Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Rehash

By now everyone's turkey is probably gone.  You've eaten your turkey potpie or turkey hash.  We had ours, of a sort, last night--a big pancake of mashed potatoes mixed with browned onions, gravy, and turkey, browned 'til bored.  The cook that is.  Well, until the cook is bored, not browned.  Anyway.  Hopefully your turkey carcass is already simmering on the stovetop.  But before we get pushed into the next holiday, I wanted to linger a little bit longer over Thanksgiving.
With both my daughters in Europe this year, ours was a small affair, just the four of us (myself, husband, son, and niece).  I guess I'm a traditionalist at Thanksgiving.  For me it's not so much because I can't imagine Thanksgiving without exactly this stuffing and that pie.  It's just that I really like the meal, and it's the only time I have it.  I like its simplicity but generosity (what other meal can you think of with all that starch!).  I like the fact that it takes lots of time to prepare, but much can be done ahead.  I like the way the cranberry relishes and pickled beets sparkle like jewels on the table, and, inevitably, add their mark to the tablecloth.  And I like the way that, in the end, even if the turkey is a little dry, or the brussel sprouts are a little overdone, it's still Thanksgiving.  Nothing ever changes that.

One of the great rites of passage for exchange students seems to be pulling together a Thanksgiving dinner overseas.  Kids whose cooking experience was pretty much relegated to baking chocolate chip cookies suddenly decide they really need to prepare a feast, complete with five side dishes and desserts made out of generally unavailable, or at least hard to find, items (sweet potatoes, cranberries, brussels sprouts, pumpkin...).  Never mind that chances are their host families will fail to appreciate the value of a pumpkin pie, or candied sweet potatoes.  Thanksgiving is de rigeur.

They do it partly out of homesickness.  But mainly, I think, it's because Thanksgiving, while originally a harvest celebration, has become (at least for my city-dwelling kids) a celebration of home.  And they want to share that in their new home, with their new families.  It's their innate generosity.

So this year, Francesca, barely 17, put on her first Thanksgiving dinner, for an Italian family.  It meant that the week before my email was full of questions about making pie dough and gravy, and how many potatoes to cook (I was the wrong person to ask--I mistakenly prepared 10 pounds for 4 people this year).  Meanwhile, Grace (in the Netherlands) was putting on her fourth Thanksgiving dinner overseas, and she was sending me a few messages as well.  I had to laugh.  Fact is, I almost always call my own mother with some of the same questions. 

Both girls pulled off wonderful dinners.  Francesca wrote to say that her family dressed up for her dinner, and they ate in the dining room, reserved for Christmas and other very special days.  Her host father even put on a tie.  Grace blogged about her dinner (good reading!), and I'm pleased to report that she's learned to find home wherever she travels.  A valuable skill.

And me?  I missed my girls, but was happy to be with the rest of my family.  After dinner, we went to dear friends, who really are family, for dessert.  And then we settled into four days of leftovers, pie for breakfast, and general thankfulness for pretty perfect lives.  And a simmering turkey carcass.

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