|tags:||Food & Drink|
IN NOVEMBER 2003, I SPENT my last Thanksgiving holiday on the East Coast with my dearest friend, Tina, and her husband, Sam Sifton, author of the recently released Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. Twenty of us gathered in the garden behind their Long Island cottage on a hard, gray afternoon. A massive turkey gurgled in the boiling oil of a cauldron, and a safe-ish distance from it Sifton opened oysters with a sinister knife and served his guests expertly. His father wore a tweed jacket and leaned against a tree trunk while describing the sharp climate in Sag Harbor, across the bay. My husband braved an oyster. A single one. I’m a guest who doesn’t eat shellfish, so I doubled down on prosecco to be polite.
Inside, Tina laid a red runner on top of a cream tablecloth, as Sifton describes in Thanksgiving. There was candlelight and firelight, and our cheeks were rosy from the damp chill outside and the wine. There was a lot of bustle and laughter.
Besides the bird, Sifton prepared the gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and maple-glazed carrots. He worked the stove-top and oven like Bunsen Honeydew. He delegated the three-pepper stuffing and the pies to friends who’d already perfected those recipes. Judge Sifton brought his famed Brussels sprouts doused in cream. I made a delicious chocolate cake, which it pains me to think of since reading in Thanksgiving that chocolate should be saved for “nights of anxiety and depression.” We felt we were part of something special, as people do when they collaborate on something challenging and it turns out well, or turns out at all.
I thought this version of the holiday, with so many people, spanning three or four generations under one small roof, the different contributors to the meal working under Sifton’s guidance to do things well, which in this case meant correctly (except for me, anxious chocolate lover), and the feeling of harmony, and sweet drunkenness, was romantic and novel. It was like watching a play and acting in it simultaneously. Did the booze keep the family from fighting? Why weren’t any of them taking sarcastic swipes at each other? How come they all let Sifton order them around without resisting? That would never happen in my family. I was fascinated by this cozy, Sifton-brand Thanksgiving that had been cooked well and with curious obedience. I was, indeed, thankful. Except for a minute when Sifton declined to even taste my holiday-inappropriate chocolate cake.
When I moved my family west, I learned that, despite what Sifton claims about the holiday being the same all over with minor regional differences, you cannot have his sort of big, agreeable, crisp New England–style Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. Not least of all because it is never crisp. It is sunny and hot, or it is sunny and not terribly hot. It might be a little crisp in the wee hours while we sleep, but we don’t know. How could we? For any holiday or occasion, we can count on weather conditions to be dusty. We don’t pad around the Spanish-style stucco house or the bungalow court or the pool cabana in our wool socks on Thanksgiving morning, as Sam Sifton does. All the wool socks are in a bin in the garage with our snowboarding gear. We wear flip-flops.
This year Thanksgiving feels more important than last. Our president was resoundingly re-elected. Our friends and families up and down the Eastern Seaboard were slammed by Hurricane Sandy; many of them will face the winter and a...read more