I’m writing this on the plane home to NYC from Madrid, where I joined a press trip with journalists and chefs from Belgium, Holland, Spain, and Japan. Last night—delirious from a week of nonstop days, not enough sleep, and long, windy bus rides—we shared a bottle of cava, a pillowy, oniony tortilla and a platter of jamon on our final night together. I was the only American. I started telling the table about Thanksgiving.
I have a soft spot for Thanksgiving. It comes with none of the pressure of Christmas (finding the right gifts stresses me out) or Halloween (I have never in my life had a clever or cute costume) or Passover (surely, we are badly bungling part or all of the Seder.) In my family, Thanksgiving is straightforward: we cook, we eat, we drink, and we eat some more. These are the things we do best. And on Thanksgiving, we do them together.
As the leaves turn golden and crimson, then crunchy beneath our feet, my mom starts texting me recipes that look alluring from Food & Wine or The New York Times. “Should we try this for Thanksgiving this year?” she asks of mini fennel stuffing muffins, or a kale salad with preserved lemon.
Sometimes we’ll experiment with something new, but usually we stick to our canon: a turkey stuffed with lemon and herbs that my parents unfailingly bicker about how long to cook, green beans roasted with slivers of almonds, Brussels spout hash with lots of shallots, my mom’s leek and mushroom stuffing that gets these great crispy edges, and mashed sweet potatoes and carrots from The Silver Palate cookbook. We make two cranberry sauces: one simmered with port and orange zest, and a raw cranberry relish that’s mouth-puckeringly tart. There’s a cheese plate, of course, for which I ignore my mother’s appeal not to go overboard. I’m not a big baker, except for the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake with a pecan crust that I make exactly once a year.
My new friends have holidays that we don’t. The Dutch journalist shows me pictures of King’s Day, where everyone wears orange, and party boats line the city’s canals. She paints her daughter’s face with bright streaks of orange for the occasion. Still, I feel a little sorry for them. Thanksgiving is the best, and they are lacking.
This is my first Thanksgiving as a married person. In the ten years since he’s lived in New York, my British husband Tony has whole-heartedly adopted the American holiday. In the four Thanksgivings since we’ve been dating, he braves the worst place in the world—that’s the Port Authority Bus Terminal—on perhaps the worst day all year, the Wednesday of Thanksgiving Eve, to visit my parents’ house in Frenchtown, NJ, AKA Thanksgiving HQ.
By the time he arrives, my mom and I have been cooking for 24 hours. Used to my tiny NYC apartment kitchen, all that suburban counter space feels dangerously luxurious. Our lists and recipes are smudged with butter and other mysterious things. The house smells of caramelizing onions and spice. Our backs ache a bit, from all that standing. Mom’s Van Morrison and Bonnie Rait playlist repeats endlessly until the songs lodge themselves in my brain. When Tony arrives, we make negronis, or my dad opens a bottle of red.
Only six weeks ago, we were married in my parents’ backyard. It was the best night of my life, and it was also exhausting. My mom and dad did a lot of heavy lifting.
“Maybe we’ll sit this Thanksgiving out,” my mom suggested in October, and I couldn’t blame her. We thought of other things we could do instead: go to Newport, Rhode Island for the long weekend, or stay home. But by November, she had come around. Thanksgiving was on. It was going to be a small affair this year; my cousin would be with her husband’s family, and my aunt and uncle were heading on vacation.
And then some neighbors asked what my mom and dad were up to, and another cousin got a dog-sitter, and some family friends would be in town after all. The number climbed to 8, then 12, then 15. Some years, we’ve had 24. We’ve pushed together tables and asked guests to bring chairs. My friends have braved the Port Authority on Thanksgiving Day, arriving with their cheeks flushed from the cold and bright from smiles. We make them negronis, or pour them red wine, and the house smells of gravy and cinnamon and joy.
I love to travel, and yet the best part is always returning home. Especially tonight, to my new husband, to New York City, just in time for Thanksgiving.