Thursday, November 25, 2004

For Which We Are Truly Thankful

I swear, if I hear one more person call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day," I may just scream. But that's just something else for which to be grateful, the fact that I have a pretty good set of lungs and can produce a damned impressive scream when I'm motivated. Especially if I warm up first with a little singing.

Focusing on the food, and the ample opportunities for gluttony, seems to take the point out of Thanksgiving, a holiday that I think of as being about Gratitude and Family. Yes it's about being grateful for a plentiful harvest and displaying that gratitude by eating as much of the harvest as you can manage; and it's about family, and there is no more potent image of Family in the Western mind than gathering around a holiday table.

But really, why focus on the poor old turkey? I love turkey myself, I eat it all the time, it's low in fat and cholesterol yet packed with nutrients... but turkey really isn't as special as it used to be, now is it? Turkeys aren't that expensive anymore, and while they take forever to cook, so does a good brisket, and you can get really good turkey at Boston Market without even trying (though BM doesn't do the dark meat, and that's my favorite).

In my family, the menus of the two big holiday dinners, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are pretty much the same: Turkey of course, and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and corn (in separate dishes), candied yams, black olives and jellied cranberry sauce from cans (chilled and served on fine crystal), rolls, Martinelli's sparkling apple cider and a choice of other secondary beverages, and pie — chocolate meringue, apple, and pumpkin. The only difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that for Christmas there are usually banana and coconut meringue pies as well, and sometimes we throw some ham on to costar with the turkey.

And though the turkey is de rigeur, my family isn't really interested in it except as a tradition; the real stars of our family holiday meals are the stuffing and the chocolate pies. In a family of food fetishists, these two things are weighted with such importance that to even suggest not having them would be tantamount to inciting a riot. Granted, the stuffing recipe is generations old, Grandmother learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother, going back God knows how long, probably to the invention of cornbread; but it's not all that different from other people's cornbread stuffing recipes. And granted, the chocolate meringue pies are pretty special, being rich but not too rich and sweet but not too sweet, beautifully balanced flavors working especially well together; but the apple pies are utterly delicious, and the pumpkins aren't to be sneezed at, either.

Yet, even for a family extremely fond of food and rather addicted to very particular traditional food, it strikes me as almost idolatrous how devoted people are to the stuffing and the chocolate pies. My aunt in particular, who risks the wrath of her daughter's mother-in-law (who is slated to make the stuffing for today's festival, which is being held at my cousin's house with her in-laws mingled in with us, poor slobs) insisted, connived, and inveigled Grandmother to make at least a small batch of the family stuffing... and if the mother-in-law was offended, she'd just go out and eat it in the car.

And silly as I think she is, the image of my aunt eating stuffing surreptitiously out of the trunk of my car fills me with delight, something else for which to be grateful.

I find myself being very grateful today, but I like to cultivate (if you'll pardon a hideous old twelve-step cliche) an Attitude of Gratitude, to never let a day go by where I don't express my thanks for at least one blessing I've enjoyed during that day. I was going to post a list of such things here, since it's Thanksgiving, but unfortunately I've run out of time. The timer just dinged on my yams...

False alarm, they need at least another twenty minutes, I put too much butter on and I hate when they get soupy, so they'll need to bake a little longer.

Grandmother and I had a really good time last night putting all this together. Our first batch of chocolate custard didn't work out because we'd neglected to double the flour and cornstarch when doubling the recipe and ended up with a really yummy but quite useless chocolate soup, so I did another batch solo, all by myself, even the meringue, and I had a great time. Though I have never managed the knack of rolling pie crusts, I do know how to make Grandmother's crust recipe... I also know the stuffing recipe pretty well by heart, having learned it the way Grandmother learned it, by watching and helping.

It's a nice feeling to have the ability to continue a family tradition like this. There's a beautiful resonance in taking part in a tradition that goes back so far, and being able to provide the idols of worship for the family. It's really about being a part of something greater than onesself. And though I complain a lot about my multitudinous and sometimes onerous family obligations, and often complain about having a family thrust on me instead of being able to create one for myself, I am unspeakably grateful to have a family in which I can participate... not everybody does have that, either created or provided. And it's a lovely thing.

Damn, the yams are even soupier! I should have baked them at three-seventy-five instead of three-fifty. Oh, well... I'll give them another ten minutes and then that's that. I have to shower and shave and get dressed soon, we're expected in San Ramon at two and I have to pick up my Daddy and my niece and some rolls in Concord on the way (my sister backed out at the last minute, again). In the meantime, here is a short list of ten things for which I am grateful today:

  1. My current state of hunger is self-induced to counteract the effects of past overeating, and not my daily portion.
  2. I have good health... not great health, I catch colds easily and all, but I have never had a disease or a broken bone or anything serious.
  3. I am warm and comfortable (except for my toes... there's a ground draft in here).
  4. Sobriety and spiritual growth.
  5. There are beautiful things in this world to enjoy.
  6. There are beautiful men to look at.
  7. Orgasms (I talk about them a lot, I know; but really, what's not to love?)
  8. My family
  9. My friends
  10. And you, my lovely reader.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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