Thursday, November 20, 2008
Thanksgiving: An Introduction
There are three critical ingredients for the perfect Thanksgiving meal, three things without which Thanksgiving just wouldn't even be worth having: enthusiasm, friends, and booze. It may surprise you that "turkey" or even "PIE!!" doesn't make the list, but here's why.
Nine years ago, I hosted my first Brooklyn Refugee Thanksgiving. Any of my friends, or their friends, who couldn't afford to visit their homes that year was welcome in mine -- and in New York there are an awful lot of people with an awful lot of miles between them and the comfort of their mom's kitchen. I was definitely more enthusiastic than skillful -- to be honest, I'd never before cooked a meal for more than two people at a time, and most of those involved things that came out of boxes marked "Microwave-Ready!" Still, I had the space (since I certainly didn't have any furniture to get in the way), a check from my first real job burning a hole in my pocket, and I had enthusiasm.
That first year, somewhere around 15 to 20 people descended on my tiny apartment. We sat on the floor or perched on the arms of a seriously dilapidated hand-me-down couch, and armed with great gusto and paper plates, we devoured every bit of what was intended to be a delicious maple-glazed roast turkey from a large foil roasting pan. I'm honest enough to admit that if I peer hard enough through the veil of youthful nostalgia, I can see that the turkey was somewhat less than juicy -- and I have no idea what I was thinking with those pureed carrots. But I'd attacked those recipes with enthusiasm, and had a blast doing it. Add in the pile of friends, and the bottles of wine we managed to round up, and it was one of the best days I've ever had in New York. Nobody seemed to mind that the food could be a little iffy, or that I hadn't really figured out how pie dough was supposed to work. Enthusiasm, friends, and booze.
In the years since, the menu has certainly improved, I've acquired the best sous-chef this side of the Sierra Madres (hi, Shiv!), and the day has somehow changed from a place where friends went who couldn't make it home to their own holiday traditions, into a day full of traditions of our own. I'm very glad to say that we're still enthusiastic -- Shiv and I start discussing menu options sometime in August or September -- and I'm getting that peculiar cheerful thrill in my stomach as the first of the traditions begin: The Great Placing Of The FreshDirect Order. From a list of many recipes, we have selected the Chosen Few (and by "Few," please realize that I actually mean Enough Recipes to Feed an Army). The traditional Wall o' Dairy alone I think will dwarf its predecessors -- are we really using eleven different kinds of cheese? More than 30 pounds of vegetables? Are we crazy?
Probably, yes. We're probably crazy. But we have enthusiasm. And we have friends. And yes, we have the booze.