Thanksgiving has to be my favorite holiday. It’s a combination of some of my favorite things: cooking, eating, and hanging out with friends and family you care about. And even better, there’s no gift pressure. I know, I know, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about being grateful for everything in your life. Well, when I can’t think of anything better than getting together a bunch of family and friends and just hanging out together and eating lots of good food. Not much makes me happier than that. And I see the purpose of the day as just that. I’m grateful for my friends and family, so I choose to spend the day with them. It makes sense to me.
Growing up Thanksgiving in our house was always a completely random gathering of people. Most of which were either unable to travel or had no place to travel to. So my family threw open its doors and welcomed everyone to our table. Most of our guests only had my family in common, and often had never met. You’d think that this would cause tension, but somehow it never did. And the group of people was different from year to year.
People would start arriving mid-day to hang out for a few hours before the feast. We had snacks out, hot mulled apple cider (non-alcoholic) simmering in a coffee carafe (specially designated as cider-only), a jigsaw puzzle out on the non-formal dining table, and music on in the background. The football game would be turned on, but with low volume so as not to intrude on conversation. My parents are both from Michigan, so the annual Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys game is very much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition in both families (yes, I will have the Lions game, this year versus Green Bay, on myself in the background today). But it certainly wasn’t the center of attention at our house. Usually people gathered around the jigsaw puzzle with a mug of cider and a plate of snacks, and chatted while trying to fit pieces together.
There was no kid table in our house. We all sat at the big dining room table together, pulling in extra chairs from all over the house. The day before we’d put the extra leaves into the table, and put down the tablecloth and candles, and set the table with the china (which we used for all holiday and special occasion meals). And yes, even us kids got to use the china. One year the cat decided to “help” us. We had a sheet we would put under the tablecloth as an extra layer of protection for the table. She figured out that if she got a running start from the living room and jumped on one end of the table, she could slide all the way to the other end on the sheet! She’d then jump off and circle around to do it again. Mom and I just stood there and watched, laughing hysterically, spreading the sheet back out after each pass. Eventually she lost interest and we were able to set the table, but she took probably a dozen “rides” on the sheet first!
The big feast was usually mid to late afternoon. Everyone brought one dish to share, usually a dish considered traditional in their family. Our Thanksgiving feast varied from year to year depending on the guests. Yes, we had central elements (turkey!), but it was so cool to see what other people considered traditional dishes. Over the years a few became part of our traditional dishes. But this also meant that often we had duplication. A few years we had multiple green bean dishes. Most years we had at least two different cranberry sauce/relish recipes, as we had our own traditional Cranberry-Orange-Apple relish. I still have to make that relish either for Thanksgiving or Christmas or the season just doesn’t feel right. And my cousin likes the cranberry sauce from the can that you slice. But more duplication meant more yummy foods to try and more yummy leftovers (my favorite part, I’ll get into that more in my next post).
We always made the turkey, as well as at least one dish of dressing. There was always whipped/mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes baked with brown sugar, butter and marshmallows on top, dressing/stuffing, rolls, salad, cranberry sauce/relish, various vegetable dishes like broccoli-cheese casserole or green been casserole or braised baby carrots, at least one chilled jello salad (such as pistachio fluff), and of course gravy, one with giblets and one without. A feast. Definitely a feast. You had to pace yourself so you had room to sample everything on the table. And that was just dinner. Dessert came later.
After eating, an assembly line was usually set up to clear the table, package everything up, and do the dishes. It never took long. Then we’d take a break and work on the puzzle, watch the parades or football on TV, visit, or just fall asleep on the couch and take a little nap. After an hour or so, people would start to think about dessert.
Dessert was just as much a feast as dinner. We always made our traditional Pumpkin Roll, which we’d make ahead as it had to be chilled (one less thing to do on Thanksgiving day!). There was also usually a pecan pie (did I mention my mom’s family is from the South?), a pumpkin pie, and a few years there was even sweet potato pie. Or fruit pies like apple or mincemeat (with suet but with chopped apple instead of meat so it was sweet rather than savory). And plenty of ice cream or whipped topping for the pies. Guests would bring other desserts that aren’t usually considered Thanksgiving desserts. I remember a chocolate-toffee layered dessert with cake, pudding, whipped cream and toffee bits, kind of like a trifle. Yummy. There was a delicious pear tart one year as well and unfortunately I didn’t get the recipe.
This year I have no plans other than to make a meal for myself and spend the day at home. And I’m actually grateful for that. I’m grateful to have the time to myself to put things in order in my house and my life. To continue the purge of un-needed and un-wanted belongings that I’ve been dragging around. To recharge. And I am cooking myself a Thanksgiving dinner, with all sorts of recipes I’ve been wanting to try for sometime now. If they go well, then I’ll have a lovely Thanksgiving menu for next year. If they go badly, well, let’s just say the dog will be very grateful for a few days.
So Happy Thanksgiving to all!