This Thanksgiving’s menu and memories past

Ah, the Thanksgiving feast. Gobble, gobble?

Well … sometimes.

But the best Thanksgiving meal I ever had involved no turkey, no bird at all, no meat.

It was nearly 20 years ago, and I remember it still, remember it well. We were all – Kathy, Sara, me – vegetarians then, following Sara’s lead. She’d given up meat by age 12 and for the first year or so, I’d cooked two meals each night – one especially for her, one for Kathy and me – and finally I said enough is far too much and announced:

“We are now all vegetarians, because I’m tired of cooking two meals.”

So the Thanksgiving I’m remembering was perhaps 1996, maybe 1997, and Kathy had taken off for New Jersey to see her family. Sara was home from Walnut Hill, her high school in Natick, and it was just the two of us.

Our Thanksgiving staple was vegetarian lasagna with spinach. That was my job. Sara somehow discovered Gypsy soup, and I mean no pejorative here; that is what Jane Brody called it in her “Good Food” cookbook. It consisted of root-type things, specifically sweet potatoes, although one could substitute squash, but I liked the sweet potatoes better.

So Sara and I spent Thanksgiving morning cooking and then we ate and watched movies and a little football, I guess. But Sara was, and is, no fan, so it was mostly movies.

Kathy, in New Jersey, had turkey and mashed potatoes and a good time with her family, but Sara and I had a good time, too.

We mostly all stay home on Thanksgiving now. Sara and her husband, Jason, come down from Portsmouth and we sometimes have a turkey although last year…

For some reason, the racks in my oven are ill-balanced in that the things upon which they slide don’t go all the way front to back and if you’re not careful, and if whatever is in the oven is too far back, the rack will tip backwards.

I don’t think about that much because I primarily use the oven for baking bread or roasting almonds and there’s little weight.

But last year, there was a turkey, and at some point, I was moving it forward on the rack to baste it, or something, and, whoops, back tipped the rack and out spilled lots of oily stuff. I handled it like an adult male – I cursed – and took out the turkey and was about to sop up the mess when Sara, quite calm I’m proud to say, announced:

“Um, Dad? You might want to put out the fire.”

My response was a clever, “Huh?”

“The fire? In the oven?”

And, YIKES, there was indeed a fire. Of course, I had no idea what to do other than the adult male thing – I cursed – so Sara, quite calmly, said:

“Why don’t you close the oven door? You know, cut off the oxygen?”

“Right.”

I’m happy to say that worked and all turned out well once the fire was out and the turkey back in.

This year, there is no danger of that because there is no turkey. This year is pure vegetarian with:

1. Eggplant Parmesan, the recipe for which I got from our friend, Susan, who is somewhat disgusted that I do it in layers rather than just a single layer. The sauce includes ground up anchovies but that’s a secret we keep from Jason who is no fan of fishy things like that. He’s never noticed or, if he has, is too polite to do the adult male thing and curse.

2. Manicotti with pumpkin and vegetarian sausage. Now it’s possible that you, either not being Italian or not having grown up in an Italian neighborhood in Tenafly, N.J., will pronounce the name of this dish thusly: Man-a-COT-ti. And you would be wrong. In Tenafly, among the Biscaldis and the Venturinis and the Trumbettis, and the Grazianis and the Gramaglias, it is pronounced thusly: Man-a-GOHT. Just as the cheese one uses in it is not pronounced Ri-COT-ta. It is pronounced, among the aforementioned neighbors of my youth, Ri-GOHT. So there. An important note here: I will not buy packaged manicotti (man-a-GOHT) noodles; I make my own using a basic crepe recipe and spreading the filling around each crepe before rolling them up. And I make my own sauce, too. All of this will be done the day before. I love the day before Thanksgiving because I spend most of it cooking and, of course, drinking wine while I cook.

3. A black bean dish Sara brought last year that was excellent but all I remember about it, specifically, is black beans and lots of cumin. She’s working the night before Thanksgiving so I don’t think she’ll have time to make it, thus I’m hoping she’ll send me the recipe and I’ll do it. Assuming she trusts me not to set the house on fire.

