As We Gather

By Anne Maxwell

By now, the list making is well underway. 

The shopping ready to start. 

Planning of festivities underway. 

Before you worry I’ve skipped a holiday, rest assured, I’m not referring to Christmas. 

I’m thinking about Thanksgiving dinner. 

I had hoped since there’s bit of a buffer this year -- with the fourth Thursday on the 28th and the latest Thanksgiving can fall -- I’d be better prepared for the feast I’m to give for my family of six. 

But, alas, no. 

I’m trolling sites, looking to see if I can up my game on a side dish or devise a decadent dessert as a segue from the standards. I realize just cooking for my kids and hubby may seem like no big deal. I know many of my friends meal prep for dozens and then some. But, when your family is small, you give just as big of thanks -- just with smaller quantities. 

And, you want it to be special because one day, God willing, your kids will share with their kids memories made at your table. So that’s where I find myself in these last few days before the feast -- attempting to put a new twist on the trimmings. 

A few days ago, in the middle of an endless scrolling, pinning, and link-saving session, I put down the smartphone and instead turned to those tried-and-true holiday family recipes. 

You know the ones. 

The ones without a video on social media to walk me through the step-by-step process. Those that don’t feature a well-lit, professionally-styled finished product that’s plated with perfection. 

No, for these time-tested culinary treasures, a reel plays in my mind when I come across their well-worn, tactile format. A dog eared, chicken broth stained recipe card trips a soundtrack wherein my Grandma tells me about her epic gravy fail as a newlywed when my Grandpa taught her to avoid serving a flour-tasting, lumpy mess. 

“Just stir and cook it longer,” he had told her. I can still see her mixing up her rich, hearty gravy with a smile as she’d recount the story each year. 

When I come across a crumpled page with the family dressing recipe from my mom, I picture her in the kitchen at the family farm when I was in high school. I can still see the panic on her face as she freaked out because the 10 pounds of mashed potatoes came out gluey instead of fluffy. My memory rolls the footage of how mom solved the issue: she poured a glass of wine, served the potatoes with a big smile, and recommended the dressing. 

Aunt Karla’s Cranberries is tabbed in a church cookbook with a few -- you guessed it -- unmistakable red splotches from when the plump berries cook down with orange juice into a succulent sauce that oh-so-deliciously pairs with the holiday bird. The scene it sets is from a Thanksgiving about six years ago. 

I can hear my sister a.k.a. “Aunt Karla,” give instructions to my 8-year-old daughter via speakerphone. Natalie beamed with pride and stirred like mad as the voice of Aunt Karla from Colorado encouraged through the phone, “Just cook them long enough to where they start to pop and begin to bubble."

I smile as I recall how determined Natalie was to “own” a dish for the feast. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as driving to keep a clean cooking space as cranberry juice seemed to find its way just about everywhere. It’s a good thing red is my favorite color.

Halfway through my recipe card box I’ve determined it’s my holiday state of mind -- not my menu -- that needs a reset. There’s no reason to upgrade my array of fall flavors, to step outside my culinary comfort zone. 

What I prepare in my kitchen doesn’t matter. Who will prepare it alongside me is the real blessing. 

So in the kitchen this Thanksgiving Day, I’ll give thanks to have my four kids join in the chopping, stirring, and baking. While we prepare the family favorites, I’ll also be grateful for the vibrant memories of my mom, my sister, and my grandma cooking along with me. 

There’s no ingredient that can remove time or distance. But the rituals of those recipes -- and the gratitude for those culinary-inspired memories – gather them at my table.

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