Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Thanksgiving Under-Reach

I called my best friend on Saturday, just to see how her Thanksgiving had gone. For many years, she used to visit at the holiday, and we’d have days-before cooking marathons. I have such good memories of those years. There was first time we decided to brine the turkey, and left it in a cooler on the back porch overnight.  We were sure we’d die from a turkey-and-plastic bacterial infection, but found that the danger added a roulette-wheel zing to our meal the next day (which could be our last, we thought).

There was the Year of the Fire (and shouldn’t every Thanksgiving story have one?) when a friend turned the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato casserole into a mini-inferno in my blast furnace of an oven. There was a great deal of screaming. Flames shot out. Pictures were taken.  It was twenty times better than anything Norman Rockwell ever dreamed up. There was the Year of the Couch, when we’d gotten a new one delivered and wouldn’t serve anyone so much as a celery stick until they manned up and moved the old sofa to the garage. The party line that year was:  It’ll build up your appetite.

It was a regular little tradition there for a while, Debbie and I and our cooking escapades, and a good one. She’d arrive with clippings and printouts and tips that her close personal friends from the Food Network had shared with her (at least that was the impression I’d get, listening to her talk about Sarah and Ina like they were all sorority sisters). We’d usually strategize at least one folly-ridden new item for the menu -- a dish that used every pot in the kitchen, took hours to make, and ended up tasting like something straight from the can.

Every Thanksgiving has a little twist. Hers, this year, was that she had somehow developed the delusion that she lived in Kansas City, so she invited twelve people over for dinner to her Upper West Side apartment. I don’t know when it hit her that she truly wasn’t in Kansas anymore (I know there’s a dining room around her somewhere! I could just imagine her saying), but it might have been when the squeezed-in guests realized that there was not one single bit of space left to place the finished turkey when it emerged from the oven, nor was there anyone who felt comfortable carving it from the bathroom.

So, she over-reached, which is something we’ve both been known to do. Uncharacteristically, I under-reached this year, and I have to report that it felt good. We found a friend willing to take a party of six at their table (the basic issue family, exchange student from Rome, buddy college student from China), so I puttered around and made my one requested item: fluffy rolls that are the dream food of the inviting friend’s 17-year-old boy. I added a few bottles of sparkling cider for the kids, rustled up a champagne and cranberry cocktail for the grownups, and felt so guilty about my sloth that I threw together some garlic breadsticks on Thanksgiving morning, which the teens ate the moment I put them on the coffee table.

Debbie and I did our Saturday morning analysis and concluded that the only thing we’ve ever loved about this holiday was being together the day before, playing mad scientists in a kitchen. But we’re 1,197 miles away from each other now. She is an about-to-be adoptive mom for her foster son. There are, as they say, obstacles. “Honestly,” she sighed. “I think I’d be happy being a caterer, and just shipping it all off in boxes, because by the time the guests arrived I was sick of them, and they hadn’t even eaten yet.”

“But didn’t everyone like that new roasted banana and sweet potato thingy that Ina told you to make?” I nudged.  “Oh, I guess so,” she mused, and I could tell she'd already moved on.  “But I’m thinking about trying yams and jalepenos next year. Tyler Florent told me all about it.”

Value of 12 people having a Kansas City Thanksgiving in your Manhattan apartment:  $0.  Coming up with something even crazier to serve them 364 days from now: priceless.

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