I am as a-religious as it is possible to be. Although I’m Jewish, I don’t believe in God, don’t go to temple, and don’t even understand what spirituality means. Still, there are two Jewish holidays that I like to mark: Passover and Yom Kippur. They are about freedom and atonement, respectively, and I think there’s something to be said for designating a day to think about those things. (I also have a soft spot for Purim, but that’s for the costumes, noisemakers, and hamentaschen.)
I think about those things on those days, but I seldom write or talk about them. It’s hard to give voice to ideas like how glad you are that you’re not enslaved, or how determined you are not to make last year’s mistakes again next year, without its sounding like cheap sentiment or tired cliché. In that regard, though, Passover and Yom Kippur are a cakewalk compared to Thanksgiving.
What are we thankful for? Family and friends, good health and prosperity, flowers and sunsets. And we are thankful for all of those things. Profoundly so. The feeling of it is important, possibly even central to our happiness. But the voicing of it is a thankless job.
I have family and friends, good health and prosperity, flowers and sunsets. But do you really want to hear about how great my parents are? How interesting and smart and upstanding? Do you really want to know how I hit it out of the park in the step-children department, with two excellent, good-natured, thoughtful kids (although kids no longer)? I also know where my next meal is coming from, feel pretty good for fifty, have a vibrant circle of friends, and do work I find interesting and satisfying.
Bully for me.
This Thanksgiving, we decided to cook as much of the meal as possible in our wood-fired oven. Kevin lit it early in the morning, and it was blazing hot by mid-day. He made a couple quick pizzas for lunch, and then we got down to the serious business of Thanksgiving dinner.
While the coals were still in the oven, Kevin cooked the bacon and seared the Brussels sprouts he’d finish later on, when the oven cooled. I made the stuffing on the stove, and stuffed the bird as he took the remaining ashes and embers out of the oven so the temperature would drop.
Kevin’s plan was to put the turkey in the oven when the temperature was still quite high, just long enough to brown it, take it out, tent it, and then finish it when the oven cooled to about 350 degrees. After the browning stage, I was skeptical. The bird was too brown, the oven was too hot, this wasn’t going to work.
“Don’t worry,” Kevin said. “It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be perfect. It’s under control. You go make the pies.” He didn’t actually pat me on the head, but he might as well have.
I went inside to make the pies, and he tented the bird and put it back in. He put sweet potatoes and potatoes in with it about an hour later. And then, when the bird was almost done, he added the Brussels sprouts and bacon in a dish with some turkey stock and currants.
And it was perfect. Consensus was that it was the best turkey we’ve ever had.
Last night, we hosted Thanksgiving in a place I never would have moved to, had it not been for Kevin’s willingness to take a risk and make a change. We ate a bird I never would have ventured to raise, had Kevin’s emphasis on doing not transformed me from spectator to participant. We cooked it in a wood-fired oven, which we have only because Kevin doesn’t let a little thing like the difficulty of building a brick dome stand between him and a perfect meal.
It’s Thanksgiving, and I am free. I am determined to not make last year’s mistakes again next year. And I have a husband for all time.