Thick, soft knee socks. A warm bed. The public library system. Hot coffee. Frozen fog hovering over the lake where I run. Barack Obama. Snack-sized Snickers Bars. I’m thankful for so very many things, big and small. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for my younger sister, and the week of planning and shopping and cooking she did so that Michael and I could waltz over mid-afternoon with a few plates of appetizers and plunk ourselves down in a couple of squashy armchairs with glasses of wine while Sissy and her boyfriend Dwayne finished cooking a spectacular Thanksgiving feast.
On my way home from work on Wednesday I stopped off at the Sausage House for a stick of their spectacularly garlicky hard sausage. I sliced this up with some Manchego cheese for a simple meat and cheese tray. Then on Thursday afternoon at Michael’s place, I made a batch of Turkey Meatballs with Raisins and Pine Nuts, a recipe that I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to try. I substituted regular raisins for the golden raisins that the recipe called for, and had to guess at the proportions for the yogurt dipping sauce, as the recipe didn’t include amounts.
When we arrived at Sissy’s and started on the appetizers, my 14-year old nephew was quietly amused by the oblong slices of sausage: “These look like little bones!” he chuckled. The meatballs turned out just right: juicy, with the crunch of pine nuts, a hint of cilantro, and the sweetness of the raisins offset by the sharp yogurt tang of the dipping sauce.
Sissy’s several day long cook-a-rama was nearly done, and Dwayne, resplendent in a white chef’s jacket, finished the last-minute items in the kitchen–filling devilled eggs, mashing potatoes, and stirring gravy.
When we sat down at the table, it was to a feast. We passed dishes of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, and asparagus from hand to hand. It was the little touches, however, that made the meal special: cranberry sauce that was savory, not sweet, and freshly made Parker House rolls at every place. “Why are they called Parker House rolls?” my nephew asked.
Sometimes when I look at my tall nephew or listen to his deep voice, it is hard to remember the baby he once was. Other times…I glanced across the table to see him silently building a mountain of mashed potatoes with a deep caldera at the top, which he carefully filled to the rim with gravy. And instantly, I saw the roly-poly blonde baby again, the grimy toddler asleep in his car seat after an afternoon at the park, the little boy sitting on a stack of phone books to reach the Thanksgiving table, holding my hand as we crossed the street, dressed up for his first communion, declaring that he’ll never stop loving Pokemon no matter how old he gets, singing a solo in the middle-school musical, graduating from eighth grade; they are all there after all, just obscured a little by facial hair.
After we finished dinner, Sissy retired to the kitchen to whip cream, and returned with a pumpkin pie and a pecan tart, over which she waxed eloquent. My sister is a baker extraordinaire–part artist, part alchemist; she reads cookbooks like novels and her Cake Bible like, well, Holy Scripture.
The pumpkin pie, she explained was made with the best organic ingredients–no canned pumpkin, no sweetened condensed milk. The crust was lined with ground pecans and gingersnaps to provide a layer of flavor and keep the butter crust from getting soggy.
I initially passed up the pecan tart, as pecan pie is just too sweet and gooey for me. However, Sissy explained that this tart, with it’s even ratios of cream cheese crust, filling, and pecans, was different. Not only was there less goo than the usual pecan pie, but it was also made with golden syrup instead of corn syrup to avoid cloying sweetness. She brought out the jar and let us stick our fingers in to taste the syrup, which had a rich, caramel flavor. Finally, she said, she garnished the tart with bittersweet chocolate to further balance the sweetness.
After this description, I had to have a piece of each, with plenty of bourbon-laced whipped cream on top. Oh mercy. I was an instant and loyal devotee to the Royal Order of the Most Honored Pecan Tart. A bite of pie and a bite of tart and a bite of pie and…nom nom nom.
Finally, when the dessert plates were scraped clean, Dwayne left for work with a plate of dinner wrapped up for the employee who was working the holiday for him. My nephew disappeared with his pie, and Michael and I said our good-byes and rolled down the front steps like blueberry girl and boy.
I’m thankful for family and friends, for growing up and growing older together, for memories and tradition, for warm hospitality, and good food and drink.
Sissy’s dessert recipes came from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum.