Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Morning

I am enjoying the calm before the storm. Everybody but me is still in bed (a common occurrence). The house is absolutely silent but for the clacking of my fingernails on the computer keys. (That is also a common occurrence in our house.)

I just mapped out the cooking schedule for today. I grew up in a household where cooking and entertaining were almost the raison d'etre for my mother. She's a great cook and until recently she loved to entertain. She is also a great home economist: organized and amazingly frugal.

Thanksgiving in our house usually involved days of advanced preparation. There was not just one Mrs. Smith's frozen pie from Target. No. There were homemade pies: pumpkin, mince meat, apple (from our tree), and, usually, pecan (if we received the box of pecans from the Southern relatives in time). Depending on the size of the crowd and how many of the Southern relatives were coming, there might be several pumpkin pies or maybe some sweet potato pies as well.

Bread was my department. I baked homemade rolls and breads on Wednesday evening.

Mom always had snacks galore so people could load up all day. She worked on snacks and hors d'oeuvres for days.

Thanksgiving day was a frenzy in the kitchen. She normally cooked at least one very large turkey, plus a ham. There were always mashed potatoes (real ones not the boxed ones from WalMart that my family thinks is the only way you can get mashed potatoes) and sweet potato casserole. Due to a diversity of family tastes there were always three bowls of dressing: one with giblets (yuck!), one without giblets and not cooked inside the bird (that was my dish), and one cooked inside the bird (I don't know if that one had giblets or not; I never ate it). Sides included three different kinds of cranberries: smooth, chunky and a cranberry salad with nuts and citrus, plus an ambrosia salad to die for. Vegetables? You name it, she cooked it. Mostly I remember there were always Lima beans because they are my favorite vegetable. Other than that, I don't remember. Who eats the veggies on Thanksgiving anyway? She made gravy both with and without giblets. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but it was always an amazing feast.

We also used the good dishes for Thanksgiving, whether it was just the family (which happened rarely) or whether we were feeding the masses. We did not have a dishwasher and I wasn't much help in the kitchen, so doing the dishes was my job. Mom was one of those wash-as-you-go cooks. Therefore, I was usually washing pots and pans and mixing bowls pretty soon after I dragged my ass out of bed. (Which tended to be hours after she had started cooking).

The kitchen looked like the aftermath of a hurricane all day long until about five minutes before we sat down at the table. At that point, it all came together like a magic spell in a movie. There were a few minutes of total chaos while we tried to get all the dishes on the table while they were still hot, then peace reigned by the time we said Grace.

It never ceased to amaze me, but it happened every year. She never forgot anything, and everything came out done at the same time. Her secret was not magic. It was hard work, done according to a rigid timetable. A week or so before Thanksgiving she would sit down and work her way backwards from the Zero Hour, scheduling every single task she had to do to make it come out. Making that schedule took a long time, but she always said if she stuck to the schedule, she knew she could pull it off. She stuck it to a cabinet door with a magnet, and it was her Bible and road map from the moment she hung it up until she sat down to eat.

The "timetable" was one of the many wonderful valuable lessons I have learned from my mother. I use it for every large meal I ever make (even though the largest and most elaborate meal I make today barely rises to the level of Mom's normal Sunday dinner). I use a "timetable" for packing for trips, and anything else where I have a deadline to finish multiple tasks.

This week I had conversations with two different people who said they would have absolutely no idea how to go about preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. I find that sad. I have eaten out for Thanksgiving and I have been a guest in other peoples' homes, and it's just not as good.... because you don't have the best part of the Thanksgiving dinner: THE LEFTOVERS.

So, I'm cooking this year, just as I have every year since we moved to Florida. My meal is much simpler than my mother's and I have done absolutely no advance preparation ... other than to make my timetable. I used my menu to generate the shopping list and also to generate my timetable. My Zero Hour is 5:00 p. m. According to my timetable, have until 10:30 a. m. to mess around, and get in a good long walk.

This year, Daughter Dear said she wants to help make the meal. I am not very good at sharing my kitchen, but I'm going to try to make the effort so she can learn how to manage the process. I don't want to think that someday she might stand around at work lamenting that her mother never taught her how to organize and cook a Thanksgiving meal.

Happy Thanksgiving! (I gotta go... I have two hours for a walk before I have to organize my ingredients and get out the pans...)

No comments: