Photo: I pray I get a better camera for Christmas. My cell phone camera just can’t handle the awesomeness here. That, my dear friends, is my first Lemon Meringue Pie! And there is a twin Pumpkin Pie that will be consumed alongside it later today!
It is the morning of Thanksgiving Day. My menu is a full one, starting with a freshly ground and brewed dark roast coffee to be consumed alongside Eggs Benedict (my absolute favorite breakfast) and crispy fried breakfast potatoes. If we are going to spend this day celebrating food, we should do it from the moment our feet hit the floor. I am sitting here in the quiet of the house with butterflies racing in my stomach just as they used to when I was a little girl. This is probably my favorite holiday, for a lot of the reasons why you’d expect it to be and maybe a few that you wouldn’t.
I know that this is probably our most bogus holiday and among our most problematic (with Columbus Day probably being our most offending), but I love Thanksgiving because it is romantic in nature, stringently conservative in its values and traditions, yet so wildly individualized and personal. While we take every mode of transportation imaginable to every corner of our republic, knocking over our neighbors and cursing out our brethren along the way, the “true north” of our hearts, minds and bodies is “home,” Wherever that may be. Everything gets glazed over with a warmer hue, a perfumed scent. Suddenly, that loud-mouthed cousin is more tolerable, that over-bearing mother-in-law less offending. Our waistlines grow in reality, but that dress hits all the right places in our filtered view of the world. And all of the world smells good: Sweets, meats, sides, and even those yucky veggies are appreciated and indulged in to the umpteenth degree.
Thanksgiving is magic.
For me, Thanksgiving represents the ultimate in culinary stretching and showing off. As I believe one of the greatest expressions of my love comes through the food that I cook and serve to others, I really do spend all year looking forward to strutting my stuff today. to take what is traditional and hit it out of the park or to seek a more sumptuous alternative is the height of pleasure in my point of view. My husband and I abandoned the turkey as soon as we moved in together. We’ve had duck as our poultry of choice since 2006, our Thanksgiving served “Peking-style” with pancakes, scallions, cucumber, baby lettuce, and hoisin sauce. And fried rice, of course! This year, because my mother and my step-father are joining us, the table will be further crowded with stuffing and collard greens, and the lemon meringue and pumpkin pies that I baked from scratch yesterday.
Is my menu non-traditional? Yes and no. Every element is present: Poultry, starch, veggie, sweets. They all hail from different culinary traditions (Asian, Southern Black, European), and you might think that such a mix is odd on such a day. I see it as a perfect representation of what Thanksgiving is all about.
American families are beautiful blends of every combination of human possibility. We have, in the relatively few generations of our national existence, managed to incorporate just about everyone and their various contributions, for better or for worse, into the tapestries that are our family units. We have found great joy in the giving and the taking just as we’ve encountered much strife and discontent along the way. I gloss over a great bit of history (like, all of the history), I know, but I’m speaking to the greater romantic idea of the American family and this holiday that celebrates it. Thanksgiving is a recognition and celebration of the many, many beautiful and different familial units of the United States, each of us with our own menus, traditions, ambiance, baggage… the tradition of Thanksgiving is the proliferation of traditions of Thanksgiving! We are so many, yet we are just so the same. It’s our motto, embodied in one of the most beautiful ways possible.
As a little girl, my memories of Thanksgiving centered around watching my mom to go work (the news doesn’t stop, even on the holidays) and going to see my father’s people while eating cold and dry turkey. The best part of the day, by far, was between watching mom leave and getting overly wet kisses from rarely seen aunts: Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning. I love the Macy’s Parade. It’s so New York, which is usually something that annoys me, but I love the over-happiness of it. The lip-syncing of the pop-star of the day, the puppets, the snippets of the latest Broadway musical that I want to see but won’t, the crazy huge balloons, the marching bands from near and far… I love seeing Santa ride in at the end, bringing in the larger season of joy and commerce. I imagine that being in New York for the parade is like being in Washington DC on the 4th of July, but one day, some day, I’m going to get down there to at least watch them blow up those giant and wonderful balloons. What is childhood without joy and whimsy? What is adulthood if you don’t take some of it with you?
As a mother now, I’m trying my best to pass on the romance of this day to my boys. I want them to remember their mother covered with flour from head to toe. I want them to remember a kitchen hot and messy from all of the cooking and a house full of the best smells. I want them to smile the thought of people dropping in and out, carrying something on the way in, taking something with them as they leave after a spell. I want to build for them the idea of “home” an d”holidays” in that All -American sort of way: Fully bellies, warm hearts, snuggles and kisses, stories and laughter, friends and family. These are romantic desires, and an impossible standard to hold myself to. I will fail to meet it from time to time and that’s very American, too.
Imperfection is pretty tantamount to being American. It is no better illustrated than thinking about the duality of this day. We Americans will sit down at tables covered with food to varying degrees of sumptuousness, we will focus on ourselves and our families and we will forget a lot of important realities while we’re sitting there: We’ll forget that there are men, women and children among us who are hungry today. We will forget that there are men and women who are working today and not enjoying their families so that the privileged of us can shop as early as we want to. We will forget that this day erases a bloody and problematic history that started the moment that Europeans set their feet to the soil of our eastern shores. We will forget that there are men and women who are in foreign places, away from their families, so that we may be free to sit, eat, and watch football. We will forget that there are men and women imprisoned, away from their families, due to unjust and racially biased laws. We will forget that we are a nation of big ideas and ambitions with even bigger responsibilities.
For a woman who loves this republic deeply, that is a hard thing to know and swallow. But I know that we won’t all forget. That there are people who are working to make us the great nation that we feel like we are today.
To you many American readers, I say Happy Thanksgiving! May your turkeys be moist, your stuffing crispy at the edges, your pumpkin pie extra spicy, and your drinking responsible. To you many readers who are my neighbors in the global village, I say Happy Thanksgiving as well: Even if your life doesn’t pause on this day, I wish you and your family good food, warm hearts, and joyful moments. It’s a good day, no matter where you are.
See you tomorrow for quiet thoughts.