For a very long time, our first course at Thanksgiving was lasagna, which I loved because my mom put tiny meatballs in it.
Also, for many years when I was young, we didn’t have pumpkin pie for dessert, but we DID have lemon meringue, chocolate cream, and apple pies as well as a graham cracker cake, so that my grandmother could be sure we all had our favorites.
We moved to North Carolina about 15 years ago, and soon discovered that sweet potato (with marshmallows) and green bean (with French-fried onions) casseroles were staples, but we still don’t make those for our table. Our vegetable sides remain cauliflower with cream sauce, plain green beans, mashed turnips, mashed potatoes, sometimes carrots and sometimes pearl onions in cream sauce (my dad loves them). My uncle’s homemade cranberry relish has been replaced with the whole-berry variety in a can because no one has yet volunteered to start making it from scratch. Our appetizers on Thursday will be an antipasto platter with salami, provolone, olives and marinated peppers; our desserts this year WILL include pumpkin pie and our now-traditional pumpkin roll cake.
I am thankful for our Thanksgiving traditions because over the years they have evolved.
Along with the food that is served, we’ve discovered new ways to spend the holiday. When we lived in New York, Thanksgiving was a family dinner, usually pretty huge, as one house would be chosen for a gathering of what we called “the in-laws and the outlaws.”
Here’s what I remember about those Thanksgivings: endless food shopping trips in the weeks beforehand; my mother stressing out about getting everything cooked on time in the days beforehand; the smells I would wake up to that morning; watching the Macy’s parade and wondering why we lived in New York and never actually went to see it in person; and inevitably some kind of uncomfortable family discussion (read: argument) because, well, that’s what families do at the holidays. At night, when everyone had gone home and I was in my jammies, we’d have turkey sandwiches (with mayo, salt and pepper on white) and I’d have green beans with it.
Now, we have a different tradition, but one that has become just as special and fun. Our family is still all in New York, so we spend the holiday with my parents’ neighbors, their daughter and son-in-law, and two grandchildren. And when I say holiday, I mean to say we’ve expanded one day of feasting into a week of eating. Seriously. There’s usually an oyster roast on Wednesday night at Harry’s; the Thanksgiving meal (starting with cocktails) at my parents’ house on Thursday; the leftovers meal on Friday at one of the two houses; last year and this year we’ve added a group trip to Tsunami, our favorite local Asian restaurant; and for some odd reason (and I’m not sure at this point how it happened) pasta night on Saturday, which consists of an incredible seafood sauce with shrimp, clams, and oysters. I’m usually headed home on Sunday, but rumor has it that some other elaborate meal usually takes place then.
The neighbors drive five hours from the North Carolina mountains for the week; I drive three hours from Raleigh to my parents’ house at the coast. It’s usually warm out on Thanksgiving, which took some getting used to after years of what usually could be relied on to be a cold, grey day with no leaves left on the trees. The meal is casual—we all wear jeans, no dressy clothes here. The kids commandeer the television, so it used to be Disney movies although now it’s usually football to please aspiring quarterback Ethan. The desserts are usually served way too soon after the dinner, so they end up not being touched until the next day. And the neighbors’ daughter, Nicole, and I are sure to be tormented about how little help we provide in the preparations, most likely while we’re in the middle of cleaning up the mess from dinner and serving dessert.
Ah, family (by birth and acquired).
Every year on Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that rather than focusing on past traditions we’ve had to let go of, we’ve been able to start new ones that have made this holiday even more special and, quite honestly, more fun that it was in the past.
Now I just have to get mom to start making the lasagna again…