I created a menu for Thanksgiving. It was the kind of menu you print on heavy ecru paper with rounded corners edged in gold, framed, placed on a table of mixed company—the joining of strangers, much like a wedding or East Coast bar mitzvah. I printed it on resume paper, these courses of carbs, with an opening paragraph about rituals and tradition. I stuffed the menu, and several copies, into envelopes, licked stamps, and actually mailed them to my grandfather, my uncle, my sister, and father. I wanted, more than anything that year, to keep our family together.
My Grandfather called me to say he received the menu invitation and that it seemed awfully "mighty," I think he’d said. There was a laugh in his voice, as if to say, "Boy I really appreciate this, but uh, I know you won’t actually do all this." Something like, "I’ll believe it when I see it, but thanks for thinking of me." Oh, I’ll do it! You’ll see, just you wait.
I wanted so much to live up to something, to feel important, to make everyone feel safe, and holy hell, I wanted to cook, to have the opportunity to do it all my way.
There’s an art to creating a menu, regions to consider, contrasting textures and tastes, a tight weave of interlocking traditions, stringing through what’s familiar to everyone but bringing something new to it, something that’s yours. It’s storytelling. This year’s story:
THANKSGIVING 2009, MARINER SANDS, FL.
Spanikopita: Spinach & Feta, Phyllo Triangles
Rotisserie Turkey: Out on the grill, with drip pan below to catch all the goodies
Candied Sweet Potatoes: Fresh Sweet Potatoes, Orange Juice Concentrate, Brown Sugar, Zest, Butter, Cinnamon
Yukon Gold Mash: With Sour Cream & Fresh Snipped Chives folded in
Stuffing "Dressing": French Baguette Bread Cubes, Walnuts, Pecans, Celery, Sweet Onion, Fuji Apples, Fresh Parsley, Sage, Thyme, Marjoram, Rosemary, Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg, Breakfast Sausage, & Golden Raisins
Tart Cranberry Sauce: Fresh Cranberries, Macintosh Apples, Anju Pear, Sugar
Cheesemonger’s Mac ‘N’ Cheese (recipe): Brie, White Aged Cheddar, Extra-Sharp Cheddar, Gruyere, Flour, Butter, Whole Milk, Elbows, French Baguette Cubes tossed in butter for Crust
Sweet Corn Pudding (recipe): 4 C. Fresh corn cut off the cob, 4 Tbl. butter, 6 Tbl. Sugar, Whipping Cream, 4 Eggs, Whole Milk, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 Tbl Flour
Steamed Fresh String Beans
Butternut Squash: Roasted with onion, dried cranberries, salt, pepper, dry rubbed sage
Homemade Cider Gravy: Yes, boiled neck and "innards & gizzards"
When I create a menu, I sometimes feel like we’re playing a game of make-believe, where whatever we imagine has the possibility of a reality to support it. Today I asked Lucas, "What would you like in your pie?"
"A pie," he said.
"A pie within a pie?!"
"Yes, mama. Good idea."
My son’s a genius. It’s like a baker’s version of Turducken. Now all we need to do is figure out how to do it. I’m guessing it’ll somehow become a layered bar, wrapped in pastry. We’ll have to see.
As much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes have big plans but fail to execute, overwhelmed by steps, planning, and most certainly, timing. So that year when I’d spent days composing a menu fit for kings, that’s all there was: intention. Imagination. A mailed menu, my gesture. And somehow it was enough. Enough for me, enough for us all. I don’t remember the details of what or where we ate, but I know we were all together. And this Thanksgiving, so many years later, kids later, a husband later, new step-mothers and fathers later, I’m thankful for the memories I’m able to hold, thankful for imagination without limits, and so thankful that I’m able to realize that trying, thought, and intention will always be enough for me. Happy Thanksgiving!