Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Recipe For Disaster

What is it about November, anyway?

I used to blame the weather, back when I lived in places where November weather was--well, Novemberish. Cold, gray, sodden, washing away autumn's cheer in buckets of not-quite-snow that might have been cheerful flurries with a little more ambition and a little less self-pity, the weather in November made it really difficult to think about pleasant Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends until the day was nearly upon me; or, at least, that's what I used to tell myself.

Now, of course, I live in Texas, and I still blame the weather for my lack of eager anticipation for turkey and trimmings, tradition and taste. It has been in the 80s; it's going to drop--gasp!--into the mid 70s, and who could possibly think of Thanksgiving when the weather is still hovering somewhere between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July?

Sometimes, in my more honest moments, I blame my relative lack of creative cooking skills, and my lifetime membership in the M.I.S.C.R.E.A.N.T.S. club, for my somewhat less than enthusiastic approach to Thanksgiving. Let's face it, fellow M.I.S.C.R.E.A.N.T.S., this is the quintessential Martha Stewart-esque holiday, the one particular day when our crafty and clever sisters out there really get to shine, as their astonishingly lifelike cream-cheese gourds with homemade turkey-shaped crackers, and too-beautiful-to-eat pumpkin pies with cranberry-lattice crusts, produce gasps of amazement and spontaneous bursts of applause from all of their lucky guests.

I tell myself every year that it's okay to be a little less gifted in these greatly-appreciated arts. I tell myself that even a simpler feast prepared with love is enough, that I don't have to try to compete with those brilliant stars in the domestic-arts firmament. I remind myself that I've taken on other commitments (something which happens like clockwork each November, and that was before I started participating in NaNoWriMo) and made plans to do things which will fill my time for the entire month even without the added effort of attempting to create some sort of Thanksgiving To Remember which is miles beyond my greatest abilities.

And every year, I don't listen.

Every year I try at the last minute to do something to make Thanksgiving beyond the ordinary. Every year I rush out at the eleventh hour for some odd ingredient or other that's necessary for the unusually (and unnecessarily) complicated recipe I've seen in a magazine or read about online. Every year I start fighting the urge to accumulate leafy boughs in autumn colors at the local craft store, even though I haven't the slightest idea how to arrange them, or any vases in which to do it; every year I become increasingly dissatisfied with my table--no, not the creative and beautiful way in which I plan to set it (ha!) but the actual table, which hulks in its secondhand way in my kitchen as if to remind me of my total lack of attention paid to such things during all of the rest of the year. Every year I make elaborate and completely unrealistic plans for how this year, things will be different; every year I think I can juggle all of the commitments I've already made with the rising desire to do Thanksgiving properly, or at least in a reasonable facsimile of properly.

And every year I'm wrong.

Wrong, in that an organic turkey breast doesn't necessarily taste better than a regular one; wrong, in that individual Cornish hens, while pretty and tasty, work out a whole lot better when you've actually remembered to start thawing them sooner than the night before Thanksgiving; wrong, in that those pumpkin pies that didn't seem to be setting up properly for some odd reason or other won't really get any better in the fridge; wrong, in that the homemade pie crust that seemed to be crumbling fast won't hold together any better with the pie filling actually inside it; wrong, in that homemade stuffing that you're cooking in a casserole dish had better be kept covered properly in the oven, if you don't want the top layer of it to be crunchy; wrong, in that...but do I really need to go on?

Letting a foolish pride or ambition get the better of us at the last moment is always a mistake. We are unique, individual creatures, who never please God better than when we're thanking Him with joy for our real talents and sharing them generously with our families, friends, neighbors, and the community as a whole; we're never less pleasing to Him, I think, than when we can't admit with humility and patience that we lack some particular talent, trying instead to overcome our shortcomings with sheer stubbornness and an unwillingness to accept the reality of the situation. Whether the situation at hand involves Thanksgiving dinner or life in general, allowing pride to call the shots is always a recipe for disaster.


nutmeg said...

Thank goodness for out-of-town moms who will swoop in and save me from myself!

I need to be packing, she tells me.

(and drinking wine)

Sounds good to me.


La Familia said...

My mom and mother-in-law still WANT the weight on their shoulders. I'm happy to pitch in anyway I can. I realized too that I placed too much of the tradition in food - when I let that go it gave me a chance to come up with little traditions that have nothing to do with food like a blessing tree and book readings. Your talent is your writing. Perhaps you can write something for your loved ones to read and cherish.

freddy said...

two words. turkey. pizza.

nicole said...

I am right there with you, Red. And, there are no expectations for me to cook at all on T-giving, regardless of which family we are with. Still, I feel like I must contribute something. Thankfully, I like to bake and I can follow a recipe, so I do that and feel like I am contributing. For several years, all I was asked to bring was fruit salad. Which for me is fruit cut-up and put in a bowl, no dressings or anything. I started bringing it only b/c I knew my kids would eat it. I had to start actually making things so that the extended family realized I did know how to work an oven!
Anyway, I hope your T-giving is peaceful and fun without being stressful.