The day after Thanksgiving is typically, for me, a day spent recuperating from the rush of preparing a huge festive meal all by myself, from the roasted turkey to the yeast rolls. Don’t get me wrong, I love this ritual, even though every year I swear it’s going to be my last. “Next year,” I tell myself, “I’m going to buy one of those prepared meals at Whole Foods and just sit back, drink wine, and watch the Macy’s parade.”
But I just can’t do it. I can’t not be thinking of great new ways to make old favorites like sweet potato casserole; I can’t not peruse the cooking magazines with all those gorgeous photos of perfectly tanned turkeys and sparkling cranberry compotes. I call it Food Porn and it’s my favorite way to spend a quiet afternoon when I’m just too lazy to do something useful, like exercise. But I digress …
This year, I spent Black Friday with my dear friends Mary and Brian at their beautiful house, cooking up a storm and having one of those special days that stay in one’s memory forever. The festivities began around 11 a.m. when I arrived with two bottles of champagne and the makings of some terrific bacon-wrapped dates and sausage cheese balls. I was practically met at the door with a glass of pink champagne and a huge hug from Brian as the wonderful smells of smoked turkey and black truffles filled the house. Brian had recently graduated from the professional chef’s course down in Denver and he was eager to practice his newfound culinary skills on his appreciative friends.
Every possible space on the stove, in the ovens, and on the kitchen island was filled with amazing food: black truffle-rubbed roast turkey and another turkey being smoked outside on the grill, stuffing with homemade chicken stock, green beans sautéed with pancetta, foie gras with a reduced Sauterne jelly, goat cheese truffles; you get the idea. This was clearly not just a casual, post-Thanksgiving get-together with leftovers and wine. All previous thoughts of not wanting to eat again until Christmas melted away and with sleeves rolled up and glasses filled the three of us proceeded to cook, bake, baste, stuff, roll, blanche, and sauté our way through the afternoon with much laughter and joking. At one point, I had to step back and allow the warmth and beauty of this scene to soak in, letting my sense of utter happiness rise to the surface above the busy-work in the kitchen. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what “needs” to be done that we often forget why we’re doing it in the first place; in this case, love of good friends and good food and the sheer joy of preparing a great meal together.
As the day wore on, more friends showed up with more food and after filling their glasses with champagne and giving them a tour of the menu, we commenced to eat the most amazing (post) Thanksgiving meal of my life. Every dish was sublime, with all the flavors building toward the perfect finish: poached pears with a red wine and honey reduction that was possibly the most seductive flavor I’ve ever experienced.
After this incredible meal, we wandered into the living room to play Wii games like tennis and bowling and golf and boxing. It was quite a sight to see several stuffed, happy, bubbly people merrily swinging away with the Wii controllers, trying to land a virtual knockout punch and serve a virtual ace without taking out any of the furniture or each other. Between games, we wandered back into the kitchen to pick at all the food still tempting us; I’m pretty sure I ate an entire turkey by myself, bit by delicious bit. At one point, Mary looked out the window and began jumping up and down and clapping her hands. “It’s snowing,” she happily cried. “I love snow!” Huge, soft flakes were drifting lazily down, turning the windows into wintry art.
By 1 a.m., we began to wind down and after a quick cleanup in the kitchen, we headed for door and out into the transformed winter wonderland of the season’s first snow. Hugging my dear friends goodbye, I felt a wave of contentment and appreciation that surely is the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I hope we do it again every year.