Dad says that he likes Thanksgiving leftovers the best because he always knows what foods to expect. Christmas dishes vary every year at our family table, with the exception of the dependable jalapeno creamed spinach. At Thanksgiving, you can count on certain family staples to be lined up on the table runner like a thread connecting every Thanksgiving that came before, and every Thanksgiving to follow.
I love Thanksgiving, too, and I have some interesting memories of Turkey Days past. Take the one with the helicopter ride. It happened on my grandmother's farm, when our friends Frank and Ruth, who owned a helicopter called Black Thunder and did the traffic for the local radio stations, landed the chopper in the side pasture. They took us for rides over the barley fields and stock tanks of Alvarado, Texas, buzzing Grammy's corrugated metal barn a time or two. I remember my stomach jumping as the helicopter nosed downward, autumn-yellow fields skating by under my little Reeboks.
A doctor from Beijing was visiting my dad's hospital that year, so he'd asked her to join us to celebrate Thanksgiving. An enthusiast for American customs, she probably will be disappointed if she has Thanksgiving anywhere else, now that she has had a helicopter ride over Texas with us.
Most of my early Thanksgivings were held out on Grammy's farm and to this day, even here in warm, humid South Florida, my mind associates Thanksgiving with cold fronts, straw bales, and Grammy's green Depression glass pitchers of iced tea. One of my earliest memories is the Thanksgiving my dad harnessed Grammy's quarterhorse, Lacy, to an ancient wooden wagon that Grammy housed in her garage. Lacy towed us around the house a few times, ears cocked back toward our boisterous group in the wagon as if to say, "I'm only putting up with this foolishness for the carrots."
A time came when I was no longer home to have Thanksgiving on Grammy's farm. I spent my junior year of college in London, studying English literature. Who knew how darn difficult it could be to find a whole turkey there in late November? My sister visited me on her Thanksgiving break from school and after combing the Sainsbury's of Westminster, we adjusted our ambitions and ultimately settled for chicken, which we knew that we were capable of baking. The two of us prepared a meal with a bunch of my British, Scottish, and American friends in the dormitory's tiny second-floor kitchen, within earshot of the Abbey's bells.
Yesterday, Steve and I drove to his parents' house, just as we have done since we were first married. I balanced my mother's cranberry-raspberry tart in my lap, and I smiled, knowing that two thousand miles away, my mother and my sister had prepared the same dishes. Merri, Steve's mother, roasted a perfect bird and as we sat down at the loaded table, we clasped hands with the people we love and said a few words of thanks, each of us welcoming to the circle those who could not be with us, each of us thinking of many Thanksgivings past.
Charlie Trotter's Shaved Fennel Apple Salad
From this recipe available at Epicurious.com (originally published in Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home)
Need something light and fresh to go with your leftover mashed tubers and creamed whatnots? This salad can help you with that.
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and halved
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced (if you own a mandolin, this is a good time to use it)
To prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the lemon juice, chopped tarragon, and olive and canola oils in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To prepare the salad: Cut the apple into thin slices and place in a medium bowl with the fennel. Toss with the vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper.Serves: 8 appetizer portions