Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! I see from my Facebook feed that I am a member of a large group of people who consider Thanksgiving to be their favourite holiday! I enjoy it for so many reasons, not least of which is that it’s the start of a fabulous season, where even Ol’ Grumps can find a reason to be joyful!
Historically, my Thanksgivings have been filled with hysterical activity: running to and fro, sending someone to the store for… “Ack, I forgot butter!!! How could I have forgotten butter?! You there! YOU sitting all comfy/cozy on that chair: get thee up and out! We MUST HAVE BUTTER!! Oh, and while you’re at it, could you pick up some….”
My regular guests were used to these last-minute chores. They never complained, though, but always took my (frequently imperious) commands with the sense of humour that the day warranted.
I gave my first Homeless Thanksgiving in the early 80s when I was in my late teens. I was a bartender in Georgetown (DC), and I didn’t have any family around. But I was surrounded by good people who also didn’t have family around, and I thought to myself: well, Self, you can sit by yerself and mope, or by golly, you can make some whoopee!!!
Being my grandmother’s daughter (as my mom always says), I opted for the latter! I mean, really: when it comes right down to it, WHOOPIE is ever so much more fun than moping, yes?
I invited my fellow bartenders, waitrons, busboys, and even a couple of lonely bar regulars to my tiny apartment. I cooked up a traditional family Thanksgiving, and we had a grand old time starting what would become a regular fête chez moi for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes, guests would bring wine, but it wasn’t expected and I just enjoyed the company!
I should probably explain “traditional” here. As most of you reading know, I was raised in some rather interesting tropical countries. You may not realize that turkeys in the tropics are more noticeable for their absence than otherwise. So in my family, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is (of course!) lasagna!
The first Thanksgiving meal that I remember was in Laos. I remember it quite clearly because I had fallen off of my bicycle the day before on a rather steep hill. I fell on my lip, apparently, which split, making it possible but excruciating for me to eat my favourite part of the meal, the salad with a vinaigrette! The lasagna and requisite garlic bread were sadly missed, but OH, to this day, I remember pining for that salad!
So: lasagna. Using my grandmother’s marinara sauce, and her meatballs (ohhh, so good!). Garlic bread, and a simple salad (lemon vinaigrette). Wine, of course, too.
That first Thanksgiving was the kick-off for an annual ritual at Thanksgiving and Christmas that I have always looked forward to. I do a traditional turkey dinner for one of the holidays, lasagna for the other. Over the years—just to be nuts, you know—I switch it up; sometimes, I’ll do turkey for Thanksgiving and lasagna for Christmas!
My motto: if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!
There are an unfortunate number of people out in the world who for years were sure that lasagna was the traditional American way to celebrate Thanksgiving! I had a letter from a law school classmate after she had returned home to Israel. She said she had confused and then amused a number of people with tales of her “traditional lasagna Thanksgivings” in Durham, NC. Her friends who knew better thought it might have been a regional peculiarity, but she eventually figured it out!
My last Homeless Thanksgiving (and Homeless Christmas) was the year before we moved to California from DC. The few friends I’ve made in California have all had their own family affairs, which is wonderful for them, but I do miss cooking for a herd, and I miss the friendships that grew out of my twisted interpretation of “traditional.”
I have few pictures from these times, but I do have the sweet memories in my mind’s eye, and really, that’s even better.
All of these Thanksgivings past, I have been so busy cooking, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, and just sharing, that I haven’t had the time to sit and contemplate. It wasn’t necessary, really, since being thankful for everyday life has always been just a by-product of breathing to me, and these get-togethers were all thanksgiving enough for me.
This Thanksgiving, though, is my second one on my own, and I have had the time for gentle contemplation.
I am thankful that I woke this morning breathing, and that I did not have to walk six miles for a glass of water.
I am thankful that I have a roof over my head and food in my go-down.
I am thankful for so many wonderful memories of friends who have shared my table, broken bread with me, and made me laugh and laughed with me.
I am thankful for furry companionship.
Mostly, I am thankful for you, my friends, for sharing your days with me virtually, and allowing me to be a part of the joy, and for allowing me to share so many of the things in my life that, day to day, I may take for granted.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.
Start with a couple of yellow onions and a head of garlic. I usually go overboard on the onions (like four or five!), but then, that’s the way I like it. You do your own thing.
Dice the onions into whatever size you like, and slice the garlic. Sauté both in the bottom of a rather large, heavy-bottomed pot until translucent.
Oh: add a few tablespoons of Italian seasoning to the onions at the start. A small handful. Whatever. My grandmother insisted that this step was crucial for integrating the herbs into the whole. I’ve never digressed from those stern instructions, so I don’t know. Add later at your own risk!
Now, crushed tomatoes. My favourites are Pomi, but we’re going to cook the shit out of this sauce, so really, any ol’ canned tomato will do. I’ve been seriously poor when making this, and I’ll admit to using some cheap canned red things. But if you’re going to this effort and you’re not poor, why not use the good stuff? How much? Meh—six cups? Eight? You can always adjust once we get this whole thing together. Just bear in mind, if you go nuts, you’re gonna need a bigger pot!
Stir in a small can of tomato paste. I don’t know why; we’ve already added an entire garden’s worth of tomatoes, but again: Grandma said add tomato paste, and I’m not going to argue. This has always tasted awesome, so I figure, why fuck with it?!
Now here’s the really important part: Add a bottle of red wine. Yes: the whole thing. You can take a sip if you like, but Grandma was pretty specific: “The cheaper the wine, the higher the sodium content, so that’s what you want to use!!”
Now I love my grandmother from there and back, but she could be frugal, at times. So I’ve never been sure whether this is just her being frugal or if there’s actually something to this whole high-sodium wine thing.
Again, who am I to argue? And please, if YOU are inclined to check, keep it to yourself. There are just some things in life that do not need to be fact-checked. I am blissful in my ignorance.
And there we go. Cook this for about two days.
No, I’m not kidding. Two days. Very, very low heat, mostly covered. Two days. Stir occasionally to be sure you don’t have the heat up too high. If you can’t get it low enough, go buy one of those asbestos stove thingys… . Never mind, I don’t think they make those anymore. Add some space between your heat source and your pot.
If you make a large enough batch (and you should), this can last you through the entire winter. In my house, it goes on EVERYTHING!
Thanks to my grandmother, Dorothy Marie Douthet-Everett.