With two kids gone and two still tethered, I flirted with the altered holiday. I imagined a Thanksgiving made of steak, or osso bucco. How about a festive lasagna, or fresh pork? Italian wedding soup, lobster in champagne, venison with juniper — we love to cook, but turkey?
Can we just get a pizza?
This meal, the Thanksgiving meal that is rhapsodized for weeks, is the very definition of mediocre. Food writers contort themselves to come up with the new twist that elevates it — jalapeños in your cranberries!, brine your turkey!, bacon and chestnuts and oysters, oh my! — but can we admit that this meal just doesn’t sing, no matter what you do to it? Call it comfort food, cleave to your traditions, but turkey, mashed, gravy, and stuffing is not much more than a bland Sunday gut bomb. On a Thursday. Pile some winking red berries on top, maybe a sprout in balsamic, wash it down with a Pinot and go to sleep.
This year, however, my bad attitude is getting a bit of a kick in the pants. We are being given — gifted — a thirty pound turkey; and not just any turkey, but a happy turkey of the free range, no chemical interference variety. The universe has decided to be kind and generous with a wink and a nod.
Here’s a heaping portion of the popular and supposedly delicious thing that you disparage so. What are you going to do with it? Says the universe, with a smirk.
Okay. Challenge accepted. My husband, Mr. Meat, will do something wonderful with the bird and we will feast on sandwiches and soups and other turkey based folderol for days. I am, for the first time in years, fighting my turkey day cynicism and enthusiastically seeking the most magnificent things to do with veggies and pies. Perhaps there will even be appetizers and cocktails. Maybe something with mushrooms or a decadent cheese. Winter squash can be divine, in the right hands. How about gruyere gratins and fluffy rolls smeared with butter? Can I get a fish in there somewhere? Maybe there’s something splendid to be done with plums. I saw something about drunk cranberries, that could work. Maple custard and chocolate mousse, pumpkin cheesecake and lemon tart. Lillet and a Beaujolais and off to sleep. I can do this.
How have I forgotten?
I used to embrace this holiday, when all my kids were home and people came to see us and there weren’t quite so many looming dark shadow monsters infusing each day with dread. I used to whip up courses and lay out linens and light candles and sometimes it was hard and sometimes it felt under-appreciated or like a waste of time and energy, but we made memories. We twisted the bland American meal to fit our snarky palates and we argued and kvetched, but we were also heartily sated and we laughed and sang and felt warmed by our participation in the show. I miss that feeling.
I’m not sure what happened, not sure when or how the cynicism took over. It’s as if a slow creeping vine of minor despair has seeped into the cracks and whispered tales of resignation and weariness into our psyches. The pursuit of joy, the creation of magic, has lately seemed silly, almost like a lie. We have, I’m afraid, given in a bit to the tenor of the times; the great, sad, and terrifying upheaval churning in all corners of culture. It has me on edge, thinking too much of the worst parts of us, and it hangs like a gray veil over each day.
This turkey — the gift — has reminded me of the point. All the points, really. Food, family, gratitude, celebration, time. Damn outrageous fortune, we will honor this gift with apples and mushrooms and spirits and song! We will laugh a bit through the tears and carry on. Defiant in the face of adversity.
Perhaps the feast is just the thing, a fest of joy and thanks in the face of all the mocking evil. Claim joy, claim celebration, reclaim our time. Defy the demons, kill them with kindness. Two of my children won’t be here, but two will. The four of us, instead of marinating in headlines and moping through a mediocre facsimile of tradition, could grab the season by the throat and show our teeth, grinning grateful at the grief. As the light wanes and the devils squirm, we’ll make fires and fill the air with glee. Hoisting a sparkling toast and sharing the bounty may be, after all — after all — the best way to say thanks — thank you — to a generous universe.
Gee, I’ve sort of inspired myself with this little rant. I’m off to hunt recipes. Give yourself a gift this year, and thank yourself. And then carry on.
We’ve got a lot of work to do.