Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner Party (Richmond, VA)

These are some of the things that I am thankful for: growing up in a functional family; a son who is the light of my life; the best friends in the world; work that I love; a body and a mind that function reasonably well; more than enough of everything I need and virtually everything I want.

With so much to be thankful for, I am still a bit depressed on Thanksgiving Day. This is one of my favorite holidays, revolving around the things I most love -- family, friends, and food. Of the latter two, there is great abundance, and I am truly grateful.But I am surrounded by the empty space that family members used to occupy.

My parents are long-gone, and my in-laws, more recently deceased. I miss them all, especially at this time of year. My brother and his family and siblings-in-law with theirs, celebrate the holiday in their respective parts of the country. I wish I had a table to accomodate them all.

As I begin dinner preparations, I feel a lump in my throat. The deepest pain is that our son is not joining us; he is at university, too far away to visit for just a long weekend. He was the maker of stuffing, the baker of pumpkin pie. This year, unwilling to undertake the pie-baking, I purchase a chocolate almond torte and a cranberry-apple galette.

I call my son. He doesn't answer the phone, so I leave a message. "I miss you -- and your cooking." I attempt a light tone, but I feel just plain sad. "I love you...."

Meanwhile, fresh cranberries pop open in the pot, where they jive with a rind-and-all orange and just enough honey to eliminate bitterness, without becoming overly sweet. I remove now-fragrant pecans from the toaster-oven and mix them into the jewel-toned melange, cooling on the counter top.

Italian turkey sausages sizzle in a pan. I smush them with a wooden spoon and toss the crumbles -- no longer pink -- atop a waiting bowl of cubed whole grain bread. I saute a load of red onion in olive oil, add chopped celery, herb it up with rosemary, thyme, sage, and fresh basil, salt and pepper, add chicken broth, and bring it all to a boil. Ten minutes later, I mix everything together with toasted walnuts and slip the stuffing into a muffin pan to form 12 individual crisp-crusted servings (to avoid fights over the corner portions). The remainder goes into another greased pan for leftovers.

I de-string the green beans. The beans will be served at room temperature, sauted al dente in olive oil, tossed with slivers of garlic, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar, then salted, peppered, and finished off with a squeeze or two of fresh lemon.

The Romaine lettuce and red chard are rinsed and torn into bite-sized pieces. With quarter of a jar of red Italian peppers and a handful of green olives, they will comprise a simple but colorful salad.

While the turkey browns belly-up in the oven and the root vegetables (beets, garnet yams, turnips) and garlic cloves bake in their olive oil and herb-scented bath, I run the coats upstairs, dust the living room, mop the kitchen floor, clear and set the table for nine.

The cooking smells and constant business lift my spirits.

Carolina, my daughter-by-choice, her partner, and their precocious four-year-old will eat with us. Jeffery (a sushi chef and current student), his wife, Pyu Pyu, and two sons (the adults born in Burma but lived in Japan for 28 years before coming to the States) will. too. The table only seats 10, and I like Thanksgiving dinner to be a sit-down affair.

I silently pray that none of this year's invitees are anorexic. (One year I neglected to question why my two female guests probably didn't weigh 150 pounds put together.)

Pyu Pyu has brought vegetarian spring rolls and Indian (potato-filled) samosas. We eat them as appetizers and bring them to the table, adding ethnic zing to the spread of all-American eats. M. has concocted a last-minute "gravy," and makes us guess the secret ingredient, added to the olive oil, garlic, and onions. Nobody gets it: shredded wheat! We dig in and everything, with the exception of the stuffing muffins that I've burnt, is delicious. We wash it all down with lemonade, sparkling water, and/or red wine.

Former students, Valgine from Brazil, and Ahmed, from Saudi Arabia, arrive and receive filled plates. Jeffery and his family leave; the boys need to go to bed.

Ahmed brings us a Saudi dessert: homemade, fried whole wheat dough balls, pooled in honey. We drink coffee and add vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, semi-sweet chocolate-covered cranberries, and pomegranate seeds to our desserts. We travel with our plates between living room and kitchen, sipping mint tea or strong coffee.

Dinner is tasty, the conversation lively, our invitees charming. Dessert and life and so many memories are sweet. I am so thankful for it all.

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