Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tradition!


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Did someone say 'turkey'?

I love Thanksgiving.

LOVE IT!

When I lived in Boston, every Sunday was a holiday. (Trust me; you'd think so if you walked in on a Sunday Dinner.)
In fact, I would not even consider a marriage proposal from The Big Guy until he passed The Test, which consisted of him joining a Sunday Dinner. I had to see where he fell on the meter, you see.
If he'd walked in on that scene and, let's say, expressed dismay...he would have been out. Toast.
Sayonara, baby.

It's been done before.

You do not diss the food with my family.
(The Big Guy passed with flying colors. He saw The Test for what it was, intuiting that this was no special occasion, just a regular Sunday afternoon; though he had to learn the fine art of 'pacing'. He's a sprinter when it comes to eating, and that doesn't work with our multi-multi-multi-coursed dinner plan.
After that first encounter, he said, "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch. And I can run with the best of them!" And with that, he was in.)

We do not take lightly those guests who walk in and exclaim. "Oh My God! There's enough food here to feed a third world country! This is ridiculous! Nobody could ever eat all this food!"
True story.
She did not enjoy her evening. And she was not invited back.
You do not diss the food.

The reason there is so much food is, of course, the tradition. There are certain Sunday dinner dishes, and certain Holiday dishes. To leave one out is to risk an imbalance in the universe.
There are 'old' dishes, 'new' dishes, and everything in between.
Take Thanksgiving:
I'm not sure I could even list for you the fantastical dishes that used to make up our Thanksgiving.
But I love a challenge, and this walk down memory lane will be like wrapping up in a snuggly quilt! (Shut up. I smell the food issues, too.)

Thanksgiving was put on by the best Catering Company that ever existed. If you were fortunate enough to be invited to (or ballsy enough to crash) one of our Holidays, consider yourself special, 'cause it doesn't get any better than what you had.

The Catering Company? It was Ma (my Grandmother), Al (my Mother), Auntie Ro, and Aunt Joanne.

There were 15 of us in the 'immediate family', but we were routinely 40 for the Holidays with all the extended family and the strays. I counted. (I also set the tables.)
The booze budget alone was more than I spend now on our whole meal.

There was soup. The Good Chicken Soup, with the little meatballs and tortellini. Oh my. That was my Mother's specialty. Phenomenal.

There was antipasto. Because there always is. Meats and cheeses and hot peppers and mushrooms and olives. And bread, from the bakery.

There was a turkey. A big one. At least 20 pounds, or there wouldn't be enough leftovers.
And stuffing. My Mother was responsible for those two things.
But the gravy was all Ma. All Ma.
Twenty pounds of mashed potatoes. Al still has the bowl. It's bigger than what I used to bathe my kids in when they were babes. ('Course the turkey was bigger than my kids when they were babes...)

There were Aunt Joanne's chicken wings. I die for them, even today. I don't know how many pounds she had to do, but there was pan after pan, and they were marinated and cooked in trays and turned one-by-one and crispy, and savory-with just the right amount of sweet. They were Joe's favorite. Every time I attempt them (and they are NEVER EVER like hers) I think of them both.
drooling now. This is more pain than pleasure.

There was always pasta. Stuffed shells, or manicotti, or lasagne. With gravy. Meat gravy. Sausages, meatballs, spareribs. Oh dear God, the melt-in-your-mouth spareribs.

Eggplant parmigiana. Now, let's be clear, here. I'm not talking a 9x9 pan. I'm not talking a 9x13 pan. No, my dear friends, I'm talking the full-sized steam table pan, full of cheese-drooling fried eggplant, my One True Love, my favorite of favorites, my reason for living. How I love that eggplant.
(I never make it. Ever.)

A ham. A giant baked, spiral-sliced Honey Ham. Holy God, yum.

Stuffed mushrooms. Hundreds of 'em. Tray after tray of 'em. Little perfect globs of heaven.

Stuffed peppers. The stuffing was meat and rice. They melted in your mouth.

Stuffed artichokes. Oh, these were All Ma. So. Freakin'. Good. Only time all year I ever ate an artichoke, and the only time (I think) she made them. They were/are expensive; she hated to pay the price even that one time. She hated for anyone to pay the price. I don't make these for our dinner, because of that reason only- Ma would have a FIT if she knew I paid $1.79 for ONE artichoke. And really, Shaw's in Ellsworth?? 1.79 each???
Ma is no longer with us (but you can bet yer ass she's standing over our shoulders watching us make the gravy and the artichokes), so these jobs have fallen to Al. She's her Mother's daughter; nobody does those artichokes like her.

