This is a post for Project Reverb14, a nice website that sends out monthly prompts. You know I love a prompt, so I enthusiastically signed up. This month’s prompt had us thinking about Thanksgiving food we love, and the meals that were particularly memorable. Here’s what I came up with:
We’re making a sweet potato dish from Smitten Kitchen for Thanksgiving. I’ll never get the potatoes sliced as thin as I’m supposed to. They’ll start out thin, but I’ll get annoyed with the tedium and lose my patience. I’ll say, “For crying out loud, it’ll taste the same if they’re bigger,” and smugly slam the sweet potatoes, that will be in quarters by then, in the oven.
We’ll do stuffing and pumpkin pie, and we’ll roast brussel sprouts after tossing them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. We’re having pork tenderloin, though. We thought about having a turkey but this year it’s just the four of us, and neither Jesse or I like turkey that much. On Saturday, we stood in front of the turkeys at Trader Joe’s while Hadley and Harper ran to the baskets of fruit strips, picking them out for their lunches.
“Let’s get filet,” I said, “I love filet.” But I regretted saying it because the only other time we didn’t have turkey in our almost sixteen Thanksgivings was the year I had a miscarriage. We had filet that year, our second Thanksgiving in DC. I remember feeling hollow and afraid, and on a drive around the city that weekend I saw a brick wall painted with Joshua 1:9 on it. “Don’t be afraid. I’m with you wherever you go,” it said, or something like that, and I laughed because that kind of stuff never happens to me, and I can’t stand when I hear other people talking about it because it seems too easy.
We’re going to make a cranberry relish with the meal, too. You simmer whole cranberries with cinnamon, dry white wine, juice from oranges, and rosemary until the berries pop. I found the recipe in a magazine a few days ago and showed Jesse because several Thanksgivings ago he’d made something that sounds exactly like this. We devoured it but lost the recipe and have been remorseful every Thanksgiving since.
“What year did you make those cranberries?” I asked Jesse when we were standing in the kitchen. I slid the magazine towards him and tapped my finger on the page where the recipe was. He looked it over and nodded, so I began to write the ingredients down on a grocery list we have on our fridge.
“I think that was our last year in South Bend,” he said, as he flipped pumpkin spiced pancakes and checked the bacon. “2003?” he added.
I think that was the year it was close to 60 degrees on Thanksgiving. Jesse and I took a bike ride in the morning along the East Race to where it emptied into the St. Joseph River. We could take a path that followed the river all the way to St. Mary’s and then to Notre Dame. I always liked to ride up to the Grotto and sit as close to the candles as I could get. Since I was little I’ve wanted to be Irish, and probably that’s because I grew up in Chicago, but after spending time at Notre Dame, I think it’s Catholic I want to be. I love all that symbolism. All those smoky prayers floating over the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus towards Gary, Indiana, the Sears Tower, or North, towards Grand Rapids and Mackinaw, and South to Ft Myers and New Orleans. I liked watching the candles and wondering about the prayers.
We didn’t need cranberries. I buy them every year in the hopes we’ll find the recipe. If we don’t, I make Ina Garten’s Cranberry Harvest muffins. You blend the berries up with cinnamon and walnuts and I forget what else, but they’re delicious. This year, though, we’ll re-create our cranberry relish.
We’re thinking about decorating for Christmas the next day. Maybe we’ll cut down a tree. There are a few farms nearby that we could go to if we want. Hadley and Harper would like that.
Growing up, that’s what my family did the Friday after Thanksgiving. We met my Aunt Joyce and my Aunt Lucy and their families at Hart’s in Rockford, Michigan, where we’d traipse through what felt like a forest and choose a tree to cut down. After, we’d have pizza at Lucy’s.
Thanksgiving was at Joyce’s, with the handmade name cards, the fancy table cloth over the ping-pong table, and a game of Pit around the wood stove in the basement. Friday was cut down the tree day, and pizza at Lucy’s. We played pool, watched movies, and drank pop from the fridge in the basement she kept fully stocked for us kids. Lucy always blasted Jim Croche and James Taylor throughout the house. I love my Aunt Joyce for her creativity and thoughtfulness. And Lucy? Well, Lucy was one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.
One year, while we were looking for a tree to cut down, my cousins had this contest going where you made a snowball then pointed to a tree you aimed to hit. Sort of like Babe Ruth. Nobody got anywhere near where we said we would. We probably hit a few people, too.
Except my brother Geoff, the youngest of the Ayanoglou cousins. Silently, he packed a snowball, pointed to a narrow space between two trees that, as I remember it, were so far away they looked like shrubs. He wound up, threw the snowball, and it sailed effortlessly exactly where he wordlessly said it would go. I think everyone looked at him differently after that day.
Anyway, we’ll make pork tenderloin and roast sweet potatoes until they’re crispy. We’ll have cranberry relish and brussel sprouts. There will be stuffing. And pumpkin pie. No ice-cream with it though, because I find that disgusting.
It’ll be our 1oth Thanksgiving in DC.