For this week's Seven Days, I called a bunch of people around the state to find out if they had any amusing Thanksgiving anecdotes to share. Happily for them, most people claimed that their T-days usually go pretty smoothly.
At my holiday feasts, though, drama is a regular attendee. For as long as I can remember, since I was 20 or 21, I think, I've been the primary Thanksgiving cook at my mom's house. Because my family doesn't get out to eat much, I've always tried to make extra exciting and fancy stuff for them. This often ends in tears, or dinners eaten at 11 p.m. And then there was the time that my sister was cutting sweet potatoes and removed part of her fingertip with the brand-spankin'-new chef knife I'd given my mom for her birthday. Sorry, sis.
Anyway, one year I decided to make a chestnut and celeriac ravioli from Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook. The time-consuming dish involved roasting and peeling chestnuts and pureeing them with cooked celeriac, mixing the puree with cream, pushing it through a sieve to render it perfectly smooth, and then dolloping it on sheets of homemade pasta dough.
Needless to say, it took forever to make the filling, but it tasted amazing. However, my family was hungry, the hour was late, and I started to rush. As I cranked out the pasta dough, I dusted each sheet with flour and put plastic wrap between them to keep 'em separated. Bad, bad choice. I hadn't used enough flour and they stuck together. Frustrated, I tugged them apart, stuffed them and put them in boiling water. And they disintigrated. When I separated them, I had created spots in the dough that were too thin, and the water blew them open and washed away the filling. Almost all of my beautiful puree ended up taking a bath. About 6 of the ravioli came out unscathed. Next time I'll know better. Luckily there was plenty of other food, everything tasted good, and we really savored those few, perfect pillows of pasta.
I wish I could tell you about the time my husband had to singe the bristles off of half of a suckling pig over the flame on my mom's gas stove. But that didn't happen on Thanksgiving...
I also asked a few members of the Seven Nights Bite Club to share some of their stories. I only got two responses, not enough to make a separate section in the paper, but here they are:
"I visited my aunt and uncle, along with eight or nine others. My cousin (their son) is a great kid with a severe mental handicap and his idea of helping his mom with the cooking was to secretly turn off the oven shortly after the bird went in. This wasn't discovered until late in the process, when much of the other food had been prepared and the family had gathered at the house for the scheduled 2 PM meal. There was a sudden rescheduling, of course, to get the oven warmed up again and get the turkey back on the menu."
"The men in my family are gourmets. This may not seem like a dire pronouncement to you, but when it comes to big, family holidays, each is convinced that his own food should reign supreme. This competitiveness isn't a big problem at Christmas - one will bake ham, one will roast a turkey, another will braise a rabbit, and so on. However, everyone knows that turkey is the crowning glory of a traditional Thanksgiving and we easily end up with several full sized turkeys a year from those who refuse to stoop side dish levels. Each guy spends weeks plotting new recipes and days marinating, brining, smoking, and roasting, hoping his turkey will be recognized as the best of the year. However, it's all for naught as the women pronounce the family patriarch's turkey best every year without fail and leave the others to their culinary schemes for next year.
My boyfriend (yet another man who loves to cook) is traveling to Virginia with me this year to meet my family for the first time. Luckily, he does not yet know about the turkey rivalries and Thanksgiving food wars. For at least one year, peace will be kept and he will be a solid side dish man."
What's your story?