Thanksgiving dinner is my all-time favorite meal to cook. Something about preparing this dinner brings deep and intangible joy to my heart. There have been years when we've eaten great turkey, rich stuffing and sinful desserts that other wonderful chefs have prepared: terrific evenings where we enjoyed every bite and every minute. And yet, when that's happened, I've often succumbed to the compulsion to cook the whole thing again the next day*, not because I was craving my own food, but because I was craving the marvelous feeling of making this meal.
As I was puttering contentedly around the kitchen the last few days, I suddenly understood, at least a little. Instead of cookbooks, I was pulling out notes that had been hand written, e-mailed, or dictated to my scribbling. Every single recipe came from someone I love, who loved me back. With each tablespoon of sage or sizzle of sausage, they gathered around me, my family and friends. They were all here, filling the room with memories from childhood, from a rag tag gathering of refugees in my first apartment in NY, from long distance phone calls home for help, from dinners that welcomed me to a new town or a new family. While things were baking, I was unearthing wedding china**, silver from great grandparents, decorations the kids made in preschool, and wine from a cousin's ranch.
Before the doorbell ever rang, before grace was spoken, before a single dish was served, I was surrounded and embraced and profoundly elated by this gathering from the past. The comfort of hands clasped around the table and the rush for second helpings later just made my Thanksgiving overflow.
For this feeling, and so much more, I give thanks.
Specific credits to:
My mom, for the cranberry sauce and homemade rolls
My sister, for the secrets to a great brined turkey***
My business partner and his wife, for the mashed potato souffle
My husband's aunt, for the pumpkin pie and my brother-in-law, for requesting it
My NY roomates, for the gravy
My husband, for the stuffing
My niece, for the inspiration to make cheesecake on top of everything else.
Mom's Ridiculously Easy Cranberry Sauce
1 bag of cranberries
1 1/2 c. of sugar
2-3 Tbs. apricot or cherry jam
Preheat oven to 350. Rinse and dry the cranberries. Pour into 9 inch round baking dish. Cover with the sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes. While still hot, stir in the jam. Pour into a pretty bowl. Cover and refrigerate, then serve whenever you like.
* No one in our house ever complained about eating it again, mind you.
** From three generations of weddings: Mine, my sister's, my husband's parents' and his grandparents'.
*** I strayed from her tried and true method to try dry brining this year, swayed by the glowing reviews in the LA Times. Not a disaster, but I should have stuck with the one I love.