since my mom had said the night before that it might be dislocated, he finally decided that he'd be better off getting it checked out at the ER.

So off to the Christiana Care Center we went.

Now, I have to say that this is probably one of the nicest hospitals I've ever been in, with a nice clean waiting room and according to Sabs, very well appointed emergency rooms proper.

Florence and I spent most of the time sitting in the waiting room listening to the ramblings of the other folks in there. We heard everything from a mentally disabled man who was rocking back and forth and muttering loudly, to a woman complaining bitterly about why her daughter hadn't been seen yet.

We were ready to leave when Sabs returned.

All of that ... for tendonitis.

He got a prescription for an anti-inflammatory that couldn't be filled until the following day and we still needed to go home.

We stopped at the local Service Merchandise on the way back to Florence's house, because we'd been talking about Christmas and Sabs mentioned that he really wanted a juicer.

So Florence bought that for us and I bought a new iron to replace the one that the cats have murdered by repeatedly knocking it off of the ironing board.

Upon our return to the house, I went into whirlwind mode, got us all packed up, scooped up the cat and we were on our way.

The drive was inhibited in part by driving rain, but we got home all in one piece, laden with leftovers.

All's well that ends well.

 

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