Thanksgiving is an act, not a menu

Like so many, I get a tad Grinchy about commercialization around this time of year. I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, going toe to toe with desperate women in appliqued sweatshirts over this year's version of Tickle Me Elmo.

If I do anything commercial at all, it will be a walk to the Rockwood Bakery with My Sweetheart for a caramel macchiato (latte style), and possibly one of the orange almond rolls or their outstanding quiche.

Now that’s something to be thankful for: good food, the ability to move freely under my own power, a quiet neighborhood that makes for an enjoyable walk, a sweetheart who will happily go for a walk with me, holding hands and striding in step. (We can’t help but do that: he was in the Marines, I was in marching band. Left-right-left. On our second date we walked and talked for hours, enjoying the crisp snap of our steps in unison when we realized our strides matched perfectly.)

Or we’ll take Eldest Daughter and Second Daughter with us and walk the other direction, to the Perry Street Café. We haven’t been there in a while, but when we walk in the waitresses will recognize us, they’ll ask where the little kids are (with their mother; we only have them every other weekend), and the bottomless cups of coffee will begin.

Second Daughter will get a Caesar salad (no olives—why do they put olives on the Caesar anyway?); they make an enormous salad and she’ll eat all of it (note that this is for breakfast).

Eldest Daughter will get a mushroom/cheese omelet with hashbrowns and mix the entire plate together in one unappetizing (to me) gloppy mess with ketchup.

I’ll get the veggie scramble and an English muffin with honey. My Sweetheart will get pancakes, possibly; scrambled eggs; some kind of sausage or bacon (his chance at meat, since the rest of us are vegetarians); and will eat everyone’s leftovers if we let him.

Again, something to be thankful for: Living in a good-sized city with urban amenities that still has a hometown feeling and good little neighborhood cafes, and teenage daughters who will happily hang out with their folks (as well they should—we’re buying) and carry on intelligent, well-informed conversations about things like world affairs, ethics, and the economy (also lame jokes, word play, and occasional applications of the phrase “that’s what she said”—we’re not all high-brow and intellectual all the time).

I note that my stories do revolve around food—just not a blow-out feast requiring me to get up in the dark and start mincing celery and onions and rolling out piecrust (hopefully not all in the same dish).

I’ve had those years, and I love to cook a major feast, but that’s no longer what Thanksgiving is about for us. An event that creates major stress for one or two of us (Sweetheart likes to cook too) while the rest overeat and then roll away groaning isn’t really all that fun, if you think about it.

It’s just the four of us this year. I asked everyone to tell me some favorite foods, and over the course of the four-day weekend I’ll cook my way through the list, which so far isn’t too daunting:
  • Laura Potatoes: Roasted in the oven with a liberal dose of a mustard vinaigrette dressing that’s good on everything from salad to pilaf to baguettes to, well, potatoes.
  • Spicy Fries: Based on a recipe originally found on the side of a bag of yam fries from Costco (modified to use chipotle for smokiness), these are basted with a mustard/chili sauce, the spicier the better.
  • Wild Rice: Sweetheart didn’t specify a preparation method, so I think it will be my recipe that involves caramelized walnuts or pecans, orange zest, and sautéed celery and onions (I guess I do end up doing some of that veggie prep—just not at o-dark-thirty in the morning).
  • Oven-roasted Cauliflower, Oven-roasted Broccoli: My personal favorites, from Cook’s Illustrated recipes that make these vegetables truly finger-licking good. Sometimes we eat them straight out of the pans at the stove. (I'd better become a member so I can actually log on and look up these recipes I've linked; fortunately, I have the print versions in the kitchen bookcase.)
  • Berry Pie: Second Daughter’s request.
  • Pecan Pie: Eldest Daughter’s request.

I enjoy cooking, especially for people I love. Doing it this way spreads out the labor as well as the enjoyment of the food. That makes me a lot more thankful than being exhausted when I finally sit down to eat.

If we happen to walk to a neighborhood spot for someone else’s cooking, we’ll get to connect with our neighbors and with those familiar faces we don’t actually know, but see often enough in the places where we’re regulars so that we’re “friendly strangers.”

As someone who particularly loves to feel a part of her community networks, I love this about Spokane: that willingness to strike up a conversation with a total stranger in line at the grocery store or coffee shop, make small talk, and in all likelihood find we like something or someone in common that creates a bond.

These are small things, perhaps, but they make life good. Plenty to be thankful for, even in hard times. Let us give thanks.