Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What I Did On My Vacation, Part Two

I would refer you to part one, but this hasn't exactly been scintillating stuff so far. If you want to read it, go ahead, but you won't be lost here if you don't. Blame CatPants. She suggested I write about this, in response to my asking folks to tell me what to write about. I'm sure it seemed like a perfectly reasonable request when she made it, but how was she to know I'd take such a boring vacation?


Wednesday the 23rd

Day before the big gathering of relatives and friends, so time to take care of whatever needs to be taken care of around the house. I dust all around, clean the floors, take stuff from the living room and stuff it wherever it will fit in the bedroom, etc.

Also, I prep whatever foods I can beforehand. I peel and chop the turnips, same with the squash, lay out some orderve trays, make sure all of the pots and pans are clean, check one last time to see that everything I need is here and that I don't have to go to the store again.

(Doesn't sound like a vacation, does it? Well, if I didn't take the time off, I'd have to do all of this stuff between the time I woke up on Thursday and 1pm, when I expect folks to start showing up, so it's a vacation from that...)

Really, all I wanted was time off from work so that Thanksgiving wouldn't be a hurried pain-in-the-ass, and so that I could just nap, watch sports, read a book, or do whatever else I wanted to, when I wanted to, and that alone would be enough to let me relax and get rid of the tensions I'd built up from work. I hadn't had a real vacation in over a year, so this really did the trick. I am, despite the work involved in hosting Thanksgiving, very relaxed. And I just love Thanksgiving, and I love cooking for groups, so that's a treat, as long as I have plenty of time to accomplish it in the manner I wish.

Here I will mention how invaluable MY WIFE is as an ally in this endeavor. She remembers things that need to be done that I would have missed entirely and then swore a blue streak about. For instance, every year I totally forget about putting the rolls in the oven. She makes sure they get done in time. She keeps everybody amused while I go about finishing everything. She makes sure everybody is happy and comfortable while I'm struggling to get the potatoes mashed, while making the gravy and carving the bird and re-heating everything at two minute intervals in the microwave. She sets the table and arranges the seating and gets everybody's drink orders and a hundred other details I just wouldn't have time for. She thinks she doesn't do enough, and she'll even think this paragraph makes her look bad, but it doesn't and I couldn't do it without her.

Not much else to tell about today. Gassed up Roddy (our car) and watched the Celtics. In between those two things and the cleaning and food prep, I read a few chapters of Let Me Tell You A Story, a book about Red Auerbach by John Feinstein, which I recommend highly if you're a Celtics' fan or a basketball nut or both.

Thursday the 24th, Thanksgiving

Up early to stuff the bird and get it into the oven. I don't have a recipe for stuffing, but it comes out OK every year. I just keep throwing bread, pearl onions, celery and Bell's Seasoning together, with a little water, until the consistency and smell seem right. It works.

Bird in the oven, so time to start on the turnip and squash, which I prepped last night. I have enough turnip to feed about 30, but it's one of my favorite leftovers, so no problem. I prepare the squash with maple syrup and it's really, really good. Now I can lay out the cranberry sauce, and make a tray with roasted red peppers, pickled banana peppers, celery and dill pickle quarters (for folks to nibble while waiting), and a basket of shelled mixed nuts, for those who don't want any vegetables before the meal. After that, I get to work on the yams, the carrots, the green beans (french cut), the potatoes, and everything else. MY WIFE ably assists. Meanwhile, the bird needs basting every twenty minutes or so.

Man! I absolutely loooooooove the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking! Somebody should make an air freshener of it.

That's enough detail about the cooking. If you've done it yourself, you know it already, and if you don't do the cooking, it probably bores hell out of you to hear about it.

First to arrive are my Mom, Step-Dad Bill, and good friend Tom Starr. Mom brings the desserts every year. This year it's apple pie, pumpkin pie, peach pie, whipped topping, and hard sauce. Hard Sauce may be unique to my family; I don't know. It's a concoction of butter, powdered sugar and vanilla, and it really goes grrrrreat
with pumpkin or squash pie. Tom makes a very good dish with parsnips each year and he has that with him.

Next up are my Uncle Rick and Grandma. Uncle Rick comes bearing chocolates. Excellent! My Grandma will be 100 on December 1st. She's an amazing lady. You'll see what I mean tomorrow when I write about her.

Finally, when I'm just about to give up on them and start serving, my cousin Scott and his wife, Andrea, arrive. Usually, they're the first ones to arrive each year, but for some reason they had the idea that we might not be doing Thanksgiving this year and had made no plans to stop by. I found out that this might be the case when I called my Mom just this morning and she mentioned that she hadn't spoken to them about coming. Knowing how uber-polite they are, I figured I'd better call them and make sure they knew they were welcome. So, I called them and told them, "Well, of course we're having Thanksgiving! And we love you and expect you to be here every year unless told otherwise!" Anyway, they came with a cheese ball, crackers, and more egg nog. Now we can get this show on the road!

I planned everything to be ready to serve at 2pm. This is because that's halftime of the Detroit Lions game. Bill and I are the big pro football fans, so this is to accommodate us. By the time everything is finished and the desserts come out, it will be a short bit into the third quarter.

Everything goes very well. I receive many compliments, which I appreciate, but I wonder - does anybody ever tell the host that the food sucks?

Desserts! And coffee, mints, football, good conversation - everything that caps a fine meal. This is my favorite time of the whole day. Everything is done, everybody is well-fed and happy, there's football on the TV, I've got some pie and coffee... Life Is Good. Thanks, God!

The rest of the afternoon is spent watching football, burping, packing up some take-home meals for everyone, and enjoying some conversation with my Grandma (and everybody else, of course, but she's a bit [a lot] deaf, so she rarely gets the ebb and flow in a conversation involving lots of folks, so I sort of stick by her side for much of the time and just enjoy listening to her.)

Around halftime of the second football game, everybody has gone home. MY WIFE and I do a quick clean-up and then just sit back and enjoy each other's company (and I also enjoy a small turkey sandwich on one of the leftover rolls, along with some stuffing.)

Not much else to say about this, except that it is easily my favorite holiday. Christmas used to be, and it is still tremendous and meaningful, but as I grow older the Thanksgiving celebration has overtaken it. I'm not sure I could put into words why, but I suspect it has something to do with just getting older. I mean, I was never one of those greedy kids who looked forward to Christmas with unbridled avarice - I've never gotten a gift I didn't like, so anything was appreciated - but I think it might have a bit to do with that end of things. I enjoy the giving and receiving, and the religious aspects of the holiday are important to me, but it just doesn't give me that frisson it used to when I was younger.

To bed, to dream of leftovers. Yum!

Friday the 25th, Saturday the 26th, Sunday the 27th

I'm going to wrap things up quickly, as nothing of much import happened on these days. More football and more Celtics. Did you see the new uniforms? Not as bad as I expected they might be. I would rather they never change the uniforms, on any team, but especially so with a franchise that embodies so much tradition and past success that they shouldn't need to resort to cheap marketing ploys, but the new uniforms really aren't too bad. And they won, so maybe it's a good thing.

I read some more of the Auerbach book, took another long walk, ate gigantic amounts of leftover turkey and fixings, took more naps, and generally enjoyed the leisure time. That's about it, folks.

Tomorrow is my Grandma's 100th birthday, so please come back to read all about her. Until then...

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