By choosing atheism I have taken the wind out of a lot of holidays. I could easily get bogged down in a defensive posture to rally against the inconsistencies and fairytales that comprise the pandemic delusions we call religion. Ebenezer Scrooge ain't got nothing on an atheist. With all of our crazy 'logic' and silly 'reason' we approach the holidays with skepticism and sensitivity that can suck out the joy and the merry.
Some could argue that we don't deserve to celebrate many holidays and we should just leave the praising parties to the pious. Historically, I call foul. Atheists love to point out that many of the holidays celebrated today are actually poached from pagan traditions. Your Christmas was really winter solstice. Your easter was a fertility festival. And we all know that Hanukah is just an excuse for Jews to give presents, not to be outdone by their Christian neighbors.
Thanksgiving, while decidedly non-religious, isn't without exception. In my twenties and thirties I would call it "the rape and pillage of the Native American homeland day". Today, that just seems douchey. In my forties life is all about acceptance, awareness and balance. Moreover, I'd rather focus my energies on being a foodist and a hedonist. A Holiday centered around food. Sign me up!
Plus there's this whole idea of giving thanks - what a novel concept! In the past few years I've undergone a deep exploration of the nature of appreciation, giving and receiving. A dear old friend and mentor, Jim Freedom recently told me "If you ask yourself what you really want from life, would that not include what we call the 'light'; appreciation, joy, love, gratitude? And that comes with practice. The quality of our life experience is reflected in how we emotionally react to what life is offering." Damn, that's some good juice!
So what better way for me, the zealous epicurean, to offer thanks & appreciate to my community - to the universe, than through food! Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for me and mine. As a child I loved visiting my relatives in Boston for Thanksgiving, who now live out here in California. We've re-dedicated a tradition to celebrate together with my friends and extended family here. Through college and beyond I developed many of my current Thanksgiving practices (tequila, in particular) with the Colorado contingent of my family. I miss celebrating with them and hope someday we can join forces again. And, for the past decade, I've become the host. I own Thanksgiving. It's my hold-it-now. It's my rhyme.
I hear many people get nervous about preparing the annual meal-of-meals. Like New Year's Eve is for partying, Thanksgiving is amateur night for cooking. It's the one time a year many people will host a dozen-twenty people and they're stymied. The problem is in the preparation. Many people don't allow themselves the time to tackle turkey-day tenderly. It's a four-day event, people. No more, no less. You don't need full days, just a few hours each to get in stride for cooking on Wed.
DAY 1 - Monday You should have planned a menu a while ago. In my next post I will share with you my 2011 menu. I like to reinvent traditional dishes and sometimes tackle a theme. With the right preparation you can actually get creative. Go to foodandwine.com or saveur.com or epicurious.com - narrow down your choices and print out a stack of options. Plan to enter Monday with recipes in hand, raring to go.
Create your shopping list today. I find the best way is to take all of the recipes and go through them one by one, listing the ingredients on a spreadsheet. Then put the amounts of each item in the row (for example butter might have 8tbs + 2 sticks + 4tbs for multiple recipes). Then I'll add up the amounts and round them up to cover my butt. I'll add a column to identify which store to obtain the item (I often hit 3-4 stores for Thanksgiving). You could even break it down by sections within the store (produce, dairy). This makes it easy to tackle the shopping tomorrow.
Day 2 - Tuesday Get your shopping done today. Everyone else is going to be clambering at the stores on Wed. go early when the shelves are stocked and the staff aren't burnt out.
I also use Tuesday to do my most advance preparations. Anything I can cut, prep, chop or prepare and freeze today, knock it out. The more you finish today, the easier tomorrow will be.
Day 3 - Wednesday This is your big day. If you want to actually enjoy Thanksgiving, get it done today. It is important to think about execution tomorrow and how you can utilize the available oven and stovetop space effectively. Remember, the turkey is going to take up the entire oven for most of the day. If you can prepare the other oven dishes to near finality, you can heat them up while the turkey is resting. We often plan our meals in multiple courses to avoid the major crush of turkey time. It allows us to space out the day and relax a little bit, enjoying each dish on it's own (of course you want to have your turkey and it's sides together, but try to keep the plate piling to a minimum).
Prepare everything so that the dishes that must be cooked tomorrow (turkey and mashed potatoes are the only ones I leave for Thursday) can be done with ease and focus. Brine or season your turkey and put it aside. Start your gravy with the neck and giblets and put it aside to add turkey juices tomorrow. Get all of your side dishes completely done and ready to finish a la minute. Your fridge should be stacked high with everything labeled and a schedule in hand of how you will execute. Moreover, you should prepare your serving dishes (with labels) and serving utensils. Don't leave anything to chance.
Day 4 - Thursday I put my turkey in the oven early. I cook it low and slow. Real slow. Potatoes go along side. Everyone else is busying setting the tables and decorating so I can focus on basting the bird, pulling things in an out of the oven and executing dish after dish with minimal effort. When my guests arrive (we start at noon), I want to be able to mix and mingle and only return to the kitchen to put the final touches on something before it is served.
So, on this day of Thanks - I wish my best to you and yours. Many of my readers are part of my family, my community. We're all connected in one way or another. I revel in the glory of connection. I am thankful for the wonderful people in my life and for the opportunity to share my views and be heard. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, hopefully with some organized calm. If not, next year. Now you know.