Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my family’s favorite holiday, and I think still is, despite my father and mother no longer part of the feastivities. Some of you might claim Christmas as your favorite family holiday, but for mine the highlight of the year was always the Thanksgiving feast and gathering. The days following found us enjoying leftovers and playing a variety of games or perhaps, lazily working a puzzle on the gaming table.
Raised always to be grateful and thankful throughout the year, not just one day a year, Thanksgiving was a culinary celebration. While the traditional mashed potatoes (real boiled potatoes mashed with heavy cream), gravy, cranberry sauce, yams, baked rolls, dressing, and pies of pumpkin and pecan persuasion were at the table every year, the main dish varied. Traditional butterball turkey made an appearance more than others, but sometimes we ventured into having a goose, individual cornish hens, honey baked ham (sometimes that was a second main dish), beef Wellington, or other non-traditional exotics.
But I will always remember my best eating came during the days after when I would craft my all-time favorite sandwich: turkey + mashed potatoes + dressing + cranberry sauce = bliss. To this day, I’ll grab one of those whenever I find one in the readymade section of a grocery store or on a restaurant’s menu (although never with mashed potatoes!). Of course, the store or restaurant versions pale by comparison in taste to the homemade kind, but still a treat that triggers past Thanksgiving memories.
As our family grew older and drifted apart, this November day rarely saw the whole family together but instead celebrating in our separate homes. I know a fond memory of my two adult sons during their years attending the University of Toledo were the Thanksgivings when I cooked a mega-fest and they took the short drive down to Findlay, Ohio, to enjoy the family’s traditional dinner. While they certainly enjoyed the meal time with Dad, I understood clearly their real mission that day was to take back most of the leftovers that would see them through the weekend. To that purpose, I always cooked way more than needed, and per their preference, always had a ham along with a main bird of some type (even duck one time). Ample leftover sides along with many slices of pumpkin and pecan pie also made the journey back to Toledo.
My highlight memory of this feast with them was always dessert, when they would take the can of whipping cream and bury their pie slice until it looked like a mini-igloo on the plate. We always laughed about that, from my traditional Dad joke of ”Want some pie with your whipped cream?” to the traditional first fork challenge to take away just enough whipping cream to reveal only the tip of the pie in that mountain of white.
This year, as I sit in my camper van in the warm sunshine of open land near Blythe, California, near the border of Arizona, I think of those feasting days and look forward to having more with my boys some day in the future. For now, I am thankful for the adventurous life I am leading, and for these fond memories of past family Thanksgiving days. I do have a somewhat festive mini feast of mine own planned today, courtesy of Trader Joe’s for the most part. Given that I eat healthy these days, this one decadent meal wisely does not include any traditional leftovers.
Hoping you are with yours on this day of marvelous feasting but if not, enjoy your own mini-feast while fondly remembering past times with family and friends.