There were roasted sweet potatoes, and squash. I can't even guess at the quantities they cooked. But there was always plenty the next day, and they were in big pans.

And, hehe, the green bean casserole. This was a big joke. My Mother made the green bean casserole one year. You know the one, with the Campbell's soup and the stupid fried onions from a can. Now here was this feast fit for a king, every last bit of it made from scratch, and that (hehe) green bean casserole in the middle of it!
And you know damn well we kids ate the crap out of it. It was GONE.
The following year, there it was again! I remember Auntie Ro threatening to throw it out- "Are you kidding me? What the hell are you making that for??All this nice antipasto!!
I'LL fix the green beans!"
One year I forced all the kids to clean that bowl, just so my Mother could say "See that! Look! It's all gone- and you wanted to throw it out!"

I can't even talk about the desserts. Can't. Won't.
The cheesecakes, the pastries, the cannoli, the pies. Things I would give a kidney to eat right now, that I can't spell or translate into English.

Ah, the memories.

Things are so different now. Nobody can 'eat like that anymore'. Uncle Carmen was diagnosed with diabetes, and recipes were tweaked to be (a bit) healthier. (And we just recently lost him to the effects of diabetes. Things really won't be the same this year. Trying not to think about that.)
Everybody was getting older, and the cooking, which was a bit Too Much, became TOO MUCH.
The menu got pared down, even as our numbers grew. We 'kids' married, and had kids.
We omitted the soup. The antipasto got smaller. The peppers and the eggplant (gasp) were not a sure thing; their appearance depended on the number of people.

And then I moved to Maine.
You want to talk about culture shock? Ask me about my first Thanksgiving without my family.
I still haven't fully recovered.

Our own 'Thing" has evolved and devolved over the years.
I tried, for a very long time, to Do It All. Can you imagine the futility, me trying to recreate the dishes that four incredible cooks made all by myself?? And for two people??
Lots o' wine, that's all I'm sayin'.

It's still too much. But there are some traditions that must, must, must remain.
I'm now training my own kids (NOT just my daughter) what our special dishes are, why we make them, who used to make them, and what they mean to us.
Everything is still from scratch (even the pie crusts, this year. Sorry, Mr. Pillsbury.).

My daughter broke the bread cubes and mixed the stuffing by herself. My son seasoned the roasted carrots. They helped with the squash, the sweet potatoes, the apple and pumpkin pies. In years to come, I will alternate dishes, so they will learn how to make the chicken wings (though I feel a trip to Aunt Joanne's for dinner will be included, for the RealThing), the stuffed peppers, the artichokes, the eggplant.
I've given up (16 years later! I'm very determined. And stupid.) on trying to have it all. It costs too much; we are only four people; it's a LOT OF WORK.
So I've learned, the trick is to rotate the menu. It's the only way.

Because this is not 'just another meal'. I pity those who consider it so, because they don't get it (or maybe never had it to 'get'); that this is a continuation of a time-steeped tradition, a gathering of family (that maybe doesn't happen every week, like it used to for us) and friends, a celebration of food, of fullness, of richness of friends and family.
The traditions of my loud, raucous Italian family will be passed on to my kids. There will be too much food, and too many people at their own tables in years to come. (We incorporate Polish traditions, too. They are most evident at Easter.)
As it should be.

Today we will gather with friends to eat a huge meal that we will all be thankful for. We will enjoy each other's company. We will eat to excess, drink (not to excess!), laugh, joke, play pokeno, and then a few hours later...eat some more.

It's tradition!

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

5 comments:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Marissa. The talk of all that food has made me very, very hungry for my old Philadelphia Thanksgivings.

    With just three of us, we're like you ... much scaled down, but just as tasty!

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  2. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL

    WOULD YOU BELIEVE I DID NOT MAKE THE "GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE THIS YEAR!"

    WE WILL MISS YOU GUYS, YOUR BLOG WAS A CLASSIC
    LOVE,
    MOM (AL)

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  3. Sounds like loads of fun, and to be able to taste a bit of everything would have to be a goal. The leftovers must be incredible - the chicken wings were making me drool. I'll have to go raid the frig now and then back to my knitting and movies. I am grateful that I don't have to work today(although I will need to be there tomorrow, but only for one day and then the weekend) Thanks for sharing such a wonderful meal with us.

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  4. what a fantastic post I think I am hungry again!!! Happy Thanksgiving

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  5. I think Doug could be an honorary member of your family...he was really eyeing those pies after his three full plates of food and then three slices of pie. Me? I think I'm still full. Thanks again for a wonderful meal and great company. m

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