The day after. (Thanksgiving, Part II).
It always feels slightly disconcerting to eat a meal that I didn't help prepare in any way. Particularly when it is Thanksgiving, and instead of being in our own kitchen creating a meal out of chaos (and twenty-five pounds of turkey) we are in someone else's cavernous kitchen, all sorts of dishes spread across the dark granite countertops. There is turkey, of course, brined according to Alton Brown's recipe, moist and juicy and incredibly flavorful. There is a spiral-sliced ham, sweetly glazed and adorned with pineapple. And there are lamb chops, pan-seared over a roaring gas flame on the giant stove that anchors the great expanse of this kitchen which is nearly as large as my entire apartment. The stuffing is sweet with raisins and savory with herbs and are those bits of sausage in there? And mashed potatoes, enough mashed potatoes to fill a rowboat.
The thing about Thanksgiving and other holidays that you celebrate year after year is that they come haunted with memories. Last night there was a candied-yam casserole, honey-sweet mashed yams topped with mini-marshmallows and broiled until the marshmallows turned golden brown and caramelized. It was like a buttery sweet bomb of sunset-orange pudding. I have not had such a dish since the late 80's, one of the rare times we had Thanksgiving at someone else's house - the home of an old colleague and friend of my father's. We children performed a skit where a giant evil turkey (played by me, since I was the only girl not wearing a skirt) terrorized a village (the other kids) until they managed to kill me with a stick of dynamite, or something like that. I remember nothing else except the sweater I wore - it was black and patterned with colors, like a stained-glass window - and that M. and I looked up from our intense discussion of the film Au Revoir, les Enfants (remember, I was about nine and she was two or three years older) to realize that all the grownups were watching these two kids discuss an incredibly depressing French film about World War II.
Most of the Thanksgivings past blur together, save for a few that stand out clearly. One year we all went to my uncle's cabin in the woods, and the power went out, so dinner was late. As there were two teenage boys present, all the turkey was gone by the next morning. Another year, my first year of college, I met up with my parents in New York City and instead of a turkey we attempted to roast a duck in the oven of my grandfather's apartment, an oven that had never been used, and which managed to let out a few puffs of vague warmth before extinguishing entirely. Let me tell you, it is not impossible to roast a duck in a toaster oven. And then there was the last Thanksgiving my parents and I had together as a family, where we invited several friends, with the grownups in the dining room and the kids in the kitchen, a marathon of a meal that had three parts: part one, prepared by my mother, composed of the gentle, refined Chinese cooking that is her signature, part two, a gigantic paella prepared by my father, and part three, turkey with all the appropriate trimmings, prepared by me. I kid you not.
Perhaps my family and I will be together again for future Thanksgivings. Perhaps there will be new memories, new traditions, grounded in the old ones, the old memories. Or I will have to create my own.