I think I am suffering from withdrawal. I realize, of course, that means I am probably also suffering from an addiction. Yeah, who knew?
Every year for the past 35 years or so, I’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner.
It started out small (as I suppose most addictions do). In the beginning, as a relative newlywed, I only had to set the table for two. I guess we could have invited the parents and parents-in-law, but we could barely afford to feed ourselves, let alone guests. Good thing, because, as I remember it, portions of that first attempt were fed to the dog: they were unfit for human consumption. (I never roasted the turkey with the plastic giblet bag still inside as a family friend once did, though, filling her kitchen with noxious smells.) Thanksgiving Dinner was a Disaster.
In time, new dishes were added to the menu. Sometime around the beginning of September, I began to pore over cookbooks to see what the experts cooked for Thanksgiving dinner. I bought magazines featuring a mouthwatering turkey on the cover (which in October is just about every other magazine on the newsstand) and learned how to produce one myself. I began to undertake more ambitious side dishes and desserts. Thanksgiving Dinner was an Evolution.
As the years passed, children and increasing financial wherewithal were added to the mix, along an improvement of my culinary skills. Guests were invited, the table looked like a picture from one of those magazines, and everything was delicious. The meal was eagerly anticipated by family and friends. Thanksgiving Dinner became an Event.
Eventually, the kids’ taste buds matured and the Thanksgiving meal became something other than “dinner” to them. They began to have opinions about components of the meal and the family developed favorites. The meal transformed from an opportunity for experimentation into one where I dare not stray from the expected menu, lest I be besieged with disappointment. Thus, every year we have James Beard’s Favorite Turkey, with two kinds of stuffing, one a bread stuffing, the other sausage and apple. Mashed potatoes, gravy, scalloped sweet potatoes with orange brown sugar sauce, green beans, and cranberry sauce accompany the bird. Thanksgiving Dinner became a Tradition.
Every now and then, I’d try to sneak in a little shift from the norm. “Where’s the relish tray?” Heaven forbid! No olives, celery sticks, and sweet little pickles! “What happened to the sweet potatoes?” “What are those round things in the cranberry sauce?” I learned that I could add new things as long as I didn’t take anything away from the traditional spread. Homemade cranberry sauce was OK, but only if there was also a dish of Ocean Spray jellied sauce on the table. I could try a new dressing, but the bird had to be stuffed with the tried and true. The number of dishes became so great that they no longer fit on the table, and I set up a buffet in the kitchen. Thanksgiving Dinner became an Extravaganza.
This year, I won’t be cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. Oh, I always knew this day would come. The kids are all adults, with children of their own. Their lives have become complicated, and travel to Mom’s house for Thanksgiving Dinner has become difficult. We live over 2½ hours away and the round-trip journey with a car-full of kids is too much to work in around such a big meal. It’s far easier for us to make the drive. So this year, we are going to our daughter’s for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Dinner has become a Transition.
I never realized that I had become addicted to the annual Thanksgiving ritual. But the signs are all there. Browsing the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble, my hand reaches out for the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit featuring “68 Recipes to Mix and Match” on the cover, much like it used to reach out for the phantom cigarette when I was in the throes of quitting. I wake in the middle of the night, wondering where my turkey lifters are stored. I find I’m dreaming of table decorations, new dressings and desserts. Over and over, I have to remind myself that I have nothing to do for the next week, except get in the car on November 26th and drive east. <Sigh> Thanksgiving Dinner has become Someone Else’s.