I’m finding more and more, and sometimes quite rapidly, that what brings me the most pleasure in life is really quite simple.
Whether it’s a shock of color discovered on my daily walk, or the foods that pass through my life, I’ve learned, with some astonishing insight, that often the greatest pleasures we can embrace are found in the tiniest of places and means.
There’s a lot of fodder in the blog world, at least in the North American contingent, regarding preparations for Thanksgiving. I’ve been skipping a lot of these posts, and not because I’m not interested, but mostly because it seems that there is a huge amount of anxiety involved in putting this meal together and making it perfect and I just can’t read about it. Where has all that come from?Somehow, some standard has been ridiculously raised and everyone is straining to jump to new heights, to take a day set aside for gratitude and thanks and make it perfect, flawless and exacting. Mark Bittman even talks about it, and gives a timely and very wise message to cooks everywhere. ‘Just Chill’ he says. He nails this one.
I used to be that way, that awful anxious and stressed person, endlessly making lists, sweating through details and cringing if foods came out less than perfect, and I am really thankful that it’s quietly slipped out of my life. Making my way through life is often all I need for producing an inordinate amount of anxiety, and when I step in my kitchen, I don’t want to be in a position to add anything to that. My kitchen should relax me and strip the rest of the world away. It’s in there that love should surpass most anything else.
These days I’m pretty thankful for that love, in any form it takes. There’s my family, a terrific husband and a pretty amazing teenager, and I’ve got my sibs who provide yet another constant. There are my amazing friends who can both hold a mirror up to me with exceptional grace and then catch me when I see what’s in it. And there’s my huge extended family on Mike’s side that fills me to overflowing. When I think about all of that, I could be reduced to tears from the gratitude I feel.
And my family, well all they really want is to come together and dwell in that love. They aren’t here on Thanksgiving for a feast beyond all belief. They don’t want to be “WOW”ed by the food, in fact, they react often with disappointment when I wander off the playing field and start tossing experimental ideas in the air. The playbook of their holidays is tattered at the edges from overuse. But it has a worn and familiar feel that they need. When they walk into my house, it’s more about who stares back at them from across the flickering candles. It’s about returning to better times in our lives when we had no idea what it was like to be a grown-up. Now I can take those tastes, the ones that stem from years of tradition, and I can make them better and more modern and they look to me for that. But they also just want their mashed potatoes, their gravy with some lumps and a pan of stuffing that they can attack and conquer. They know that I can make it all delicious, so all they really have to think about is whether or not they should refill their wine glass, which game comes out next, or the remembrance of some far distant holiday memory that still brings peals of laughter even when told for the hundredth, no, thousandth time. What’s on their plates is important, but it never has to be perfect. The setting, the faces and the laughter is perfect enough.
And I’m so very thankful for that. This past year has been challenging in so many ways, and the one comfort I’ve derived through this madness that is my life is what happens when the stove comes on and my hands become busy. I pour it all into my food, so my food can give it all back to me; the comfort, the solace and the firm realization of good that I find in my meals. But the simple truth is, I could share a takeout pizza with my guys at home on any given night and as long as I’m staring at their faces, what’s on my plate is irrelevant. Mike’s serious back injury this past May was a huge perspective shift. And Mike and Griffin, my whole world, were both in the car when it was totaled in July. Then, in September, my beloved Harmon was diagnosed with cancer. Holidays always bring about emotions that rise and fall every year: I lost a sister almost 18 years ago. My mother died unexpectedly 15 years back. The holes in my family portrait are acute and tender, and that is never going away. Between now and the end of the year, I feel those losses deeply. And it makes me that much more thankful for everyone who still sits down at my table, who asks for pumpkin pie, who loves the crunchy edges of the stuffing almost as much as I do, who cares little for something extraneous or unusual. Perfection is impossible, and family is forever. I know which one is so much more important.
My hope for everyone is that somewhere in the chaos of your family traditions and meals that you stop to embrace what you have, the faces that smile at you and take the time to appreciate them deeply. Be very thankful for the food on your table, whatever form it takes, as we celebrate through some very tough times. Please remember that not everyone is as fortunate as you may be. Show gratitude. Speak tenderly. And have a wonderful, feast-ful, delicious and tantalizing Thanksgiving, from my house to yours.