We saw our first snow today. I was upstairs in my art room when I heard Micalangela yell up, "Look out the window!" A band of flurries was passing through, light enough that I had to look for a few seconds to spot a flake, but heavy enough to confirm that it was indeed the change of season. If the snow was not enough notice, the fading light at 4:30 p.m. sends us scurrying to switch on lamps and the dogs begin to pace reproachfully because they do not understand why the food bowls are not being filled if it is getting dark.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving and I've barely left the house since I came home from work midday Wednesday, laden with last minute groceries and pumpkin-colored tapers. Micalangela was right behind, fresh off the train, and Sister #2 appeared to be the sous chef. Sister #4's family was coming for Thanksgiving and since she was preparing most of the pies, the mashed potatoes and the sweet, the most labor intensive dish I had to prepare is the cornbread chestnut stuffing. I usually finish my grocery shopping the weekend before and make the cornbread and slice the baguettes two days in advance to have them sufficiently dried out for the stuffing. This year, since we went to Cape Cod last weekend, everything was being done the night before.
The most important part of the stuffing is the chestnuts. Let's just say that in my family, the reason for the cornbread, the fresh herbs, and the sauteed carrots is just to provide a bed for the chestnuts. In years past, Mr, Pom and I have have spent Thanksgiving Eve in a chestnut roasting and peeling assembly line. He scores them; I throw a batch in the oven and some in the microwaves; we both peel while they are still warm so they don't stick to the papery lining; and repeat for several hours. One year, my hands were so numb that Mr. Pom had to take over the chopping for fear I'd slice my hands off.
A few years ago, Micalangela was working at a gourmet cafe and her boss introduced me to vacuum-packed, roasted, peeled chestnuts. It was like the gift of the Magi in its convenience, but I was wary of the flavor. I used them with trepidation the first year, and no one had a clue. A quick dicing on the cutting board, a fast glazing with butter, and I can throw them into the stuffing mixture without working up a sweat. Horribly behind in my prep this year, I ran through the grocery store on a mission: get vacuum packed chestnuts, but they were nowhere to be found. The store manager sadly informed me that they hadn't gotten them in this year and with a cart full of groceries, feet hurting in office high heels, stomach grumbling for dinner, I ran back to the produce counter, threw about 4 pounds of enormous chestnuts that cost a king's ransom into a bag and checked out.
What can I do? Without the chestnuts, I might as well make a loaf of cornbread with herbs with a dish of sauteed carrots on the side. So even though the chestnuts cost almost as much as the turkey, tradition, especially this year, is tradition.
By the time I got home, Sister #5 had stopped by. She was making a chestnut stuffing, too. And oh yes, Stop & Shop had racks and racks of vacuum packed chestnuts - and they were on sale for $1.50 a bag! I went into the kitchen, threw half of the chestnuts into a ziplock bag and gave them to her for her fruit and nut course, and headed to Stop & Shop for 6 bags of prepared chestnuts. Those big glossy ones that I put in a decorative, glass pedestal dish to save for eating? They molded over by Thursday morning and I threw them all in the garbage.
It was that kind of holiday: we rolled with the punches. There was the usual pressure of getting the shrimp cleaned, the artichokes trimmed, the silver polished, but there was no franticness, no raised voices, no exhaustion that resulted in a holiday migraine. I think those days finally are past me. I needed my mom to be gone to realize that the worst thing that could happen to a holiday had already happened and there was absolutely nothing I could do to reverse it. I couldn't rush out and get a vacuum packed anything that would save the day. We had to not just make do, but do it right. Despite everything that argued against having Thanksgiving occur for the first time in my 57 years without my mother seated at the table, it was going to happen and the family was looking at the sisters to pull it together and do it right.
Tonight, the last of the leftovers were had for lunch by the kids and the dishwasher that has run twice a day is taking care of the last of the dirty Tupperware. I've only left the house for a haircut and to buy a roast beef to suppplement the leftovers for dinner last night when we celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary at home with the family. We've totally ignored Black Friday in real time or cyber. We've eaten every meal together, sometimes on paper plates in front of the TV watching old sitcoms on Hulu. The table is ready to have the dirty cloth stripped off, Micalangela is working on a paper, and Mystery Man is getting antsy to go home.
It looks like a normal post-holiday weekend.
We did it right, Mom.
And you haven't left our minds for a minute.