For some families, Thanksgiving Day means the womenfolk in the kitchen and the menfolk watching football. For some families, the womenfolk and the menfolk both watch football. In some families, the cooking is carried out by whichever-folk are inclined and the football-watching is the same.
This is not so for my family.
My family is a family of contradictions, a family that will scream at the television during the Olympics and fight tooth-and-nail over where the best Mediterranean food in the Portland Metro area is (my grandfather insists that it’s in his kitchen, but the rest of us disagree).
My family takes Thanksgiving way too seriously.
Planning for Thanksgiving begins several months in advance. No one is exempt from cooking. Everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, is given some responsibility for the menu. The menu must be haggled over accordingly. Fights will be had over the contents of the stuffing, over what vegetable to cook and leave on a plate as the obligatory nod to health food. Little to no health food will be consumed.
Thanksgiving in my family is about consuming vast amounts of the tastiest, most fattening food in the shortest possible amount of time and falling into a coma shortly afterward. Blood has been shed over the making of pies. Every year, my grandfather will suggest that we cook duck instead of turkey. Every year, he will be voted down.
Once the menu is agreed upon — or more accurately, everyone gets tired of arguing about it and capitulates – it’s time to buy groceries. Sometimes we do this in groups. Other times, we go it alone. Both approaches have their drawbacks. There’s safety in numbers, but numbers will slow you down; a death sentence in Thanksgiving crowds. Alone, you’re vulnerable to being picked off by stressed-out moms with overfilled shopping carts.
Every year someone gets lost in the warrens of the grocery store and emerges an hour or two later, shell-shocked and missing several of the items they were supposed to purchase. Typical protocol is to castigate this person for being “weak” and “shaming the family” and send someone else in to retrieve the missing items.
Cooking commences early on Thanksgiving Day. Kitchen space is at a premium, and so are ingredients, because despite the exhaustive list-making and trips to the grocery store, something that someone needs will inevitably be forgotten. The person with the missing groceries will not leave the house again.
Rather, they will lurk in the kitchen, attempting to pilfer the missing ingredient from someone else’s stash. Guard your groceries, and your counter space, with your life. Don’t get involved with the queue for the oven. If possible, choose a dish that requires no baking time. You do not want to fight with the turkey for space. You will lose.
Somewhere in the cooking process, there is always a lull of sorts, as things bake and boil and simmer (and, in one memorable year, grill). Members of the family collapse onto the couches to rest, complacent. If you are wise, you won’t be fooled. Stay alert, because the last 20 minutes before dinner is served are the most hectic.
If you can survive the last-minute rush in my family’s kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday shopping will be a cinch. Not even a shopper stampede can compare to the feeling of nearly being bulldozed by the turkey on its way to the table.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, and as you enjoy your idyllic family gathering, send up a prayer for those of us engaged in a culinary battle of wills. We envy your calm and peace.
But our food tastes awesome.