Is your Thanksgiving menu ready? We’re less than a week away, which means here in the U.S. at least, it’s game time. In the next couple of days, we had better thaw the turkey, prepare the brine, hit the store before the last-minute rush, and marshal our favorite recipes for a long Thursday in the kitchen.
Getting the food right might not be as important as spending time with loved ones — depending on whom you ask — but I’m willing to argue that most families consider the proper dinner spread an essential component of doing Thanksgiving right. Especially this year, when some of us will host celebrations smaller than usual and many are separated from loved ones by distance or health concerns, it seems more valuable than ever to put a great deal of care and thought into crafting a Thanksgiving meal worthy of the occasion.
One of the ways I plan to practice gratitude this Thanksgiving is to notice and be thankful for the unexpected silver linings and little joys that have blossomed amid this grim pandemic — perhaps even because of the pandemic. Among them: more time at home to develop my love for cooking.
In that long ago, half-forgotten pre-COVID era, so many of us were guilty of always rushing, staying far too busy, finding one task after another to fill our days. Forced to slow down, required to stay mostly at home, that rush has subsided, and with it has come free time to fill. In that quiet, instead of seeing food as merely a nutritional necessity to get out of the way as quickly as possible, I’ve begun to view the chance to cook my meals more as an opportunity. Dining out safely is still possible in some places, but not as much as it used to be.
If I have a few hours on a Tuesday to make dinner at home, why would I rehash a stir fry or salad I’ve made 100 times when I could try my hand at a beloved dish from a restaurant or a dish I’ve never had?
Though I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was young (I had a go-to soup recipe from the Fannie Farmer Junior Cookbook down pat by the age of eight) and have a knack for going off-recipe without serious casualties, the space created by this pandemic has encouraged me to experiment with the range of what I’m comfortable attempting in the kitchen. I’ve slowly started to see preparing food not only as a science and an art but also as a way of showing gratitude and love for myself and those with whom I share my meals.
Cooking is, in some small sense, a sacrament—and if there’s something liturgical about preparing a thoughtful meal, a solid cookbook is the bible of the kitchen.
My selection is fairly meager at the moment, but over the last few months I’ve become a firm believer in the idea that a printed-and-bound cookbook will always beat a recipe hastily read off of a screen. The Internet gives us plenty of options to consult, but sometimes more than enough becomes too many. Besides, there’s something comforting about seeing a book lying open on the counter, consoling you when you skip a step and blessing your labor over the stove. Don’t worry about getting the pages dirty; you’ll feel a twinge of pride later on when you flip through and discover stains of sauces and stews left behind like blood stains, battle scars, and trophies.
Even if your Thanksgiving will be far smaller than usual, pull out the recipe cards for those old family classics anyway. Make the side dish you’ve always said you’d try someday when you had the time. Try to craft that complex pie you’ve failed at three times already. Participate in the small sacrament of cooking and allow it to stir up gratitude in you for everything you have and have been given.
As this challenging year winds to a close, perhaps our particular hardships make it more difficult to feel sincere gratitude. Perhaps all we feel we can muster is a hasty grace over a hastily prepared meal — or perhaps the suffering each of us has weathered will intensify our gratitude for the simple blessings we once took for granted.