Our family has always had the sweet pleasure of celebrating Thanksgivings hosted by family and friends. Every year I make my Grannie Annie’s macaroni recipe in someone else’s kitchen and watch with great wonder at the preparations of all the foods around me. This year the firefighter had to go in to work Thanksgiving evening so we realized we would not be able to travel this year. We briefly discussed how we would just do something simple at home. I distinctly remember saying we could just pick up barbecue the day before and hang out. The firefighter would tell you that conversation never took place, but that is only because he is a big fat liar.
Eight days before Thanksgiving he and I were having a rather grown up conversation that had NOTHING to do with Thanksgiving. We were just talking about the things we would like to see ourselves do better. I was bemoaning how much I do not enjoy cooking and how that bothers me. I was telling him how hard it is with so many small kiddos to cook anything that I can’t throw in a crockpot or make into a 30 minute casserole. Besides, no one really enjoys what I make (myself included), heck we all just eat enough to sustain life, and between the baby’s schedule and the firefighter’s, we rarely get to eat together as a family. The firefighter shared how he would really like to see all of us spend more time together, specifically sharing meals together. Somehow this very safe conversation derailed into us hosting Thanksgiving.
My stutters and sputters of “No no no…I can’t…turkey’s have innards…our oven hasn’t seen anything more elaborate than a supreme frozen pizza…I don’t know what brine is and we don’t own twine…no time for a practice run…only one oven for miles…can not put a handful of breadcrumbs inside a creature’s…no.” eventually we agreed for the sake of everyone’s intestinal health that I should not be allowed to attempt a turkey, and instead he should smoke one of his famous briskets. Then he started naming off the Thanksgiving sides that his family traditionally makes. As a side note, you should know my mother-in-love is an amazing cook and a gracious hostess. She and I share many qualities, but these two I am utterly lacking in. So he starts listing off dishes: sweet potatoes, dressing, creamed corn, fancy green beans with new potatoes… Then he says, “Oh and, of course, my mom’s homemade rolls… uh, or we could just ask someone to bring some kind of bread.”
Well, that made me burst into tears. Not his words, or because there was any malice meant by them, but because that tiny sentence, that hesitation, and my darling husband’s acquiescence pinpointed the heart of my struggle as a wife, mom, daughter, sister and friend. I am practical to the point of ruining the magical. Here was my husband, whom I adore, sharing with me that his favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, his eyes dancing as he thought of all the sweet traditions he had grown up with, the time and love that went into preparing a meal from scratch and the fellowship that came from spending time creating together in a warm kitchen…then he looked over to see his utterly practical wife looking at him like he had lost his dang mind and he over-compromised. And in that moment, the gentle twinges of guilt I had ignored for years as I reheated food and served it on paper plates, as I encouraged spill-proof sippy cups for all ages, as I really only support my children’s creative expression if it is conducted in a mess proof environment, as my initial answer to nearly everything is “no” finally impacted me enough to move me toward change.
I composed myself and asked his mom to teach me. She gave me her decades old recipes, some with tear stains from the year she lost her mother and was determined to make sure Thanksgiving was still special for her brother and sisters. She and I both knew this was completely outside my comfort zone, knew I considered it baking when I had to add water and an egg to a boxed mix. When she showed me the dough hook for the kitchenaid mixer I had had for nearly a decade, I told her I thought it was for hanging bananas from so the mixer would serve a purpose as it sat on the counter. She explained how the dough for the rolls needs to be prepared the day before and how it needs constant care or it will continue to rise and forcibly take over my refrigerator like a B movie from the ‘50s. She let me know I could call or text her any questions, and I assured her she was on my speed dial and that I also had Sister Shubert’s rolls in the freezer for when I messed this up.
The day before Thanksgiving I cooked a potato, watched the dance of scalding milk, and learned that yeast is a living organism that wants to be fed more flour than your average family consumes in a year. Our precious children who had never seen their mother do so much in the kitchen were fascinated as they watched me feed the dough monster flour and knead it out on wax paper. Our gluten intolerant 4 year old grumbling the whole time about how he couldn’t have any, and that he hoped his gluten free rolls were “better than all the other ones you make me”. He slouched away not even listening to my reminders of all the delicious gluten-free foods we have discovered
As I was finishing up working the dough I felt something foreign…oh gracious, it was a piece of wax paper. I moved the dough to see about 1/3 of a sheet of wax paper missing. So I started the painstaking process of searching through the dough for every last piece as my 8 year old put them together to make sure we found it all. After nearly an hour of our searching, the 4 year old skulks back by and with a smirk says, “Well, I guess you guys are gonna want to ask me if you can eat MY rolls, huh?” He was wrong. These rolls had become my Everest, made with my sweat, my tears, and my wax paper. They were making me a better person, dang it, and I was not giving up!! After we felt pretty confident that we had found it all I put the dough in the fridge and spent the rest of the night and morning beating it back in to the bowl with a stick, er wooden spoon. The firefighter spent the night awake smoking that brisket to perfection.
After making breakfast, being breakfast, changing diapers, taming cowlicks, and approving attire I set about the real task. The rolls. They needed two hours of prep work before they were oven ready. I called his mom, texted her pics, and said many prayers. My sister and her very soon-to-be husband arrived and kept kiddos occupied during the crucial points, then they joined us in the kitchen. Then Sam, a friend and fellow firefighter, arrived and we all worked and laughed together as we prepared our feast in our warm kitchen. The rolls came out just as we were ready to serve and share this meal. I teared up at the perfection of the scene. Yes, the rolls turned out just like his mom’s and initially I thought that was the point. But I was so wrong. Thanksgiving was never about the food on the plate. The simple truth, the beauty, was in my kitchen made warm by love.