If you read my column with any regularity, you know that I love to cook, and November is the month when I get to prepare my most favorite meal: Thanksgiving dinner. Like most folks, I cook a traditional turkey dinner, but what makes it special to me is that each dish I serve is a reminder of Thanksgivings past.
I still remember the first Thanksgiving Day I called my Mother from my Washington D.C. apartment when I was 19. I was contemplating the frozen turkey sitting on the countertop with a perplexed look on my face asking her, ‘Hey, how do you cook a turkey?’ Needless to say, we didn’t eat turkey that year (luckily, there was a McDonald’s right down the road). You can imagine my amusement when I received that same phone call from my 19-year-old daughter when she moved away.
Since then, through trial and error, I have learned how to cook a turkey perfectly in my Grandma Embury’s old blue-and-white roasting pan. I still stuff the bird with a recipe given to me by my mother-in-law when my oldest son was just a year old: a sausage stuffing with celery, onion and fresh sage that my family loves.
I make the cranberries the way my mother did when I was a kid – fresh, not canned – simmered on the stove with sugar and water. I remember watching my mom roll out the dough for the pumpkin pies. When she trimmed the crust, she would brush the scraps with melted butter, cinnamon and sugar and bake them for me and my siblings to snack on. I made these tasty treats for my own children when they were small and now I make them for my grandkids. Side note: my mother also made mincemeat pie, which is an acquired taste and something you don’t often see on today’s holiday table.
Every year, I also make a “must-have” dish for each of my kids. For my Jeff, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without mom’s crab dip, which he grabs on his way to the couch to watch football. For my daughter Melissa, it’s green bean casserole. I change up the desserts each year (except for the pumpkin pies). Sometimes, I make cheesecake or an apple crisp, while some years it’s pecan pie or a carrot cake. The one guarantee is that dessert is deliciously decadent. There are always a few extra chairs put out for unexpected guests: neighbors or friends who stop by, and those chairs are usually filled. Of course, the number of seats at the table has grown with the addition of each grandchild.
Thanksgiving Day means different things to different people. For some, it’s about heading to Ford Field to watch the Detroit Lions lose (I mean, play). For others, it is about helping those who are less fortunate. Some people can’t wait to join the mad rush to stores in anticipation of great holiday deals and sales. To me, Thanksgiving Day is about family, friends and expressing gratitude. It is a simple holiday: good food and no gifts required. It’s a time to express our thanks to God and to each other and to just enjoy being a family.
While Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal to prepare, it’s the next day’s leftovers and turkey sandwiches that I look forward to the most – not to mention getting up in the middle of the night for a piece of cold pumpkin pie slathered with whipped cream. Happy Thanksgiving to all! ♦