Saturday, November 17, 2012

Menu Planning

I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. All by myself. I realize that for most people, this is no big deal. Most adults with whom I am acquainted have done this for years. Decades, even. For me, however, it’s quite possibly a first (and if it’s not quite a first and maybe a second, the real first must have been completely without catastrophe, as I surely would have remembered it).

During my early years and up through high school and into college, Thanksgiving was at my grandmother’s apartment. The six of us would crowd around the table with the extension leaves added to admire and then devour the bountiful menu including potatoes, squash, turkey, stuffing, corn, turnip, green beans, rolls, relish trays, pies, and nuts requiring tools to bust them open for eating. There was the infamous sweet potato casserole which, no matter how careful we were on the final “two minutes under the broiler” step, managed to end up in flames. Charcoal is good for digestion, right? The whole family would tease Mummu about the excess of food, which seemed enough for an entire village.

And there was almost always Andre Cold Duck, which, beginning at age 13, we kids were allowed to have with dinner in a European inspired philosophy of teaching us about responsible drinking. We were allowed one glass, which, to our tender, underage palates, tasted a whole lot like bubbling crap and we opted for milk instead.

When Mummu moved into a much smaller apartment in the senior’s high rise, Thanksgiving dinner moved to our house. Mom picked up the mantle, even expanding the already huge menu and we transferred our teasing to her. Mummu continued her tradition of amazing pies. Chocolate pecan pie, how I love thee.

When I was married and still living in Massachusetts, the holidays were split between my Mom’s and in-laws in the Bronx, where in both cases, I got to roll in like a dignitary either empty-handed or bearing a meager side dish or bottle of wine. Post-divorce moves to towns between 30 and 50 miles away from family meant it was easier for me to travel to all of them than vice versa, so my gold-medal skating continued. Another marriage (hot on the heels of a Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall on Yongsan Post in Seoul) meant a new set of in-laws in Pennsylvania and a renewed holiday balancing act of bouncing between families. And another chunk of time where I was a guest and not a cook and hostess.  Ahh, the sweet life.

It is entirely possible the first Thanksgiving turkey prepared within my own household didn’t happen until I was 40. And even then, there was a husband who took charge of the turkey process because he probably figured I’d screw it up or at least not prepare it the “right” way, meaning however his own mother did it. Whichever, it meant I was still off the hook.

Since that second divorce which seems to signal that I’m as bad at choosing men as I am at choosing cuts of meat, (leading me down a road of unintentional vegetarianism),  the skating has continued. The years I didn’t fly back to New England were occupied with Thanksgivings spent with either of several friend's families, and once, a boyfriend's family in Virginia.

This is the year I am going for it. I’ll be in Clarksville. My friend Sharon has a new job and has to work that day (and the next) while her husband and kids go out of town to visit family. She and I are having dinner at my house. We’re having turkey; sauteed apples, pears, cranberries and nuts; my family’s traditional meat /potato /bread stuffing (or “dressing” or “filling,” depending upon regional vernacular). And chocolate bread pudding made from the fabulous recipe from Red Fish Grille in New Orleans. And cake. And beer or wine. Or maybe Cold Duck, for old time’s sake.

It will be a momentous day.  I’m finally going to catch up with the rest of my demographic and cook a stinkin’ turkey. All by myself. I’m kind of excited. Let the brining begin! Wish me luck.

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