By Shelley Murphy
Without a doubt, Thanksgiving ranks as my favorite holiday. Trick-or-treaters are still eating their Halloween candy when I start planning the Thanksgiving feast.
Long before the fourth Thursday of November, I display treasured holiday decorations, including my boys’ tiny feathered turkey hands and well-worn buckled pilgrim hats. I also reread yellowed, handwritten school assignments answering the question: What are you thankful for?
It’s a question as old as the first Thanksgiving, and the answers are as diverse as the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe who gathered at Plymouth in 1621.
My first Thanksgiving memories are of family trips to Pasadena, where we’d gather at my grandparents’ home to celebrate the holiday. My grandmother would rise early, while we slept, to stuff the turkey she called Tom and then tuck him into her small oven to cook for hours. She would work tirelessly all day, dividing her time between tending to the bird baking in her oven and preparing a cornucopia of traditional casseroles.
As the turkey turned golden brown, she’d slave over the stove stirring a roux of flour and fat and mixing it with the bird’s giblets and gizzards to somehow create mouthwatering gravy. Witnessing this annual culinary ritual greatly impacted my decision to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
I’ve since inherited my grandmother’s traditional turkey plates, but not her penchant for preparing the bird from scratch—I pass on brining, basting, and barbecuing. I realized years ago that as long as the turkey lands on the table, no one really questions its journey.
On Thanksgiving, I rise before dawn, but it’s to run the annul Turkey Trot, not to labor in the kitchen. Instead, I buy a fully-cooked and perfectly oven-roasted turkey, pop it in the oven before the guests arrive and the house smells just like it did when poor Tom sweltered in the oven for hours in Pasadena.
Needless to say, I also buy the ready-made gravy to keep my kitchen from resembling a gruesome crime scene from CSI.
As a vegetarian, and mediocre cook, I never thought I’d enjoy harvesting the feast and cleaning-up afterwards with a “Gobble ‘til you Wobble” kitchen towel. But nowadays I actually look forward to hosting the annual holiday and cooking traditional, but creative, dishes.
Recently, my search for an inventive potato recipe led me to buy Oprah’s holiday magazine. But instead of discovering a tasty twist on mashed potatoes, I found an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz suggesting ideas for holiday table talk—he recommends using the family gathering to discuss your loved ones comprehensive medical histories.
According to Dr. Oz, he wants us “to put it all on the table” and question family members about their health history during the festivities.
Sure, knowing one’s family medical tree can help prevent illness, but I don’t think the Thanksgiving table is really the best place to ask grandpa if he’s recently found any precancerous polyps or to quiz my mother-in-law on the prescription pills she takes.
I’m going to skip the doctor’s orders and stick with the tradition of putting my family’s favorite casseroles on the table instead of data charting their mortality.
Today, Thanksgiving holds greater meaning for me than in the past. When my husband and I first married, it meant time to travel; we escaped family reunions to explore exotic islands.
When the kids arrived, we felt the tug of obligation and joined get-togethers in the valley of Dysfunction Junction. Then, when schools adopted a week-long holiday schedule, we again traded mileage points for tropical retreats.
But now the holiday has come full circle and I’m the one embracing old traditions. Instead of departing for distant destinations, I’m anxiously awaiting my son’s arrival home from college and a cozy house filled with extended family, delicious food and loud laughter.
And that is what I am thankful for.