The past thirty years of Thanksgiving have been memorable. More often than not, we hosted. Over the years, my wife and I developed a rhythm of who did what, when and how. Our Thanksgiving routine ran like clockwork.
This year? Not so much.
It was our first condo Thanksgiving, and it almost felt like our first time hosting. We had to learn some things, and unlearn others… all at the same time. It took some old-fashioned American ingenuity.
For starters, we had to learn how to refrigerate a lot of stuff without a back-up fridge in the basement. I do not know how the pilgrims and their indigenous friends did it in 1621. I read somewhere they didn’t even have one refrigerator back then. Really? Where did they put the turkey while it was brining, the cranberry sauce, candied yams, fresh produce, beer, cider for the kids, and whipping cream for the pumpkin pies???
Luckily, this year was cold enough that we put the beer cooler on the deck, and turned it into a squirrel-proof back-up refrigerator. And we bought a pre-brined turkey. American ingenuity, indeed.
After making the pumpkin pies the day before, there was no safe place to store them. They ended up on the laundry room counter, next to the Clorox.
In order to overcome our narrow kitchen, we scheduled Wednesday and Thursday kitchen shifts for dishes prepped in advance. For the last-minute items (my mashed potatoes, for example, and gravy, which our figlia-in-law is now in charge of), when three of us were working feverishly in that limited space, we got to know each other very well.
In order to seat all 13 of us in the dining room, we set up a folding table next to our dining room table. As long as back-to-back people didn’t spontaneously stand up at the same time, we avoided injuries. And when the two tables were set, they created an almost-picture-perfect effect.
Of course, there was no roaring fireplace. A fire in the fireplace always created a Norman Rockwell sense of warmth in past years. The Netflix fireplace app provided some humor for a while, but Netflix doesn’t have the burning-wood smell mastered. Yet.
The biggest obstacle we had to deal with was our new culinary technology. Our building is all-electric, so we had to learn how to do pies, yams, casseroles, mushrooms, turkey and stuffing in a brand new, state-of-the-art electric induction (WTF is that?) stove, with convection baking and roasting options. My goodness.
I now realize I should have begun researching the turkey before Wednesday. My bad. As a result, the turkey was not memorable. We served mostly white meat, which was cooked, and little dark meat, which was less cooked. To our guests reading this, don’t worry; we only served cooked meat. And I’m starting my research for next year right now.
But… we did it. Thanksgiving happened in our condo home. Everyone survived. As of this writing, no reports of food poisoning or lawsuits for being seated at the second table.
At one point, midway through my second helping of green bean casserole, stuffing and gravy, I realized one thing that was universally the same every Thanksgiving: noise level. When you gather 13 people who know and love each other into one room, and add good food and ample wine (the wine helps), the result will be very loud. For an old guy with bad hearing, that’s okay. It gave me an excuse for not understanding everything people were saying.
When you’re young, hosting your first holiday meal is an initiation into adulthood. This was our condo’s initiation into homehood.
And we realized the difference between essentials and non-essentials of Thanksgiving. Essentials: people (family and friends), chaos, noise, and too much food. Non-essentials: big kitchen, spacious seating around picture-perfect table, working fireplace. Ironically, this was similar to the non-Ward-and-June-Cleaver Thanksgivings I remembered from childhood.
Except that I enjoyed this one much more.