Even before you start picking at the turkey or swilling the early afternoon Beaujolais, you might be feeling a bit full of Thanksgiving. In the run-up, we've been stuffed with advice, product promos and tips to "master" the feast or host the "ultimate" holiday meal. How will yours compare?
Of course everyone can up their game. But the Thanksgiving table feels like the wrong place to chase perfection.
What makes a holiday memorable is what makes it ours, and that rarely lines up with the catalog image of ease and plenty and harmony.
More likely, it’s a tapestry of traditions that are beloved, simply tolerated and gleefully deconstructed, all from the same kitchen, and it's the twining of different tastes and temperaments within the same family. Here's some food for thought on your way back for seconds.
Bad dishes aren’t always failed dishes: The side dish cooked to mush, the packaged staple unwrapped, heated up and plopped down — these do not necessarily show poor cooking or lack of effort.
That frumpy dish may be someone's guilty pleasure, their once-a-year reminisce with a relic. Or maybe it’s the one thing they know they can control at the holiday. No matter what else is happening in family life, they're the ones who bring the canned green beans with waterlogged almonds. Make some room on the plate and play along. Putting your everyday food preferences on the shelf next to the never-expiring box of breadcrumbs is part of the family dynamic.
Resisting tradition is a tradition: On the other hand, there's the "healthy dish" someone slips into the Thanksgiving spread. You know the type — the barley pilaf with cashew cheese, the mixed mushroom and soy product salad dressed with diet tonic water.
Whether it comes from best intentions or an activist agenda, the annual healthy dish experiment belongs to its own essential Thanksgiving tradition. This is the loyal opposition, a dish of defiance to the gluttonous reign of turducken and cheesy boiled broccoli. It may never be the meal's centerpiece, but at least it can be a conversation piece.
Playing parts, changing roles: It takes more than cooks to make Thanksgiving dinner. There's the project manager for the groceries, the harbormaster overseeing the ebb and flow of the buffet, the head of sanitation to clean it all up, the umpire to adjudicate family disputes, the therapist who is just there to listen. Maybe your family doesn’t use formal titles, but these parts play out nonetheless.
Some people are born into their specific roles, others were recruited. They change over time. Those once content at the kids' table eventually start taking the reins of family tradition, and transforming them as they grow. To watch it all mesh is to witness competing tastes, compromises and allegiances, the rise of one generation and the steadfast grip of another. It's not exactly "Game of Thrones," but it does end with some serious blade work around that bird.
Thanksgiving does not just come from cookbooks and pro tips. It comes from families — the ones we’re born into, brought into or that we convene ourselves. So whether your holiday turns out like the Norman Rockwell version or something closer to the Charlie Brown edition, the recipe that makes it real is sitting right there around the table with you.
I was raised by an Irish mother, but I grew up eating a lot of Italian food.