Let us put by some hour of every day for holy things...

Think on th' eternal home,
The Saviour left for you;
Think on the Lord most holy, come
To dwell with hearts untrue:
So shall ye tread untired His pastoral ways,
And in the darkness sing your carol of high praise.

--from Keble's The Christian Year, Thoughts in Verse



Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Long Time Ago, In a Kitchen Far, Far Away...

The story you are about to read is true.
The names have been changed to prevent my being tarred and feathered. 

or, Confessions of a Thanksgiving Snob



My mom was (is) a wonderful cook. Of course, it's de rigueur to say that about one's own mother, but it's true in my case. She told me once she learned to cook after she got married, learning from my paternal grandmother and aunts, all of whom were midwestern farm women and no stranger to rustling up good, made-from-scratch meals. But like a true prodigy, Mom soon surpassed her teachers and became the family's most exceptional cook. Not that she ever made a gourmet or trendy meal in her life, but she knew how to prepare good old American food that made folks sit back and sigh with happy repletion. Whether it was a savory roast, homemade noodles, honest-to-goodness fluffy dumplings floating on a sea of chicken and gravy, home-baked bread, hand-cranked ice cream, fresh potato salad, or coconut cream pie, my mom had no parallel. And on holidays...oh, my goodness! She took it to an even higher notch.

As a kid, I just figured everyone ate like we did. On rare occasions when we ate at someone else's home, it was usually that of one of my aunts or my grandma's and so the cooking was very similar to what I was used to having at home. Not quite as terrific as Mom's, but certainly very good. 

But life rolls on; things change. We moved away from the aunts and grandparents, and I grew up and moved into the wider world. I began to realize that not everyone looked upon holidays--particularly holiday meals--as I was accustomed to do. 

I have never quite recovered from the disillusionment.

The first hint of what lay in store for me happened on my first Thanksgiving away from home. Invited to share the holiday with another family, I watched in stunned horror as the hostess and her grown daughter removed the turkey from the oven, hauled it over to the counter, and proceeded to pour the broth down the sink. I was too dumbfounded to react. All that glorious turkey broth--that ambrosia from which the finest gravy in the course of a long year was supposed to have been made, unceremoniously disposed of as if it had been a water from a pot of boiled potatoes--gone! And then, to add insult to injury, the hostess went to her cupboard, got out a packet of cheap instant gravy mix...  Oh, it's a painful memory! I simply can't go on describing it.

It was a dire situation, but far from the last outrage to good food I have endured over the years. You see, I am a Thanksgiving snob. I have high expectations and I like my own cooking. I don't yearn for creativity at Thanksgiving; I prize tradition. Yet from time to time, family and community ties require that one occasionally visits others on Thanksgiving, or that one includes guests at one's own laden holiday table, many of whom insist on bringing some dubious contribution to the menu. This is where the trouble begins.

We've attended dinners where the host family has forgotten to provide vegetables--other than potatoes, that is, or--if you're stretching it--the pumpkin pie. 

We've attended dinners where the turkey was half-cooked and the hostess greeted us in her pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Dinners where the food was served on paper plates and eaten from one's lap instead of the table. Dinners with nasty colored marshmallows melted into an unappetizing grey mass on top of yams. I've been presented with horrible half-defrosted pies awash with a film of clammy condensed water on the surface. Cool Whip instead of whipped cream. Margarine instead of butter. Stovetop Stuffing mix and mashed potatoes from a mix. Cardboard heat-and-serve rolls instead of proper rolls made from scratch. Or worse yet, everyday, ordinary cornmeal muffins instead of rolls. Mashed potatoes with raw, unmashed lumps throughout. Diet recipe imitations of traditional holiday dishes. Whole prepackaged Thanksgiving "meals" picked up from grocery store delicatessens. I could go on and on.

Worst of all is the annual gravy trauma. I have seen more contortions and chaos connected with the attempts to make gravy than I care to recount here. Many's the time I've offered, "Would you like me to take care of that for you?" only to be rebuffed while the cooks in charge make much ado about nothing and dither about uselessly until I literally have to leave the kitchen to keep from screaming.

I've never forgotten one of my younger boys asking plaintively, as we drove home from one such infamous dinner, "When are we going to have our real Thanksgiving?"

Now I realize that not everyone likes to cook. And not everyone is able to cook. But I'm not one of those people. I like to cook and I do a jolly good job of it. I heard of a man who said, "If there's anything worse than a good cook who won't cook, it's a bad cook who will." I guess that sums up my general attitude about holiday meals.

"Real" Thanksgiving means--to me and mine--homemade, scratch ingredient dishes. No prepacked pie crusts or pouring canned pumpkin pie mix into the prepackaged pie crust and calling it homemade. Rolls made by hand. For pete's sake, dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer) homemade also--from homebaked bread, not a bag of dubious-quality cubes and a packet of spices. Sweet potatoes I choose, boil, and prepare myself rather than a canful dumped into a bowl and microwaved. Proper whipped cream and no "non dairy" anything allowed. There'd better be butter, real butter, and lots of it!

"Real" Thanksgiving means--to me and mine--a beautifully set table with special dinnerware, stemmed crystal glasses, candles, and glorious classical music on in the background. It's the family, working together to prepare the food, taking time and putting forth effort because it is a special occasion.

"Real" Thanksgiving means--to me and mine--actually focusing upon our blessings and expressing gratitude to God for them. It's a meal to be savored at a leisurely pace, with lots of laughter and conversation and cameras flashing. It's my husband reading from Psalm 136 and all of us writing on slips of paper the things for which we're most thankful and placing them inside a pottery dish on the mantle. I have nearly every one of those slips of paper from more than 20 years of Thanksgiving dinners, and looking through them every year is a powerful and humbling reminder of just how much I have to be grateful for. 

I think my kids are glad I kept the standards high. (I know my husband is!) I know I'm glad for the lovely long relaxed weekend that follows Thanksgiving Day when I don't do an iota of cooking as we eat lovely leftovers heated up in the microwave. 

Yes, I am a Thanksgiving snob. Unrepentant and incorrigible. And I'm okay with that!








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