The traditions seem to be about food, but upon closer examination I have learned that it is about time together. When we lived in Germany the meal was about eating together around the table with lots of friends and lots of wine. There were dinners with 3-12 families, and meals with us and soldiers far from home – always about being together. There were kitchens full of cooks having fun sharing drinks and stories - maybe it is about drinking, hmm I will look into that. With my own kids I have continued to make the family dishes and the special leftover sandwiches – turkey, cranberry jelly, and stuffing with mayo on whole wheat – oh, I’m drooling a little.
I have been a wife for 17 years and I think I made all or part of the meal for 15 of those years. There is anxiety in trying to present a juicy, brown bird with all the fixings – I have fed up to 22 people doing ok, I mean no one has died, yet. There was dry turkey and the year without gravy – since then I always have 2 jars of gravy on hand just in case. In time my hubby admitted to not caring for turkey so now I make a bird and a ham. Through all of the adventures there was one constant – my Mom.
She died this year in October, it was sudden and unexpected so this Thanksgiving has felt wrong. When I had trouble finding an ingredient, I would call her for substitutions. What can/should I make the days before T day? One year she emailed me a complete shopping list, I am very thankful that I saved that email. So this year each trip to the store, each search through the recipe box brought tears and an ache deep inside me. I pressed on – we need traditions and my Mom loved entertaining to skip this event would NOT be the way to remember her.
Along with that we didn’t have anyone coming to dinner, we are far from family, have only been here for 4 months, and spouse doesn’t have any soldiers needing a place to go. So the social part wasn’t going to happen and the stress of presenting a meal should be smaller, right!?! I took a different approach, my family is forgiving they each wanted their favorite dish, even me! So I made the meal over 3 days. Day one, make ham, green beans, mac and cheese, and strawberry pretzel Jell-O salad, an easy meal to put together. Of course I burned the pretzel crust, so that got put aside for day two. Day two, make the turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and of course the Jell-O salad, which came out great thank you very much! Day three, to go with the leftovers make the pies. This has worked out well for us this year, doing this meal in pieces has left me time to stop and breath as needed. We also ate smaller portions and just chose from 3-4 dishes instead of the over load of food this holiday leads to. Of course we will still be eating leftovers for days, and enjoying our favorites, but the fear and stress are over – and the celebration has begun. I even did my best Turkey ever, brown with crispy skin and the meat was still tender and juicy – even the gravy was sublime.
I still cry, probably will for a long time – my poor husband doesn't know what to do with the seemingly random tears – but for now I celebrate making it through a holiday. And maybe there was help in my kitchen after all . . . .