I’ve been processing the emotional baggage that I seem to carry around every Thanksgiving, and this food-filled weekend with my family seemed to be a little different than years’ past.
The dinner, of course, was the same. For better or worse, the sameness is what makes it Thanksgiving. This year, like every year we are in Austin, we spent the big day with the members of my dad’s family who live here. Uncle Tom fries or smokes the turkeys, my grandmother makes the dressing, cousin Carlee bakes the (totally kick ass) pies and Aunt Leese coordinates everything else. I got to bring not one, but two casseroles this year, perhaps my biggest offering yet. After the annual freak-out about getting all the dishes on the table and all 20 of us gathered around for grace before the food got cold, we seemed to genuinely enjoy one another’s company.
I’ve realized that one source of my frustration is just how engendered our rituals are. From who says grace to who cleans up, everyone seems to have his or her job, even if it’s just staying out of the kitchen while Aunt Leesa (below, with Julian) and Grandma Shirley are creaming the potatoes. I’m still figuring out how to challenge the paradigm while embracing the fact that people take on various tasks over the years because that’s what they are good at contributing, but recognizing that people often don’t know any other way to express how much they care has helped.
It’s their language of love, as my sister would say.
If food weren’t one of the ways that I like to show people that I care about them, I don’t think I could be a food writer, but cooking is one of the first things to go when the kids, work, other projects or simply taking care of myself need my attention.
So, what was so refreshing about this gloriously long weekend was that I had the time, energy and desire to cook, cook, cook. Green bean and corn casseroles for the big dinner (both using decidedly un-foodie recipes: one from French’s and the second from Paula Deen), turkey tortilla soup, smoked turkey chowder, turkey tetrazzini, red curry tofu stir fry, lemon curd oatmeal bars.
Processing the leftovers, including two carcasses (one from our neighbors’ Friendsgiving last weekend), and trying to cook other dishes to make sure that nothing went to waste felt like a full-time job, not to mention cleaning up after all that work in the kitchen. Several times, I found myself at the sink, washing dishes, thinking, “How the hell do people do this everyday?” Cooking (or baking) from scratch and cleaning up afterward, just to start again a few hours later, is exhausting.
But because I don’t do it every day — and I had a few cushion days on either end of the holiday to gear down and gear up for work — I relished in the act of researching recipes, gathering and organizing ingredients, carefully preparing the dishes and then going out of my way to share them with co-workers stuck in the office, the neighbor with a sweet tooth or my boys, who have discovered that they love turkey chowder.
This is what cooking is supposed to be. Not for everyone, but for me. Something pleasurable that I can share with people around me. There would be no way to sustain that feeling day after day, year after year, but just to have a glimmer of that joy for a few days straight — not just a blip that I squeeze in between work and sleep — is something that I’m incredible thankful for this weekend.
Looking back on your holiday, what are you grateful for?