My coworker Ally and I had an opportunity to tour the Hoboken production shop and initial staging ground at which the floats and balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade are constructed. This rococo monstrosity is the first thing you see when passing through the studio's surprisingly fortified entryway. Housed outside, we found an unidentified sleigh construction (not Santa's; it turned out to be the Dora float), three iconic Macy’s stars, red and inflated, and a blue cat on a rusty tin roof, all surrounded by barbed wire and a scattered few forklifts.
To me, Thanksgiving is as red-blooded an American holiday as there is. Food, football, uncomfortable family moments, and (most American of all) overindulgence. Thanksgivings of my youth added flavors of the American immigrant, inverting the classic Pilgrim-noble savage model.
Sure, we had all of the traditional dishes, lovingly prepared and fussed over. Especially Wild Turkey! But I’m first (and a half!) generation American, so ethnic food has always been a part of family celebrations for as long as I can remember. You already know about the Puerto Rican side of me. Here’s how the Latvian side of my family also holds a central place in any holiday.
So you want to make Babka? Okay, but it’s quite the commitment! You’ll need to set aside about six hours of your life, and be prepared for things to get sticky.
You should know this is not some fancy Babka full of chocolate and cinnamon and cheese and whatever other abominations you Westerners have added to my Babka. This is Babka in its most pure form. Still interested? Alright then.
There's lots of nice things about gathering on Thanksgiving for a big meal with family. We love our families. And in many ways, Thanksgiving is one of the more enjoyable holidays of the year. But, of course, it can present its difficulties. Here are ten things not to talk about during Thanksgiving dinner. Let's all just try to get through this, okay?
1) Turkey It's unfortunate, since this will be the main course at most American Thanksgiving dinners.
One of my father's better tendencies is to take in human beings who have somehow been led astray. He never once coddled me or my brothers in our childhood, and I've always known him to look at even his few close friends with a hint of suspicion in his eyes. But around loners, rejects and the generally downtrodden, the old man opens up, guffawing at their jokes and putting his arm around their burdened shoulders like he's an old fraternity brother of theirs.
Three years ago, my friend Stephanie and I were both invited to celebrate Thanksgiving at a mutual friend's house. Most of the people coming, including the mutual friend, were crazy insane foodies. Just complete and total insufferable food snobs from hell (but were great otherwise!). So Stephanie and I, who are not foodies, and who are both from northern Florida, decided to bring a fake, disgusting casserole and pass it off as a Northern Florida/Southern Thanksgiving tradition that both of our families, who didn't even know each other, made every year. (The other people at this Thanksgiving celebration, in addition to being foodies, were also Northerners.)
The morning after the morning after Thanksgiving, every motorcycle and potted tree in Manhattan had been blown over. The streets were swirling pockets of trash. What a disaster! But the whirlwind that has been Thanksgiving will now die, as we face down the death of this heinous year. There are many varieties of disturbing Thanksgiving conversations; perhaps you had at least one of them. Maybe you've just endured one of my favorites, the Sudden Family Surprise Thanksgiving, in which strange secrets about family biology or ethnicity or religion are revealed. These become amusing over time. Perhaps you've had the awful I Realize I Am Old Thanksgiving, in which you realize [...]
A long time ago I was married to this nice Jewish boy whose Grandma Lottie’s cooking was so poisonous that her own son would stop at the nearest McDonald’s before every visit and desperately mow something—anything—down before risking his neck over there.
Tiny, ancient, clueless, amiable Grandma Lottie was a shapeless wee dumpling of a woman who had had everything removed that it is possible for a person to have removed and still remain halfway viable—breasts, gall bladders, lady parts, you name it. If you picked her up and shook her she would have rattled, but she was in fairly good nick really, except for a bad case [...]
Even on Thanksgiving, I've always thought turkey was a bit boring. I eat chicken year-round and they're basically the same thing, right? I show up mostly for the sides. I get more excited about cranberry sauce from a can than is natural for any person who eats good, non-processed food on a regular basis.
After my mother moved to California and my brother moved to Houston, I was the only one who still went back to Chicago for the holidays. Since it was just me and my grandparents, we started to switch things up. One year we had filet mignon with lobster tails. Another year we had Niman Ranch [...]
