With the holidays fast approaching, memories of love, laughter and masterful turkey dinners.
I know it’s only mid-September and kids have just headed back to school, but the holidays are just around the corner.
That’s right, in about a month you’ll be sitting down to a hearty Thanksgiving dinner with family or friends, then before you know it Christmas will be just around the corner. At the same time you may be dreading the thought of toiling over a giant turkey—twice in two months, no less!—finding ways to juggle the preparation of multiple dishes, serving them hot within minutes of being ready and then still finding time to enjoy the whole function.
Sounds exhausting, right?
Preparing holiday meals can be exactly that. It’s the reason why we designed a Holiday-themed menu to help out those who simply lack the time (or the desire) to tackle a turkey on their own. As much as I love to cook and entertain, as a busy entrepreneur even I find it difficult to find time to prepare an elaborate meal for a house-full of people. It’s no wonder the holidays are Kiss the Cook’s busiest time of the year.
It’s also no surprise that I get more than a little nostalgic when fall approaches.
I was recently considering a few new additions and tweaks to our menu when I started looking back on the many holiday dinners I shared with loved ones growing up. I come from a very large, gregarious (and loud) family that loved to spend time together (and still does). Every year we would gather together around a table, feast, laugh until our faces hurt, and repeat months later when the next holiday rolled around.
Thanksgiving dinners were a particular treat. It was a time when the cool, crisp air of autumn signaled winter’s inevitable return. Our backyard would be covered with fallen leaves—much to the dismay of my father, whose incessant raking kept him outdoors for hours on end.
The routine of Thanksgiving was uncannily consistent. In the early afternoon, my grandparents would arrive at our house. I would take my grandmother’s coat, along with her famous no-bake cherry cheesecake with graham cracker crust—a recipe that could never be exactly duplicated. I’ve tormented myself trying to decode the secret ingredient, but have come to accept that its deliciousness was probably due to an infusion of Bubi’s incomparably warm spirit. It’s the only reasonable explanation!
My grandmother always met me at the door, reaching out with both hands to touch my face, her larger-than-life smile sparkling as her eyes danced with excitement. Bubi’s favourite times were always those spent with the family.
By this time, mom had already been hard at work for hours, preparing the dinner and putting out a spread worthy of Martha Stewart (only better, at least in my opinion). Mom selflessly entertained with love in her heart and, despite all the hard work, she made everything seem effortless. That included perfuming the house with clove-studded oranges. Mom believed that big family dinners should be a multi-sensory experience, and she always delivered. Orange, brown, and cream taper candles were placed delicately on every table and mantel, while the table centerpiece was traditionally an antique, carved wooden bowl filled with rustic, oddly shaped and textured gourds bursting with fall colours. It was a feast for the eyes.
In the background, mom’s cooking music filled the kitchen all morning, usually an eclectic mix of Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen and Barbara Streisand. It was the sonic buffet that added rhythm to her culinary routine.
The house would quickly fill with uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours and whoever else happened to pop by. Hot apple cider would be passed, with more than a few cups spiked to add a little extra warmth to the moment. When the turkey and dozen or so side dishes were eventually ready, the call would go out: Everyone to the table! Kids would be ushered to the washroom for a hand scrubbing, the dads would hold back for an extra swig of hard cider and mom would go into full service mode.
I grew up eating at the kids’ table since our family was simply too big to sit together. My sister, two years my senior, sat with the adults, much to my delight. There was only room available for my cousins and I, which I regarded as an elite group with our own special seats. We would wait with excitement for the impressive culinary show to follow. There was also an understanding that, eventually (many moons later), we would grow up and join the adults. But the funny thing is, I still insist on sitting at the kids’ table, and I don’t plan on ever moving.
With everyone seated—a process that took at least a half-hour—my grandfather would say grace before the meal. Dad gave the toast in honour of Mom. Everyone around the table got the opportunity to announce what they were most grateful for, then we started to dig in. In the lucky chance that I won the wishbone tug of war, my wish was always the same: Good health and togetherness for our family.
It wouldn’t take long before Mom’s pristine table was adorned with well-used plates, we all began slipping into turkey comas, the dads would unlatch their belt buckles to relieve the pressure from their bursting bellies, and the meal-time lull in conversation would once again erupt into a dull roar of laughter, banter and questions, mainly (but not exclusively) from the kids’ table: “When are we getting dessert?!”
Right on cue, mom would remove a freshly-baked apple pie from the oven, then serve it with good old-fashioned vanilla ice cream to top off one of the best meals of the year. I never let the pie cool down, always shocking my teeth against the cold ice cream. There was simply no way I could wait to dig in.
By the time the party ended and we were sent to bed, my sister and I would already be looking forward to the night’s leftovers being transformed into stuffing waffles, mashed potato cakes, turkey and chorizo hash and fresh baked cranberry tarts for breakfast the next morning.
When I look back on those wonderful moments, I sometimes wish I could have slowed time to make them last forever. Then I remember that in my family, they still happen several times a year. In fact, we continue to expand and make new traditions. As the holidays near once again, maybe that’s what I’m most grateful for now.
Until next time,
Oh, last thing—I may never know exactly how my grandmother prepared her cheesecake, but I thought I’d share the recipe as she passed it on to me. Enjoy, and don’t forget to contact Kiss the Cook if you’d like us to prepare and manage your next holiday function.