The holidays have different meanings for all of us. Take Thanksgiving- sure it's about turkeys, gluttony, and thankfulness, but it can also be about family, or friends, getting a little too tipsy or shopping til you drop, depending on who you are. It's a time I almost always miss my family, since they all live about 10 hours away in North Carolina. It's a time we stay close to home, since it coincides with the final week of our farm stand year. But I love holidays, and tradition, and cooking, so I enjoy taking on the job of Thanksgiving chef, and I proudly carry on a family tradition of having an extra place or two at the table for family or friends who might otherwise be spending the day alone, microwaving fish sticks or something.
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a meal that carries more pressure than any other in the entire year. After all, the holiday revolves around the table! Certain dishes can make or break a meal- the most disappointing Thanksgiving ever for me was one where the hosts did not make mashed potatoes. Or any potatoes. Don't get me wrong, the meal was delicious and the company good, just missing something. Holidays and traditions are important to me, so I'll be making my Mom's awesome stuffing from scratch, and a Snickers bar pie which is about as far removed from local, natural, or healthy as you can get, but it's a sugar rush that tastes like the holidays to me...you can keep that apple or pecan pie. But I have no pressure- my husband is happy with just about anything, same for my guests. The fact that I'm cooking a turkey for everyone is enough, and they are thankful for that. Meanwhile, I'm here debating what kind of homemade roll to make, deciding what kind of squash to make and how to prepare it- simply roasted, or something more complex?, if I should make a pumpkin pie, or a cheesecake, both, or maybe I should just kill two birds with one stone and make a pumpkin cheesecake? What would Martha Stewart do? I'm upstairs in my linen closet, digging out the real cloth napkins with turkeys & acorns, and am perhaps a little too excited to don my Thanksgiving apron. It's probably the best blend of expectations a cook could dream of- while my guests would literally be happy with pizza, or anything, just as long as there was plenty, mine are impossibly high and there is a picture of the holiday in my head I strive to bring to the table, fully formed and perfect. I am my own worst critic, but I am also capable of creating a spectacular home-cooked spread and I know it. Any mistakes will be forgiven (probably even unnoticed) and, worst case, welcomed by the pigs. Food is my livelihood, and a meal like this is a chance to show off my skills a little, while at the same time it's a harvest celebration that comes just as we are finishing up another successful farm stand year.
At the same time, contrary to what many of my customers think, it hasn't always been this way for me. This farmeress grew up helping prep dinner a bit, but being a sous chef is nothing compared to being in charge of the biggest meal of the year. I really didn't learn to cook until I met Dan, and so I will never forget our first Thanksgiving together. It was just the two of us in a little trailer I rented, and I wanted to do something that had the feeling of the holiday, scaled down for 2 people so it wasn't as intimidating. Instead of a turkey, I made a pair of cornish game hens. Years later, I kind of wish I would have written down the menu as it was a big step in my personal development in being comfortable in the kitchen. Although we had invitations extended to share the day with other families, in the end it was exciting to make it our own. And I still feel like that, that it is fun to share the day with others but I love having my kitchen being the center of attention. I'm grateful to have folks I care deeply about share the day with me, I'm grateful for the opportunity to farm, to provide great food to my neighbors not just this time of year but throughout the growing season.