This year my clan had to figure out how to navigate our first Thanksgiving without my mother. She had always prepared the spread, and we had gathered around her table to share the food and family fellowship. So we were obviously dealing with a huge emotional impact of missing her at this special holiday time. There was no Mom/Grammy in the kitchen, measuring and stirring and shooing children out from underfoot and "thinking out loud" trying to remember all of the steps needed to prepare multiple dishes for a ravenous crowd. She wouldn't be there at the head of the table, buttering rolls for everyone, reminding the kids to use their table manners, and surveying the feeding frenzy with her contented smile.
So, we expected and accepted that our Thanksgiving celebration would include an undertone of sorrow this year, as we remembered Mom and mourned her passing. But suddenly, around Halloween, it struck my siblings and me that...we'd be required to conjure some sort of sumptuous feast...by ourselves! Holy...turkey and stuffing and potatoes and pumpkin pie, Batman, we've gotta plan and execute this sucker...without our Commissioner Gordon standing by to bail us out when the going gets rough! A moderate panic ensued, as the obstacles in our path were formidable, to say the least. I mean, to start with, we have one vegetarian--who had to solemnly promise NOT to introduce Tofurkey into the trying-to-maintain-tradition proceedings. (Yeah, too much, too soon...maybe next year...) We then present at least one youngster who refuses to even consider touching a green vegetable. (Um...these would not be my offspring, in case you were wondering...) But the most daunting issue, of course, was how to cook the...darn...bird. None of us has much experience with such a task, and some of us have zero incentive to learn the fine art of fowl-roasting. (Hello, non-flesh-eater here...) Fortunately a clear solution emerged: pre-cooked turkey breasts available through my sister's workplace. Yesssss, check that one off!
Next we moved on to some of the smaller, but equally important, side-items on the agenda. And by that, I literally mean "side dishes to accompany the meat centerpiece". Here, I got away with making potatoes au gratin, rather than your standard "mashed". These luckily passed muster with even our picky eaters. The organic stuffing mix, I confess, was less successful. Although it included only wholesome, vegetarian-friendly ingredients, the preparation apparently needs some tweaking to reach the moist, chewy deliciousness we expect from stuffing. (Eh, there's always next year, right?) We snuck by with canned gravy (shhhh! nobody cares!) but we almost encountered a major stumbling block with that beloved (other) icon of Thanksgiving dinner: that's right, I'm talking about the cranberry sauce. Now, my family absolutely puts their collective foot down on this one--cranberry sauce exists only in a can. You know what I'm talking about, the jellied variety, that when you finally manage to break the suction and get it to slide out, retains the shape of the steel container, complete with the ridges? Yeah, that's the one. But my sister inadvertently bought--are you ready for this--the kind with real, whole cranberries in it! Gasp! She was momentarily horrified; however, I was actually thrilled and furthermore assured her that my gang would embrace the fruit without question. (This proved to be absolutely true, score one for the mighty cranberry in its natural form!)
Finally, feeling pretty darn pleased with ourselves for putting out--certainly not a Martha Stewart-level, but quite possibly a Sandra Lee, semi-homemade worthy--repast, we could relax and finish off with dessert. And if the pies were baked by the grocery store (which they were), nobody minded. The meal had been a collaborative effort, assembled with love, and we were thankful to have been blessed to enjoy the plethora of food, family, and fun together. That's really all anyone can ask for...with the exception of leftovers...and maybe a well-earned nap!