For many of us, there is a special food we associate with the holiday that we fill our plates with. And there is a “special” food we associate with the holiday and we do our best to avoid it. We all had a relative who was… not as skilled in the kitchen as other people in the family. My family has grand machinations to keep one specific person from cooking. And that’s to say nothing of those traditional family dishes that we all hate yet someone always brings. My grandfather insisted we always have a “salad” of cherries, coconut, bananas, marshmallows, and nuts. Not fresh cherries. Cherry pie filling. Ahh, memories. ~ Faye
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
If you’re an American, when you hear the holiday mentioned you probably conjure up endless memories of turkey and all the trimmings. That is, until someone makes some comment about what they’re grateful for, at which point you mentally scramble to come up with a thing or two to be thankful for yourself. If you aren’t an American, the holiday might have some nebulous presence in your mind—something to do with stuffing (or dressing, as some people call it), and the iconic pilgrim that epitomizes the puritanical hypocrisy of our culture.
Sorry, did I sound a little caustic there? Well that’s what happens to me around this time of year, as the holidays approach. (Please, anyone who’s met me, there’s no need to point out that I’m actually caustic most of the time. Let the people who haven’t met me live with the illusion until I pop their expectations like a child’s birthday balloon.)
At any rate, long point short, Thanksgiving is about food. Some people might amend that to “food and football,” but the food part is universally true in the US. I get the why: a group of people went through massive and seemingly unending trials, and once they reached relative security they were so grateful they had a feast. I understand that motivation, in the abstract.
It’s just . . . that was a long time ago, and those hardships are completely foreign to most of us. Take crossing the Atlantic in three months—I did it last week in seven hours. While the food I had to eat was of airport origin, it was probably better than whatever was rotting in the bottom of the Mayflower’s barrel by the time they sailed into Rhode Island. And I mean, seriously, the Pilgrims had way more leg room than I did in that 777. Plus, beer didn’t cost $7.99 a pop for those dudes. The flatulating seatmate would’ve been familiar to them, though (not my husband—he sat across the aisle from me).
Believe it or not, that’s not what I came here to talk about though. It really is about the meal for me—I’m totally focused on rising above the Thanksgiving fare of my youth.
For the record, I’m a bit of a foodie. There are much bigger gastro-freaks out there than me, but I hold my own, and it all began as a defense mechanism. As a child, I just wanted to eat something decent, and to do that I usually had to cook it myself.
Don’t get me wrong, my mom makes some things exceptionally well. She makes amazing pie, and the best soup. It’s just, there are a lot of foods in the world besides pie and soup. Like poultry. As far as my mother is concerned, if it isn’t the same flavor and consistency of particleboard, it’s not done. And, as everyone knows, underdone poultry is riddled with dangerous diseases, like salmonella, gonorrhea and small pox. Until I was in my twenties, I couldn’t comprehend why people liked chicken (or turkey). Why not just eat sawdust on a bed of leather?
So, yeah, strike one against Thanksgiving was the tasteless pulp masquerading as a turkey. Fortunately, the third thing my mother makes really well is stuffing, so I still had some affinity for the holiday, as long as she made enough (she never makes enough). For the last decade, the husband and I have usually cooked the turkey, even if we had to do it at her house (which led to some serious arguments—ask me about the year the turkey was done three hours early because she insisted it’d be raw if I didn’t start cooking it now—but has been totally worth it).
Strike two against Thanksgiving is scalloped oysters. My paternal grandmother grew up in Kansas, and for some freaking reason, scalloped oysters were some kind of family (or regional? IDK) tradition at Thanksgiving. I’m assuming it’s because they were so far from any ocean that they didn’t realize oysters from a can are not delicious. It’s possible they thought that adding cream of anything soup cancelled out the not-deliciousness of the shellfish, but I don’t see how, unless they had defective taste buds.
Which, apparently, they had, and which my sister inherited. Years after Grandma stopped making scalloped oysters for the holidays (and long after she died), my sister still makes them. She may think she’s keeping alive a family tradition, but as far as I’m concerned she’s committing a crime against my digestive system.
