Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What to bring to the feast


How can you not like a holiday that has a standard menu requiring minimal advance thought? At the worst, it's: Go to supermarket, pick up obvious, well-labeled ingredients, cook standard dishes on autopilot, follow familiar streets (over river, through woods) to relatives' house, nod agreeably at whatever people say, and eat.

If you feel creative, and are considering squash chiffon pie instead of pumpkin pie, you probably won't get extra points. Think about it: Haven't you heard more stories about Thanksgiving cooking disasters (read on) than stories about brilliant and original creations? There is a reason why we are still eating many of the same dishes served by the Pilgrims (with perhaps the addition of the marshmallows in the yams).

At Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for a relaxing, guilt-free holiday, for our good health, enjoyable jobs, fantastic friends, happy families, and last but not least, our wonderful neighborhood.

And I'm thankful for the memories of some truly distinctive Thanksgiving disasters. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • 1964 (or thereabouts) - I wandered into my aunt and uncle's elegant dining room, minutes before we were going to be called to the beautifully appointed table. My aunt Arv was in the kitchen, whipping mashed potatoes in her KitchenAid mixer. My uncle Bob was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the diningroom, next to the buffet. Huh? It seems he'd placed the china tray with the 20-pound turkey on a swing-up wing of the buffet that had not been securely braced; it had promptly swung back down, dumping the turkey onto the floor and covering the rug with juice and stuffing. Bob was carefully spooning stuffing back into the turkey. I was not the sort of child given to yelling "Hey! Bob dropped the turkey." Instead, I went back into the family room where all the guests were enjoying appetizers and cocktails, and quietly told my father what had happened. He picked up his camera and we both tiptoed back into the diningroom, where he carefully focused, then yelled "Hey! Bob!" and got a memorable picture. (The turkey made it to the table, and tasted, we thought, particularly delicious. "It's the rug fibers in the stuffing," my cousin Buck assured us.)

  • 1987 (give or take a year) - I had set up a particularly nice table for a dozen friends at the Shady Rest, my Wallingford bungalow, with a blue plaid tablecloth, heavy wine goblets, colorful Stangl dinnerware, and, as I recall, a pretty decent turkey with stuffing for both the pro-oyster and anti-oyster contingents. All went well until we reached dessert. One of the gourmets among us had brought a new-fangled whipped cream canister with various downpointing levers and spouts. My friend Jim, fiddling with the controls, successfully sprayed gobs of whipped cream not in the direction of his pie but in the direction of Nina's suede skirt. Was Roger standing by with his camera? You bet he was.

    The moral of these stories: Have a great Thanksgiving, and don't forget to take along a camera.
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