Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner -- A Family Affair

Some of the most important family decisions each year revolve around each person's favorite Thanksgiving dish.  The biggest questions: Who makes the turkey? Stuffing? Jello salad? (I threw that one in for Kate, she's completely horrified that Jello can be turned into a salad.  We'll save the commentary on that for another posting!)  And, of course, who will make the dinner rolls.

When I was growing up, we had dinner at my maternal Grandparents house.  My grandpa always roasted the turkey and stuffed it with his own homemade cornbread stuffing. Since he never used a recipe, it never tasted exactly the same each year, but it was always my favorite thing.  Grandpa also made the gravy every year, and I loved to watch him stir flour into the grease in the bottom of the roasting pan and watch it magically turn into smooth gravy.

One of my aunts always made some wonderful fruit salad -- usually something similar to a Waldorf salad, but I had no idea it actually had a name -- and there was always a vegetable assortment which was brought in someone's fancy tupperware dish made for just such an occasion, complete with individual compartments and a bowl in the center for ranch dressing.  The olives always had to be replenished, since every child needed at least five -- for the fingers of one hand, of course. And and cranberry sauce was simply plopped on a plate from a can. (I only knew two types of cranberries, the jellied one for Thanksgiving and the fresh ones we strung with popcorn for our Christmas tree.  It wasn't until years after I moved to NY that I had fresh cranberry sauce at a dinner, and now I can't go back to canned!)

Everyone had a favorite dish, but the one item that still haunts my memory is the dinner rolls. Sometimes my mom made them, and I loved the fragrant smell of the rolls baking.  They were best served warm, and smothered in butter and the fresh clover honey my dad harvested from his bees.

Fast forward to many years later, and here I am with my little nuclear family in NYC, and our extended family far away in the West.  We have often been invited to dine with friends on Thanksgiving day, and enjoy the feast and the festivities. Last year, we were excited to visit friends in NJ, but a week before the big day Kate came down with the flu, then I got it a couple of days later, and Glen got it Thanksgiving day.  We skipped the whole turkey and sides, and our store bought pie even spoiled.  The kids were feeling better by Thanksgiving day and chomping at the bit to get out of the house, so our festivities consisted of me taking the kids to every possible movie they could see while Glen stayed home to rest.  Instead of turkey and stuffing, I let them have popcorn and pizza.  Not the most traditional of meals, but we were just glad to get through the weekend.

This year we decided to stay home and have a quiet meal of some of our favorite dishes. Kate wanted braised short ribs, but Dash vetoed that.  Glen makes a great pomegranate gravy (thanks to a wonderful Gourmet Magazine recipe a few years ago -- click here for the recipe:  Pomegranate Gravy)  and Tom Colicchio of Craft/Top Chef renown has transformed our mashed potatoes into something sublime.  Dash voted for 

I decided to make rolls this year, but I was feeling a bit out of practice, so I opted to try out a new recipe over the weekend. And since we were supposed to take something for our Church's "linger longer" after our Sunday meeting, I decided to make a double recipe of dinner rolls so we could have some to eat and some to take.  I found a wonderful new recipe in my old standby -- The King Arthur Flour Cookbook King Arthur Flour- and proceeded to make Cheese Rolls. The recipe was for a basic dinner roll that was stuffed with a cube of cheese, and topped with a mixture of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.  Yes, they were divine.

All of those wonderful memories of past holidays with family and friends came rushing back.  I remembered once when I was about three years old, my mother was baking bread and she gave me a little piece of dough to knead.  By the time I baked my rolls in the oven, it was black from whatever dirt I'd picked up, and hard as a rock from all the handling, but I was so proud to be baking with my mom!  As I kneaded the dough for the rolls I let those memories wash over me.  

We skipped dinner altogether -- I lost count of how many rolls Dash ate -- and we had plenty to take the next day, where they were very popular.

I wonder what my kids will remember about the holidays when they grow up.  Will they remember the cheese rolls?  The Thanksgiving that wasn't?  Or something in between?  

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