This brings me to strike three: Waldorf salad. Do you know about this atrocity? No? Get this: it’s apples, walnuts, raisins and carrots dressed with mayonnaise. I’m not making that up, people. Sometimes, it has other things in it, too, like celery, but the above description is the way my brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) makes it every. Freaking. Year. And he makes a huge batch, then complains when only about a quarter of it is eaten. We’ve stopped coming up with excuses—now, when he asks why we didn’t eat any (as in, not me, my husband or my kids), we simply say, “Because it’s disgusting.”
It makes no difference. Every November, he churns out Waldorf salad like bunnies churn out pellets of fertilizer (nb: comparison between salad and poop is intentional).
Strike four (hey, this isn’t baseball, it’s Thanksgivng—I can have as many strikes as I like. My post, my rules) is twofold: yams and pumpkin pie. I find the flavor of both cloying. Cinnamon doesn’t help, and neither do brown sugar or whipped cream. Plus, there’s that baby-poop consistency to contend with. How can these foods be both smooth and grainy? That’s not right. It’s freaking unnatural, I’m telling you. Actually, I’d go so far as to say it’s a conspiracy by the Yam and Pumpkin Growers of America. Just because they tell you it tastes good does not make it true! Resist! Resist, I say!
Unless you truly like those dishes, then ignore me. I’m just talking out my ass. I’m sure you aren’t being brainwashed by insidious nano-advertising in your nondairy topping or anything. It’s me, not you (or your programming).
I’m not even going to discuss cranberry sauce, on the assumption that no one in their right mind puts jelly on meat and enjoys it. You’re all just faking it in case someone is watching, right? Right?
And just forget mincemeat. I refuse to discuss it.
Believe it or not after this rant, I actually love (some of) the traditional Thanksgiving feast. I love a moist, flavorful turkey. I love it when I can drown three-quarters of my plate with gravy. Mashed potatoes? Bring them on. Green beans with lemon, thyme and garlic are wonderful (if not overcooked). And ohmigod, dinner rolls with butter—yum. Well, anything with butter.
Stuffing (or dressing, whatever). I cannot say enough good things about stuffing. I can’t verify it yet, but my working theory is that it’s what the ancient Greek gods referred to as “ambrosia” (not that freakish fruit salad/marshmallow/mayonnaise concoction sometimes called that). Oddly, when I make stuffing out of season, it’s not as delicious. I’m pretty sure that’s because the Greek pantheon really likes this holiday, and not because I so strongly associate it with Thanksgiving.
Finally, there’s chocolate cheese pie. In my immediate family (husband and kids), this is as traditional as pumpkin pie, and fifty times as delicious.
Back to the original question—what does Thanksgiving mean to you? To me, it means dodging canned oysters, unnatural vegetables masquerading as fruits, and a cacophony of foods coated in mayonnaise. If I successfully run that gauntlet, my rewards are great.
Raised on a steady media diet of Monty Python, classical music and the visual arts, Anne Tenino rocked the mental health world when she was the first patient diagnosed with Compulsive Romantic Disorder. Since that day, with her trusty psychiatrist by her side, she’s taken on conquering the M/M world through therapeutic writing. Finding out who those guys having sex in her head are and what to do with them has been extremely liberating.
Anne’s husband finds it liberating as well, although in a somewhat different way. He has accepted her need for “research”, and looks forward to the benefits said research affords him. He thinks it’s kind of cool she manages to write, as well. Her two daughters are mildly confused by her need to twist Ken dolls into odd positions. They were raised to be open-minded children, however, and other than occasionally stealing Ken1’s strap-on, they let Mom do her thing without interference.
Anne’s thing is writing gay romance and erotica.
Wondering what she does in her spare time? Mostly she lies on the couch, eats bonbons and shirks housework.
You can reach her by emailing her at anne AT annetenino DOT com.