Show of hands: Who thinks Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year? I do! It has all the ingredients of a good time … first, there’s the delicious food. Who doesn’t love traditional favorites like turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie? If you’re feeling creative, you can usually get away with trying a new recipe as long as you provide the traditional alternative. You want to experiment with mandarin oranges, green beans and fennel? Perfectly acceptable, as long as you back it up with a green bean casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup topped with copious amounts of french-fried onions (go ahead and double the amount called for in the recipe, I won’t tell).
Worlds collide when one family’s traditions are trialed with a new audience. I will never forget one of my first Thanksgiving meals with my in-laws, back when I was too naive to know the holiday rules regarding gastronomic exploration. Eager to prove my cooking chops, I volunteered to bring the potatoes and planned on re-creating a favorite recipe my grandmother made each holiday: Potatoes Margaret. This mouth-watering casserole, made with mashed potatoes, sour cream, butter, minced onions and cream cheese, is so decadent I can only eat it twice a year, but I look forward to it the other 363 days. Now, picture us all gathered around the table, with a glorious turkey anchoring the vast array of delectable food, as I uncover the casserole dish and try to explain that this type of mashed potato doesn’t really need any gravy. I’m sure my memory has added the sound effect of crickets chirping into the silent void, but suffice it to say, I am in charge of sweet potatoes now.
Then there is the joy of social interaction without the pressure of gift-giving. I love my family, and I love my friends, but buying gifts for other people can just be hard. The temptation to give in to quantity over quality is strong, and if you are amongst the frazzled Christmas Eve shoppers I am jostling elbows with at Penn Square Mall, you can probably look back with fondness on the fourth Thursday in November, when all you had to do was show up to eat and mingle. The lure of a lingering meal, good conversation and fellowship with no last-minute dash for scotch tape or midnight wrap-a-thon ranks high on my personal holiday ratings system.
Lastly, there’s nothing like the threat of an impending holiday to prompt you to get some projects done around the house. We hosted the holiday for a large contingent of blended family last year after we moved into our new house and it was a great time. The day of the event, my sainted husband missed a very important football game (so I hear) to plant some half-dead pansies (languishing on our porch since before Halloween) along the front sidewalk. Urgent? Hardly, but it was on my pre-flight checklist “Countdown to Turkey Day” and he is a good sport. (And did I mention saintly?) I learned to hem curtains the night before – OK, I mean I failed at using no-sew iron-on hem tape and so out of desperation invented my own stitching technique – but I did actually iron the cloth napkins I’d been acquiring from estate sales all year long. We promptly wrapped them around our disposable plastic flatware, but that is neither here nor there – the iron was used and it takes time to build up the housewares department to host several dozen people.
This month, we are embarking on an ambitious journey to install hardwood floors throughout the second floor of our house … and I’m thankful my sweet mother-in-law is hosting Thanksgiving this year!