Thanksgiving for two. Sounds romantic. It’s not.
But, thank goodness, there are different kinds of love. This was the first time in 60-plus years I’ve ever had turkey for two—mom and me. My game-day strategy was a lineup of TV programs.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We raised our kids without much exposure to television. My pet peeve of hospitals and nursing homes is the constant drone of the boob tube. But selective viewing is a different matter altogether, as is kitchen sanity.
Home alone with mom. I decided the best plan was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to fill her morning hours while I kept busy in the kitchen, the almost-adjoining room. My mother loves music and was a drummer in her high school band, so the parade was just the right mix of music and marching, uniforms and pageantry, floats, balloons, and cutesy pop culture. I knew she was engaged when I heard her clapping, an occasional “Ohhh” or “Ahhh”, and more clapping. I popped my head in to see the Rockettes and the return of the 1960s-era Dino the Dinosaur, mascot of Sinclair gasoline.
Being alone in the kitchen for a holiday is new for me. The solitude led to a warm, not cold, hard fact: How much I relied on my mother to get through the holiday preparations during my adult life. When I couldn’t make it home, there were long-distance calls from Charleston, Isle of Palms, or Mount Pleasant, SC, Coplay, or Kutztown. The kitchen has always been our connection.
I decided on Cranberry Upside-Down Cake for dessert. As I followed the recipe I got from a Cuisinart class at her cooking shop, The Country Sampler, I wondered whether I could use fresh cranberries I stashed in the freezer last December. That would have been a call to mom back in the good old days. In the years of dementia, it is a Google question. The answer, by the way, is: “Sure—just pick out any shriveled berries.” I washed the cranberries, picked out a few, and patted them dry.
Next step was to peel off the rind of an orange. After I went shopping the night before, I looked at the supermarket receipt. I had mistakenly bought blood oranges, not regular oranges. Back to Google. Again, no problem. Then, after peeling off the rind and placing it in the food processor with sugar to spin into a fine blend, I took a time-out. I squeezed the blood orange juice into a small glass, added a shot of vodka, and had a breakfast wake-up drink—a lesson learned from my dad, who always had a glass of wine while stirring the risotto.
Although I keep family traditions for holidays, I do like to spice them up a bit by trying something new. This year, I decided on Everybody’s Mushroom Gravy – a new recipe for me. I keep running into Mollie Katzen recipes and cookbooks (the Lemont Village Potluck Finnish Carrot Pancake adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Cookbook and while visiting Webster’s Bookstore Café for a little music, I found a copy of Still Life with Menu Cookbook that I couldn’t resist.) I found Katzen’s recipe for EMG on The Splendid Table website, which boasted that the gravy was vegan and gluten-free. Chalk it up to fate. The two of us have no dietary restrictions but you never know who might show up at the table next year, so I tried it out. Plus, I love mushrooms. Well, the recipe calls for cornstarch. I searched the kitchen but couldn’t find any. Years ago, this would have been call #3 to mom. Instead, I looked inside the cupboard and found a curled-at-the-edges Substitution Chart taped on the door: 1 T cornstarch equals 2 T flour. Simple fix.
I still had plenty of time, thanks to an offhand remark by a family friend, Pat. She and her husband invited us to dinner the night before Thanksgiving. Going out to dinner is always a treat, but this was doubly so since it was the eve of a holiday. I remember with my own family, the night before a big holiday I’d order pizza—a pre-feast break for the cook. Anyway, Pat told me she had all of her onions, celery, bread cubes cut—oysters draining—ready for stuffing-making the following day. I went home and did the same, substituting chestnuts for the oysters, and had everything ready to mix together in time for our dinner.
I was so far ahead of schedule (and didn’t need to figure in time to “dress” and meet and greet visitors) that I found myself distracted. On the way to the compost pile with vegetable trimming, basking in the mild weather, I made a detour to the garage for my folding Felco pruning saw. November’s leaf drop bared a dozen or two weed trees (trunks no more than 1-inch caliper but towering 10 or more feet) and right against the foundation of the house. In a half hour I pruned them out, piled them up, and dragged them to the woods. I also whacked back a wayward mugo pine branch that I’ve been ducking under for months–I’d had enough.
WPSU-TV had a special on Big Band music from noon to 2. We took a luncheon break as my mom and I bonded over the history and music of the 1920s through the 1940s. I’ve grown to love all of the instruments in the Big Bands (although Lawrence Welk still gives me the willies) and the complete corniness of the lyrics. Even today, I can’t stop singing, “A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I’ve got a gal in Kalamazoo….”
The turkey breast went into the oven.
Got a call from my sister and we exchanged family news and the countdown for dinner. She said that instead of making mashed potatoes, she was going to roast potatoes with olive oil and rosemary. That confession gave me permission to do the same—I mean, why go to the bother of mashed potatoes for just two people? We could still douse them with Everyone’s Mushroom Gravy. Last to go, Brussels sprouts with home-grown garlic and shallots, Italian prosciutto, olive oil and balsamic fig vinegar—how could I lose?
The only disappointment of the entire meal was Trader Joe’s cranberry-orange relish – The taste was OK, but the texture was like soggy sawdust. I much prefer my sister’s cranberry chutney but I can never find the recipe in my haphazard files. Next Thanksgiving, I’ll give her a call. Laurie Lynch
The Freshest Herbs: The accompanying photo is of herbs we keep inside the house in a Grow Box. I’m babysitting two of our Master Gardener Grow Boxes for the winter, when the water is shut off in the high tunnel and we can’t fill the bottom reservoir. It is a great self-watering planter. If you’d like a copy of instructions on how to make your own, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
Written on Slate: “The best kind of giving is thanksgiving.” Gilbert K. Chesterton