Except for Halloween (who doesn’t love dressing up and being somebody different for an entire day?), Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday because it is oh so American. There is no religious connection, it’s not restricted to a specific ethnic background, and the only requirement is you’re an American and are thankful for something.
While the holiday has been exploited and become a contest of consumption (how much can you drink the night before, how much can you eat the day of and how much can you buy the day after), I still enjoy the core of the tradition (a celebration of the bounty of the New World and the realization that there are reasons to be thankful).
My mother has always been the queen of family gatherings where large quantities of food are spread on the table. She’s the best cook in the family, our house was always where everyone wanted to come and there was no way anyone could do Thanksgiving better, though many have tried.
But this year, it was my turn to be the cook/host. I was excited. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy hosting and I have to admit having all that power, I had joyful visions of me throwing my hands up and, like my mother, proclaiming, “All right, everyone get out of my kitchen,” made me giddy. Clearly, I would not have thrown the One Ring into Mt. Doom, but at least I admit it.
First up: the menu. Clearly, turkey would be on it, but what kind. I perused the Internet and found the absolute best recipe for me: Turkey with 40 Cloves of Garlic.
Then, as a homage to tradition, I chose stuffed mushrooms and sausage/rice stuffing (family favorites), and added some sauteed spinach and kale for a vegan guest (I know, I was flabbergasted, too) and the girlfriend handled the potatoes. Dessert was pumpkin pie (me) and chocolate mousse (girlfriend).
The night before, after playing some Thanksgiving Eve, cold weather darts with a friend, I came home and began the White Wine Pan Gravy. Word of advice, always read the directions before attempting the recipe because I hadn’t realized the gravy needed to cook for three hours.
By 11 p.m., the gravy “base” was down and it was time for bed.
Up at 7 a.m. the next morning and the first chore was the pumpkin pie (I should have done this the night before, but this was really more of a learning experience than anything else.)
Using a recipe from everyone’s favorite racist chef, the pies were in by 8:30 a.m. Baking at high elevation (7,200 feet) is not fun. I’ve never really enjoyed baking, too much chemistry, but it is pretty important to have dessert, and though the recipe said the pies needed 50 minutes, up in the mountains it took about twice that time for them to finish.
With the pies baking and sweat beginning to develop on my brow from fear the turkey wasn’t in yet, I began getting the garlic ready.
While chopping and seasoning and getting the turkey ready, my beautiful girlfriend walked into the kitchen. With my hands covered in garlic puree she delightfully began with the questions. (Note: My girlfriend doesn’t cook much, when she does, it’s great, but for some reason she feels intimidated by my culinary skills and that keeps her out of the kitchen).
After a few questions my blood began to slowly boil ( I know I’m a maniac, and I’m lucky she puts up with me), and then she looked at my hands that were beneath the turkey skin and said, “What’s that?”
“It’s super secret shit. Now, calm yourself down before I crack you with my seasoned paws.”
Again, I know I can be crass at times, but if my mother taught me anything it’s that mean, hurtful things are allowed to be said in the kitchen on a holiday. Thankfully, my girlfriend let it go and I got the turkey in on time.
The rice was already finished, so I moved on to the stuff mushrooms.
They came out excellent.
As the turkey sizzled while I basted it, I realized it was only 1 p.m. and everything, for the most part, was done. Well, this isn’t so bad, I thought to myself and poured a glass of wine and was coerced into taking a Thanksgiving shot of Wyoming’s own Koltiska.
At this point, all I needed were my guests. Cocktail hour was set to begin at 2 p.m., with dinner followed at 3 p.m.
Cocktail hour came and went. 3 o’clock came and went. And by 3:15 p.m. I was infuriated. The turkey had been out since 2:30 p.m., and was now getting cold and dry and gross. The gravy was solidifying and the rice and other side dishes were close to burning in the oven. I stood at the door waiting for my guests throwing out threats to anyone who would listen.
2:30 p.m.: OK, they’re running late, but there’s still plenty of time.
2:45 p.m.: What the hell, where is everyone?
3 p.m.: Well, it’s dinner time and no one is here.
3:10 p.m.: You know what I’d be thankful for, punctual guests.
3:15 p.m.: OK, f@#$% them, if no one is here in the next 10 minutes, I’m locking the door, eating all this food myself and they can go somewhere else.
At 3:25 p.m., they arrived. My girlfriend gave me the eyes to “be nice” and I said, “Happy Thanksgiving, dinner is now.”
As people ate and compliments came my way in between large bites, I began to ease up (here’s a hint, a pissed of chef can be quickly calmed down with praise and accolades) and enjoyed the company, the food and the holiday.
So what was I thankful for this year?
Well, a lot of things, but mostly, an awesome girlfriend, a life filled with adventures and great stories, the appreciation that you don’t need to be physically with your friends or family to feel loved and a part of things, another year in a beautiful place and the awareness that the next great adventure is right around the corner. And most importantly, my awesome mother who taught me how to run a successful holiday, and how to always be ready with a snappy, snarky comment at the most inappropriate time.