Nov 20, 200912:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Home for the Holiday
I know some people wait all year for Christmas, just dying to pull out the Santa figurines and put some Bing Crosby on the stereo.
I’m not one of those people.
I like Christmas just fine. I love the spicy smell of pine trees, I think twinkly white lights are beautiful, and I have a particular weakness for sour cherry candy canes.
But it’s far from my favorite holiday. No, what I wait for all year is Thanksgiving. And this is going to sound awful, but it’s really not because I cherish the time spent with family and friends. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: I love having time to myself in the kitchen, just chopping and stirring and kneading and taste-testing.
See, I love my friends and family year-round and try to tell them all on a regular basis how thankful I am for them. But the chance to spend all day cooking and eating is not a frequent occurrence for me.
Before I had a child and a full-time job, it was. My last semester in graduate school was supposed to be spent writing my thesis. Instead, it was spent cooking wildly elaborate meals, teaching grammar and watching Jeopardy while drinking $1 Stags at the local dive bar.
In penance, the next chapter of my life was spent working full-time, actually writing my thesis at night after work and eating Rice-A-Roni alone in front of the computer. But even then, I’d still take the weekends to make chicken stock, bake bread and host dinner parties for my other young married friends.
Now, though, my weeknights generally consist of throwing together some sort of one-pot meal that relies heavily on convenience items while my daughter runs around my feet and demands chocolate milk –– and no, not in that cup, Mama, in the blue cup, no, the other blue one, the one with the fishes and the octopus!
And weekends are a busy haze of princess birthday parties, trips to Target and fighting back the squalor that tends to overtake my home during the workweek.
I find cooking, even cooking for a lot of people, to be incredibly relaxing, and in fact, that’s what I asked for last Mother’s Day. I didn’t need a massage or a day at the spa. I just wanted to be left alone to cook for the afternoon.
In Missouri, no one really got this. Before I joined the family, my in-laws were perfectly happy to roast a turkey, make some Stove Top Stuffing, open a can of cranberry sauce, stir some cream of mushroom soup into some green beans, and call it good.
In New Orleans, everyone gets this. I’ve been discussing the merits of cornbread dressing versus French bread dressing with one of my coworkers for weeks. I’ve already had friends over to serve as a focus group for the soup course: They preferred the pumpkin-and-black-bean over the roasted-garlic-and-potato. My mom and I might break the Internet with the volume of e-mails we’ve exchanged about side dishes.
This Thanksgiving is not only going to be the first one I’ve spent in my new house but also the first one I’ve spent in New Orleans since 1997, my senior year of high school, when my mom and I hosted a “Dysfunctional Family After Party,” with desserts and drinks for people who needed to vent after traditional dinners with their families. It still stands out in my mind as one of my all-time favorite Thanksgivings, not least because it was such a clear indication of just how close and loving –– and hilarious –– this city can be.
I am incredibly thankful to be home this Thanksgiving, once again celebrating in New Orleans more than a decade later, though it’s a little bit astounding to realize just how much I’ve grown up. This time, I’ll be in my own home with my own family, my own china, my own recipes, my own wine glasses –– and of course, when I set the table with all of these trappings of adulthood, there will also be a sippy cup full of chocolate milk, the blue one, the one with the fishes and the octopus.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Wherever you spend it, I hope it’s full of good food and good company. And if it’s not … well, I may just have to revive the tradition of the “Dysfunctional Family After Party.”