Of cooking large birds and eating them in America

Yes, dearest comrades, it has been quite some time since my last update. You will, I trust, forgive my absence on the interwebs. I have been busy teaching and writing or procrastinating to avoid writing. But I offer you this short post as an offering of peace and goodwill in this, oh most ridiculous but glorious holiday season.

Thanksgiving is a strange cultural quirk of this great nation. It’s founding mythology is, I have little doubt, primarily apocryphal. Even if indeed two otherwise warring parties in the early days of the U.S. settlement broke bread, is it not just a little bit difficult to imagine that some long-ago coming together of the White Man and the group of people he went on to nearly eradicate in his genocidal push Westward merits the annual over-consumption of birds, booze and gourd pies?* But despite this dubious history, I must nonetheless say: I love this holiday.

This may be mostly because I love eating and drinking, but it is also because I have a very large, very funny, very bizarre family and they all come together on Thanksgiving to eat and drink with me. The standard policy is a minor showing of travelers on Wednesday evening at wherever the hosting family chooses to make a reservation. The big Thursday is an all-day cooking affair in which everyone is ready with always unrequested and often unwanted and unwarranted culinary advice for the chefs. Our family-wide penchant for criticism  is linked, as well, to one of the dishes we serve. Each year, despite the pleas of nearly all of the cousins, we insist on making what’s known as ‘Waldorf relish’. This is a gelatinous, savory, molded foodstuff that harkens back to a 50s era American obsession with jello. There are apples and peppers in it. It wiggles. It’s an abomination. But Grandma Sara, the matriarch of the family and the woman responsible for what seems a genetic predisposition to self-righteousness and inflexibility, served Waldorf relish which means we have to keep serving Waldorf relish. Forever.

There are, too, the standards: mashed potatoes, turkey, peas with pearl onions, stuffing and the like. Usually a whole roasted salmon. Sometimes they let me make brussels sprouts. The timing of all this cooking is very important: we don’t bother with that ludicrous mid-day or late afternoon meal. It’s dinner at the dinner hour followed by pies at the pie hour. No elbows on the table. No eating until everyone is served. Always pass the salt with the pepper and no, you can’t have the last cinnamon roll without suffering stinging glances from everyone at the table who notices. Needless to say we eat a lot. We laugh a lot. Barbs are exchanged and we grow more riotous with each opened bottle of red wine. We go to bed tipsy, but full and happy.

Thursday is followed by an equally large and perhaps still more lavish meal out on Friday night. This dinner is usually covered by my father (perhaps his punishment for not actually having remained married into the family–his conversion to hanger-on status has cost him thousands over the years). If you’re keeping up that’s three multi-course, family-packed, wine-fueled meals in a single week. And that’s not even counting the occasional brunches thrown in if someone gets engaged or has a baby.

I’m often, at these dinners, chastised by my uncles for my anti-capitalist idiosyncrasies and disdain for U.S. foreign and economic policy. But if I’m honest, all week long I love America. Genocidal history be damned, I adore Thanksgiving. I’ll go further: God Bless America! God bless the turkeys who sacrifice their lives for our gluttony! God bless even the poor, misguided soul who thought it was a good idea to put fruits and vegetables together with jello! God bless us all!


*I realize this is a wildly long sentence that any good editor would break apart. I just don’t care. This is America. My sentences can run on as long as I’d like them to.