4. Blackened brussels sprouts. I never liked these little cabbage-like vegetables until I had them at the Green Elephant in Portland, a brilliant vegetarian restaurant.

5. Pumpkin muffins, the recipe for which I have taken from “This Crazy Vegan Life,” a cookbook I saw advertised on TV and couldn’t resist (years ago, I bought the Ginsu knife. Oy.)

6. Dessert of some sort about which I don’t care because I don’t eat dessert so that’s up to Kathy.

No Gypsy soup this year, at least none is planned but now that I think about it, there will be lots of room on top of the stove because everything I’ve mentioned, except the sprouts, will be in the oven. It’s worth a thought.

You might wonder why I’ve told you all this, all these boring details about my Thanksgiving dinner, as if you’re supposed to think it’s important. You’re not. I’m really not telling you; I’m telling me.

I’m telling me because with the writing comes the memories, not just of setting the oven on fire or spending time alone with Sara, but of so many Thanksgivings that have passed, of spending a few at Cousin Nancy’s where she cooks two turkeys and two hams because half the known world seems to show up in her Weehawken building.

Of Thanksgivings so long ago when my parents and uncles and grandmothers were still alive.

And of one at my aunt’s in, I think, 2001, in East Hanover, N.J., where the day after Thanksgiving Kathy and Sara and I were put in charge of inflating the plastic Santa and … something else, a snowman maybe, so we didn’t get to leave until after noon and ran into an ice storm in Connecticut and had to check into a motel for the night and we sat up watching “The Firm.”

And the Thanksgiving after that, same place, where Cousin Peter brought Second Cousin Patrick to dinner despite little Pat having the flu and Sara got it and gave it to me and Kathy had to drive home and all she said was:

“Aren’t you lucky I know how to drive a stick?”

She was right. We were lucky.

And we still are.

Many of our people have passed but we are still together, Kathy and Sara and me, and Sara has brought Jason into the fold (ah, the poor lad) and Kathy’s brother and his girlfriend will be here.

And Jane Brody might be, too, at least in spirit.

This Thanksgiving’s menu and memories past

Ah, the Thanksgiving feast. Gobble, gobble?

Well … sometimes.

But the best Thanksgiving meal I ever had involved no turkey, no bird at all, no meat.

It was nearly 20 years ago, and I remember it still, remember it well. We were all – Kathy, Sara, me – vegetarians then, following Sara’s lead. She’d given up meat by age 12 and for the first year or so, I’d cooked two meals each night – one especially for her, one for Kathy and me – and finally I said enough is far too much and announced:

“We are now all vegetarians, because I’m tired of cooking two meals.”

So the Thanksgiving I’m remembering was perhaps 1996, maybe 1997, and Kathy had taken off for New Jersey to see her family. Sara was home from Walnut Hill, her high school in Natick, and it was just the two of us.

Our Thanksgiving staple was vegetarian lasagna with spinach. That was my job. Sara somehow discovered Gypsy soup, and I mean no pejorative here; that is what Jane Brody called it in her “Good Food” cookbook. It consisted of root-type things, specifically sweet potatoes, although one could substitute squash, but I liked the sweet potatoes better.

So Sara and I spent Thanksgiving morning cooking and then we ate and watched movies and a little football, I guess. But Sara was, and is, no fan, so it was mostly movies.

Kathy, in New Jersey, had turkey and mashed potatoes and a good time with her family, but Sara and I had a good time, too.

We mostly all stay home on Thanksgiving now. Sara and her husband, Jason, come down from Portsmouth and we sometimes have a turkey although last year…

For some reason, the racks in my oven are ill-balanced in that the things upon which they slide don’t go all the way front to back and if you’re not careful, and if whatever is in the oven is too far back, the rack will tip backwards.

I don’t think about that much because I primarily use the oven for baking bread or roasting almonds and there’s little weight.

But last year, there was a turkey, and at some point, I was moving it forward on the rack to baste it, or something, and, whoops, back tipped the rack and out spilled lots of oily stuff. I handled it like an adult male – I cursed – and took out the turkey and was about to sop up the mess when Sara, quite calm I’m proud to say, announced:

“Um, Dad? You might want to put out the fire.”

