Welcome to the holidays, one of my favorite times of the year; but then, I also enjoy something about every time of the year. (Except for rainy days in May and prolonged droughts into October.) I am looking forward to Thanksgiving, a time of traditions. Norman Rockwell set the standard, and many people try to emulate it. Martha Stewart is one of many who take that standard and amplify it. I enjoy innovation, but tradition has its value. The fun part for me is to honor tradition, do so in my own style, and not worry about what everyone else expects. It’s a tradition of mine, making up my own mind.
Everyone expects – right there you know no statement can follow those two words and be correct. Absolutes are only good at being absolutely wrong. Except for basic bodily functions, there are very few things that apply to everyone (and even then, some people only manage the basics with assistance). I’ll begin again.
Everyone is expected to expect – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, a token green vegetable, gravy (which some consider a vegetable – really) and then a nice nap while trying to watch the football game while trying to be polite to the gathered family and friends. If you haven’t already found your personal deviation, I’m surprised. Turkey can be replaced with goose or ham. I’ve cooked duck to get something different, less genetically modified, and the source of crispy skin and marvelous stock. Stuffing is evil, at least according to Alton Brown (a great Food Network controversy). Skip potatoes and have yams or rice, or make potatoes by go au gratin. Cranberry sauce seems like a requisite purchase in a can, but from fresh berries it becomes something much better than a tick mark on the tradition to do list. Green veggies, the vegetarians and vegans would give them much higher priority. So would successful gardeners. Gravy, just in case something is too dry or seasoned wrong. The nap is natural; don’t fight it. The football game is probably one of the few times family and friends are watching a screen that isn’t held in their hands.
This year my Thanksgiving could be made to sound wholly traditional, or part of some counter-culture. Turkey, yes; but the smallest one I could find and I almost bought a duck. Stuffing, yes; and I know why it’s evil and I know why I’ll make it anyway – cautiously and gluten-free, of course. Mashed potatoes, yes, yes, yes; because it is one of the few times I don’t just roast them. Beside, where else would I be able to use that much butter on the plate? Cranberry sauce, nope; because canned is bizarre, fresh is too much work, and I may just replace it with a glass of juice. The token green vegetable will be Brussel Sprouts sauteed with onions, peppers, and garlic; because, even though green bean casseroles are required, I want something different. Gravy, no; too much work for too little chance of success. More butter, and maybe some cheese please. I hope to also make a pumpkin pie in a pumpkin shell, gluten-free that way. A bottle of 2004 Whidbey Island Winery Reserve Chardonnay, because I found it while poking around my wine collection that happens to live under my hardware shelf. Football, ha! No TV, no football, and I like it that way. Eventually every team wins about half the time and loses about half the time. Realizing that took the drama out of it for me. Realizing the weird finances and health hazards reinforced the feeling. Family and friends, well, they and you kind readers are all dear, but sometimes being alone is the best way to give thanks.
What everyone expects is a good thing to keep in mind. When it comes to celebrations and reflections it is better to keep in mind what you want. Friends and family matter, but you do too.
This post is being written a day early to free up Thanksgiving Eve. For me, Thanksgiving begins on Thanksgiving Eve. Making the stuffing and dessert the night before makes The Day much easier. It’s also an opportunity to crack open the cranberry juice and mix in some vodka or rum. Tradition reaches back to when my family served the meal around noon, so I am up early to stuff the turkey, put it in the oven, and hope I got the timing right enough. That leaves time for a walk or a run, maybe a couple of phone calls to folks on the US East Coast, and inevitably some computer game that will be played with occasionally. When I finally figure out the turkey’s schedule, I’ll make the rest of the sides, leaving the mashed potatoes as close to last as possible. The wine is open, the kitchen work begins, the turkey is pulled out, rested, sliced, and served with the rest. Then, a quiet, thoughtful, thankful meal when I can say what I am really thankful for without having to wordsmith something that fits what everyone else expects.
The nap is inevitable, even if it isn’t Thanksgiving.
The rest of the day is cooking and cleaning. There are lots of leftovers, but there’s also the best opportunity to make turkey stock, prep for weeks of sandwiches, and making progress on that bottle of Chardonnay. For me, celebrating food is essential to celebrating life.
Thanksgiving is called a holiday, which is derived from a Holy Day, but it is a national observation. I consider it to be one of too few feast days, days that balance frugality with an appreciation of abundance, a reminder that even when life has been difficult there are things to celebrate. If all I wanted was a meal, I could bake a chicken thigh or two, steam some rice, and microwave some frozen veggies. But, while we are living we get to celebrate life. So, Celebrate!
Even though I described balancing feasting with frugality, when frugality is defined as an appreciation of what we have available, then even a feast is frugal. That may not be what everyone else expects, but it is an insight I’ve gained that helps me celebrate, be thankful, and appreciate what it means to be alive, here and now.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
PS As I wrote this post, the power flickered twice. (Oh no, not again.) I am thankful the power stayed on. I think I’ll fill a thermos or two after I post this, just in case. – T