I love the fall. Itâ€™s absolutely my favorite season. I like gray days with a nip in the air. Autumn is my best season, sartorially speaking. I have skinny legs, so shorts arenâ€™t particularly flattering; give me short-sleeve shirts with long pants, and then I can add sweaters, sweatshirts, button-downs, pullovers, jacketsâ€¦
Where was I going with this? Anyway, autumn. I love apple cider, hot, with a cinnamon stick. I love wreaths with Indian corn. (Waitâ€”Can I say â€œIndian corn?â€ Is there a more sensitive name I should be using?) I love deciduous trees, leaves on and off.
Ok, I should probably revise that. This was my first fall owning a house with a yard that needed raking. Our lawn was completely covered with a 3 inch coating of dead leaves, that got rained, snowed, and rained on. Raking was a treat, let me tell you, and especially bagging. We filled nineteen plastic garbage bags full of leaves, and schlepped them to the curb. I know, I know, plastic bags are bad, we should be using paper lawn bags. Well, my better half went to every store in a five mile radius, and they were out of them, so we used what we had. Believe me, Iâ€™d have rather used the paper bags, they hold more than the plastic ones, and it would have made for less schlepping.
Anyway, imagine my surprise and delight when we came home the next to day to find that the leaves hadnâ€™t been taken with the trash; rather each bag had a small green sticker reading â€œLeaves must be in PAPER BAGS only!â€
Thanks very much, City of Providence, how did you know I wanted to spend the Sunday after Thanksgiving moving sixty cubic feet of wet leaves from one bag to another? Bastards.
Ah, but autumn, and Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Itâ€™s really my familyâ€™s only big family holiday. Oh, sure, when we were younger we had Chanukah. Ah, Chanukah. Every year mom would put out a pile of presents for each of us, and my siblings and I would begin the careful rationing to make sure we had something good to open on the later nights. (â€œAnd believe it or not, that little pile of presents, only enough for one night, lasted for eight whole nights. And thatâ€™s why we light the candles for eight nights every year.â€) There was more to Chanukah than presents, of course. I have warm memories of lighting the menorah as a family â€“ and when I say warm memories, I mean it literally. I have two sisters and a brother, and we each had to have our own menorah, plus mom had to light one, and that oneâ€™s my favorite, can I light two this year? Suffice it to say by the fifth night or so, we had to take the batteries out of the smoke detector.
Wait, what was I talking about? Thanksgiving.
My family has spent it together every year for as long as I can remember. If Chanukah coincided with college breaks, great, weâ€™d be there, but we always came home for Thanksgiving. Most importantly, at least since our mom died, my sister and I have done all of the cooking. Weâ€™re good at it now, but I have to believe it was a bit of a leap of faith for my dad the first year. Especially since we wonâ€™t allow anyone in the kitchen while weâ€™re cooking. (We like our space.)
I almost decided not to go home for Thanksgiving this year, but my sister was aghast. And she’s right, we have some traditions that we can’t miss. Every year, thereâ€™s the phone conversation where we â€œdecide on the menu.â€
Me: â€œOh man, I saw the greatest stuffing recipe on [insert name of Food Network show]. We should totally make our own stuffing this year.â€
Li’l Sis: â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦â€
Me: â€œItâ€™ll be so good! Dried cranberries, and sausage, and sageâ€¦â€
Li’l Sis: â€œBut Stove Top is so delicious!â€
Me: “Stove Top?! C’mon, just once we should make our own stuffing.”
Li’l Sis: “Sooooo deliciousss…”
Me: â€œButâ€“ Butâ€“ Sigh. Fine.â€
And so, every year, I come home to find the big red box of Stove Top stuffing, and every year itâ€™s delicious. Every year we make our secret garlic mashed potatoes, the details of which I am sworn not to reveal. Every year thereâ€™s some kind of sweet potato, homemade cranberry sauce, and assorted other odds and ends. The turkey is a whole â€˜nother thing. My sister and I have a pretty basic turkey recipe which we augment slightly every year (brining overnight, roasting on a bed of aromatic veggies, herbed butter under the skin, baste with orange juice), but the key tradition is the â€œargumentâ€ over who has to reach up the turkeyâ€™s ass and pull out the bag of innards.
I wimp out every year.
(Oh man, I just remembered. I donâ€™t know if anyone else saw the Food Network All-Star Thanksgiving special. Seven of their stars, each contributing a dish, with my man Alton Brown bringing the turkey. The food was cool, sure, but the highlight for me was the end, when theyâ€™re all sitting around the table eating, and Emeril and Tyler Florence are piling food onto Giada de Laurentiisâ€™s plate, saying â€œYouâ€™re too thin, youâ€™re the thinnest one here, you have to eat!â€ and the camera cuts to Rachael Ray whose facial expression is clearly saying, â€œAre you calling me fat?â€ Priceless.)
Last year, actually, was an aberration. Every year my dad talks about frying a turkey, and every year we assert our dominion over the preparation of the meal. Well, the year before weâ€™d run out of ideas for presents for him (what do you get for the man who wants everything?) so we bought him â€“ wait for it â€“ a turkey fryer. Yeah, I donâ€™t know what we were expecting would happen at Thanksgiving other than that weâ€™d agree to let him fry a turkey. (Of course, he bought a Cajun-seasoned turkey, because if thereâ€™s one thing my dadâ€™s all about, itâ€™s gilding the lily).
Drunk with power, he topped himself by also mail-ordering a turducken. Câ€™mon, youâ€™ve heard of this gastronomic monstrosity: itâ€™s a boneless chicken, stuffed in a boneless duck, stuffed in a boneless turkey, with two different kinds of stuffing in there. We had Thanksgiving dinner two nights in a row, and Iâ€™m still full just thinking about it. This year we put our foot down, and dad agreed: back to regular turkey.
So I’m going home. Look, Iâ€™ve done the air travel bit, and you all know traveling on Thanksgiving weekend sucks, but I have to go. My sister and I have to pitch a fit that everyoneâ€™s in the kitchen while weâ€™re trying to cook. We have to have our last-minute panic that the turkeyâ€™s not going to be done, and kick everyone out of the kitchen while we scramble to assemble an aluminum foil shield to prevent the breast from burning. We have to re-remember which one of our siblings doesnâ€™t like pumpkin pie. We have to be patiently smile and nod as weâ€™re reminded for the seven millionth time to make a separate dish of potatoes for Grandma, because Grandma doesnâ€™t eat butter. (Doesnâ€™t eat butter â€“ wrap your brain around that one.) We have to tell our dad that weâ€™ll call him when itâ€™s time to carve the turkey, and until then, could he please get the hell out of the kitchen?
I donâ€™t really have a point Iâ€™m coming to here, except that Iâ€™m glad to be going home. So, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And please, for my sanity and your safety, please, please get the hell out of my kitchen.