My response was a clever, “Huh?”

“The fire? In the oven?”

And, YIKES, there was indeed a fire. Of course, I had no idea what to do other than the adult male thing – I cursed – so Sara, quite calmly, said:

“Why don’t you close the oven door? You know, cut off the oxygen?”

“Right.”

I’m happy to say that worked and all turned out well once the fire was out and the turkey back in.

This year, there is no danger of that because there is no turkey. This year is pure vegetarian with:

1. Eggplant Parmesan, the recipe for which I got from our friend, Susan, who is somewhat disgusted that I do it in layers rather than just a single layer. The sauce includes ground up anchovies but that’s a secret we keep from Jason who is no fan of fishy things like that. He’s never noticed or, if he has, is too polite to do the adult male thing and curse.

2. Manicotti with pumpkin and vegetarian sausage. Now it’s possible that you, either not being Italian or not having grown up in an Italian neighborhood in Tenafly, N.J., will pronounce the name of this dish thusly: Man-a-COT-ti. And you would be wrong. In Tenafly, among the Biscaldis and the Venturinis and the Trumbettis, and the Grazianis and the Gramaglias, it is pronounced thusly: Man-a-GOHT. Just as the cheese one uses in it is not pronounced Ri-COT-ta. It is pronounced, among the aforementioned neighbors of my youth, Ri-GOHT. So there. An important note here: I will not buy packaged manicotti (man-a-GOHT) noodles; I make my own using a basic crepe recipe and spreading the filling around each crepe before rolling them up. And I make my own sauce, too. All of this will be done the day before. I love the day before Thanksgiving because I spend most of it cooking and, of course, drinking wine while I cook.

3. A black bean dish Sara brought last year that was excellent but all I remember about it, specifically, is black beans and lots of cumin. She’s working the night before Thanksgiving so I don’t think she’ll have time to make it, thus I’m hoping she’ll send me the recipe and I’ll do it. Assuming she trusts me not to set the house on fire.

4. Blackened brussels sprouts. I never liked these little cabbage-like vegetables until I had them at the Green Elephant in Portland, a brilliant vegetarian restaurant.

5. Pumpkin muffins, the recipe for which I have taken from “This Crazy Vegan Life,” a cookbook I saw advertised on TV and couldn’t resist (years ago, I bought the Ginsu knife. Oy.)

6. Dessert of some sort about which I don’t care because I don’t eat dessert so that’s up to Kathy.

No Gypsy soup this year, at least none is planned but now that I think about it, there will be lots of room on top of the stove because everything I’ve mentioned, except the sprouts, will be in the oven. It’s worth a thought.

You might wonder why I’ve told you all this, all these boring details about my Thanksgiving dinner, as if you’re supposed to think it’s important. You’re not. I’m really not telling you; I’m telling me.

I’m telling me because with the writing comes the memories, not just of setting the oven on fire or spending time alone with Sara, but of so many Thanksgivings that have passed, of spending a few at Cousin Nancy’s where she cooks two turkeys and two hams because half the known world seems to show up in her Weehawken building.

Of Thanksgivings so long ago when my parents and uncles and grandmothers were still alive.

And of one at my aunt’s in, I think, 2001, in East Hanover, N.J., where the day after Thanksgiving, Kathy and Sara and I were put in charge of inflating the plastic Santa and … something else, a snowman maybe, so we didn’t get to leave until after noon and ran into an ice storm in Connecticut and had to check into a motel for the night and we sat up watching “The Firm.”

And the Thanksgiving after that, same place, where Cousin Peter brought Second Cousin Patrick to dinner despite little Pat having the flu and Sara got it and gave it to me and Kathy had to drive home and all she said was:

“Aren’t you lucky I know how to drive a stick?”

She was right. We were lucky.

And we still are.

Many of our people have passed but we are still together, Kathy and Sara and me, and Sara has brought Jason into the fold (ah, the poor lad) and Kathy’s brother and his girlfriend will be here.

And Jane Brody might be, too, at least in spirit.