The first victim of your basic Thanksgiving Day-only cooking skills is your pride. Cooking is easy, with practice, and once a year does not constitute practice. I know how to cook now, but that wasn't always the case; I was once this victim. Once I realized that meals are not always exclusively cooked for you (thanks mom and dad!), I decided that I was going to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner, consistently. And like anyone else who feels invulnerable and is unafraid of failure, I quickly waded in over my head and chose baking as my new province. Dinner breads. Rolls and roll-type comestibles. Not the centerpiece, and not even [...]
It wasn't enough that my poor mother was the only woman in a house of three men; she also bore witness to my family's continuing competition to see who could be the sharpest to each other, verbally. Because she was such an easy target (since seeing success as a sign of growth gave her a sense of having done a good job as a parent) she wound up being on the receiving end of more of the barbs than was fair or even decent. And those were just the regular dinners. Holidays were an endeavor of a whole other order.
Thanksgiving at my parents' house always comes with some surprises. Mostly because we invite a lot of strangers. Not strangers exactly. You need to know one family member to get into a Keane Family Thanksgiving. My mother has been teaching English as a second language for over 30 years. And she kindly invites students who don't have family nearby to our house for Thanksgiving. That invitation has then been extended to myriad friends, acquaintances and coworkers over the years. And sometimes, those guests don't behave themselves.
Which is actually a good thing. Because it distracts us from fighting amongst ourselves.
As your correspondent on things that are Important in New England, I’d be negligent in my duties if I didn’t take the time to speak with you about the cranberry. Cranberries! Such New England-y little bitches! All tart and pucker-y! And this New England-y little bitch loves them. (This New England-y little bitch also knows several hundred things to do with them, but we don’t have much time here so we’ll keep it to one pretty easy and terribly impressive thing to do with them for the sake of this exercise.) And so it is with love and only the slightest bit of judgment about the fact that you’ve [...]
Doh, here's some good advice about how to deal with this week that we forgot to give you yesterday. Sorry! Hope you figured it out! "Tuesday Night: Have sex with your spouse. Your family is getting in on Wednesday night and nobody is getting laid with in-laws in the other room. Unless you miss the kind of quiet and terrified sex you used to not do very much of in high school, Wednesday night is a non-starter. Sitting on your couch Thursday night while a small petting zoo rests in your stomach doesn't make anybody feel sexy either. And it's not going to get better over the weekend."
I used to be really afraid of making pies. Like phobia-level afraid of it. (And tape worms. But the pie thing too.) Pie is something that is hard to get to come correct and everyone has different expectations and on top of that it’s not exactly the fastest thing to make, and that alone is pretty fucking horrifying. What if it comes out wet? What if the crust is tough? What if you forget to cut slits in it and turns into an apple and cinnamon sugar bomb and your grandmother cuts into it on Thanksgiving Day and her face is scoured off by a wall of searing hot [...]
Holidays are not a major part of my family's routine. There are a few reasons for this. First, there are only four of us, even fewer once you reach the first and second degrees of separation in our extended family, and those are all spread far afield, scattered across fly-over states, nestled in inland trailer parks and retirement communities. Second, none of us has any special proclivities toward religion. Third, we are busy. And fourth, we are lazy.
Christmas has always been simply an excuse to give presents. (When in middle school I expressed frustration at my Jewish friends' eight nights, eight freaking nights of presents versus our one [...]
When I say that I used to celebrate Thanksgiving by eating lentil loaf, most people need a moment to process the phrase. Thanksgiving lentil loaf? Should those words be next to each other? (I blame this reaction on the icky sound of the word "loaf," not anti-vegetarian bias, but who knows.)
My foray into meatlessness began in junior high, after a biology teacher slipped me a copy of Frances Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet. To this day I'm not sure why she did that. Maybe she sensed my budding interest in economics, politics, the environment and intersections thereof. Maybe she figured I was already doing poorly with [...]
Good news, people who like getting fried food in the mail: "If you happen to be one of those poor souls who does not live within an easy drive of a Popeye's, Williams-Sonoma will mail you a fried turkey. Yes, they are now in the mailing fried things business."
Leading up to Thanksgiving, we're going to bring you recipes galore! Thing is, anyone can make a turkey and yams, so we've asked folks to ransack their family histories for what you might call the "locally traditional" Thanksgiving dish—that delicious and sometimes-bizarre kind of dish that only your family makes.
I’m not big on Thanksgiving. Don’t worry, there’s no overarching sense of white guilt and I don’t care to get all sanctimonious and lecture you on the evils of European Colonialism. In fact I don’t care about any of that stuff at all. Thanksgiving is an American holiday. It’s meaningless to the rest of the world—although I did once [...]