Surviving Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving for me has always been a time to spend with family. This becomes increasing difficult as family gradually spreads apart or sheds this mortal coil. Last year, we started what we thought might become a tradition of spending the time with my wife’s family on Cape Cod. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out this year. It was a difficult decision, but it felt a lot less difficult as a snowstorm socked the 500 miles of road we would have been driving on. We dodged a bullet there.

This left us to fend for ourselves in a much smaller celebration. One thing we found was how freeing it was. Take Aunt Bertha’s Pearled Onions. There are those dishes that are like the Emperor’s new clothes. Nobody wants them; nobody would voluntarily eat them, but nobody wants to be the first one to say so, lest we be the only one. Aunt Bertha may have passed away decades ago, and may be fading from living memory with every passing year, but nobody is going to let this year be the year that we failed to produce her favorite dish.

We’ve been a vegetarian household for well over a decade, but somehow turkey has always made it onto the table. Either there was a non vegetarian coming over, or we were at someone else’s house. The fact is it’s hard to think of a thanksgiving without the smell of a roasting turkey filling the house and causing the cats plot ways to get into the oven every time to open the door.

This year, we made the difficult decision to show the turkey the pink slip. His services would no longer be needed at the dinner table. I’m sure he was disappointed. Instead, we left the decision of what to serve up to the seven year old. There was a tense moment when it looked like we might be reenacting the meal in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but then he went with “inside-out grilled cheese,” which is the name he’s given to fondue.

We went with two courses: Cheddar cheese, and dark chocolate. Oh, and a green bean casserole. You have to have a green bean casserole. I’m sure there is a vengeful Spirit of Thanksgiving Present who will visit plagues of carolers upon you in the coming month if you don’t placate it with an offering of green bean casserole. In case the lack of turkey should also anger said spirit, I upped my game on the green beans, making the whole thing from scratch, including the fried onion topping. I stopped missing the turkey smell after the onions had been caramelizing for 20 minutes. The smell filled the house, and even the cats were following their noses to the kitchen, and refusing to believe me that onions were bad for them.

Thanksgiving day was decidedly non-crazy. We lounged around in our pajamas, drinking tea and coffee, and playing games like Munchkin and Blokus. I spent my time in the kitchen chopping the dippers with the MST3K TurkeyDay Marathon playing on the kitchen computer. PP would occasionally come in and we’d sit together and watch it for a while, then he’d go back to playing and I’d go back to chopping. Not being a sports fan, and having abandoned live TV a long time ago, I’d forgotten the odd difference watching something live brings. There is much more of a sense of being in the moment. This isn’t a file you can just scrub back on. It’s an event that’s happening right now, and you’re a small part of it.

The food prep was leisurely and calm, without the stress of trying to calculate the cooking times and optimum oven packing to get 15 side dishes and a turkey to the same state of doneness at the appointed time. When it came time for dinner, all the toppings had been chopped; the cheese had been grated, and the plates had been set. I’d even combined the beer, chopped garlic, and mustard powder in advance. It was just a matter of putting the liquids in the pot, letting it warm, and whisking in the cheese in: maybe 5 minutes work. We talked and ate until we’d had our full, and then slipped into a light coma for a while.

Round two did not go as smoothly. I pulled the block of chocolate off the shelf to find that all we had was 99% dark Callebaut. Oops. I guess just looking up and saying “Yep, we’ve got a block’o’chocolate there” isn’t adequate preparation. This wasn’t what I was planning on.

Then I opened the refrigerator and found that I’d miscalculated on the heavy cream, and used it all on the green bean casserole. The Spirit of Thanksgiving Present was having his way with me after all.

I wasn’t about to be defeated so easily. I’d promised my family chocolate fondue, and that was what they were going to have. Whether it would be edible or not was another story, but I was going to at least try. So I set out into uncharted waters. With no clue as to whether I’d get away with it, I pulled out the egg nog, dumped and in a cup of sugar. I chopped up the block of chocolate. When it came time, I heated the eggnog in the microwave, and whisked in the chocolate until I got something looked like a cross between chocolate fondue and liquefied black hole stuff.

The result was dark and luscious, but not noticeably sweet and a more than a little astringent. It was a big hit. It helps that we have a boy with a freakish preference for the darkest of dark chocolates. His optimum dippers were Oreo and Graham cracker covered marshmallows. The adults preferred pineapple chunks, which brought some additional sweetness to the party.

There’s a bit left over. I might cut it with some milk chocolate for the adults when we revisit. On the whole, a quiet Thanksgiving with minimal family drama. Definitely something to be thankful for.