Tuesday, December 1, 2009

thanksgiving by the skin of my teeth

'Twas the day before Thanksgiving and I was in such a good mood I could have skipped to the grocery store to pick up the turkey. After getting the bird and some flowers for the table, I walked the dog who we were dog-sitting. As we crunched through the leaves together I admired the colorful potted mums and squash lining peoples' stoops. I had my menu, I had everything I needed, and I was really looking forward to a full day of cooking in a quiet house.

Back at home, I pet the dog and ate a light breakfast. I set the table and arranged some flowers and greenery in my favorite vase. Feeling very Martha-ish, I topped each plate with ginkgo leaves foraged from the sidewalk. I put out votives, and polished glasses, and rubbed the spots off the silverware.

I rubbed salt all over the turkey, I made cranberry sauce and cranberry-lime syrup for cocktails, I baked sweet potatoes and mashed them with butter and maple syrup. I made pumpkin mousse and vanilla bean-flecked whipped cream. Everything was going so smoothly, almost too perfectly. And then I started to feel a little strange around two o'clock. My stomach gurgled and churned. I decided to take a break--I only had one more task on my list, making cauliflower soup--so it wouldn't be a big deal to watch a little TV, right? I curled up with the dog to watch some vintage Roseanne reruns. Waves of nausea passed through my body and I started to worry.

Feeling sick has become a part of my life, so I can't say this was totally shocking. I have colitis, a chronic auto-immune disease that affects the intestines. This is a food blog, so I'll spare you the details, but it sort of feels like having food poisoning. Colitis isn't triggered by stress, or food (although I went gluten-free for awhile), or anything specific. Medicine, like cortiosteroids, can help but there is no cure. It's not even clear how I got colitis in the first place. But I have it, and luckily, I've been feeling pretty good lately. Except the day before Thanksgiving (and my birthday), of course.

Dan came home that afternoon to find me wrapped in a blanket in the fetal position. "We can go out for Thanksgiving dinner," he said. "NO!" I said, clutching my stomach. I didn't care how sick I felt, we would not eat at some crappy diner on Thanksgiving. "Everything is done except for the turkey. And the stuffing, and the brussels sprouts. Uh, and the soup."

The doorbell rang and Dan ran down to retrieve an arrangement of sunflowers, sent by my mother-in-law. "Don't work too hard today," read the card. I laughed. And then I cried a little. Relegated to the couch, I decided to skip out on the family dinner at Tabla. I wanted to spend the last night of my twenty-eighth year eating fancy Indian food in a pretty restaurant. Instead, I picked at a bowl of rice, chugged Pepto, watched Notorious on HBO, and felt very sorry for myself. Luckily I was with someone who is very empathetic.

By Thanksgiving Day my nausea had passed but I was in so much physical pain I could hardly stand up straight, let alone get dressed or brush my hair. Happy birthday to me! Luckily, Dan, wonderful, sweet, ready-to-swing-into-action Dan, grabbed a spoon and started cooking. He rubbed the turkey with butter and herbs and we laughed at the pale, naked bird slipping around in the pan. Into the oven it went and soon the house was filled with the aroma of browning butter and rosemary. Text messages from friends started rolling in, asking how the cooking was going (argh), wishing me happy birthday. (Sorry for not responding, guys.)

I leaned over the kitchen counter and read him the stuffing recipe as he pulled out a pan and started browning some bacon. Wanting to be useful, I chopped an onion and a few sticks of celery. It felt good to lean into the knife, to focus on something else instead of my stomach. I found myself reaching for ingredients, bending down to grab an extra pan, snapping back into familiar pre-dinner action. I started to feel a little better. And the house started to feel and smell like Thanksgiving--like my grandmother's house before we sat down to dinner. I could make my own holiday too. Even by the skin of my teeth.

I washed my face and brushed my hair, put on a loose-fitting dress and some slippers. The doorbell rang and Dan's parents came up. Seeing them and the looks of concern on their faces immediately put me at ease. The turkey was almost done, the apartment was aglow with candles, and here was family. Everything would be okay, whether I had an appetite or not.

And you know what? It was okay. Better than okay, really. I handed out cranberry-lime-ginger beer cocktails and we settled in for the evening. The turkey was moist (and I didn't butcher it!). I made gravy without lumps. The sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts were delicious. The cranberry sauce produced rave reviews. The stuffing was a little dry, but no one seemed to care. We skipped the cauliflower soup completely, but no one cared about that either. And everyone said that dessert--pumpkin mousse parfaits--was the perfect end note.

I only ate about a bite of everything, but that was okay. I did it. I cooked my first Thanksgiving and I was able to sit at the table with everyone, something I doubted I could do the day before. I said a silent prayer of thanks for that, but mostly, I am thankful for my husband, who jumps in to help without complaint and does the dishes. I'm thankful for my family and friends, whom simultaneously worry about me and cheer me on. I'm thankful for our little apartment and the bounty of food that always fills our table. And I'm thankful that I didn't burn the turkey!

All's well that ends well, even when I didn't think it would.

Thanksgiving 2009
Cranberry-lime sparklers
Foie gras with cornichon, homemade mustard, and crackers
Turkey and gravy
Mushroom-herb stuffins
Mashed sweet potatoes
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon

Cranberry relish
Chai tea
Pumpkin mousse parfaits


Kim said...

Wow, your holiday feast looked gorgeous!!!

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

Wow! Even with crippling pain, you are still a rockstar in the kitchen. Congrats on your successful feast - I knew you could do it!

Margaret Pinard said...

Looks like you pulled a lovely trick out of the fire that time- thanks to planning ahead and having a supportive hubby, of course. :-) Sorry to hear of your illness, but I'm glad you're making the most of things in spite of it. That's all any of us can do!

Color Me Green said...

oh i'm glad it worked out and i hope you are feeling better!

judy said...

It was the best Thanksgiving ever. Everything looked beautiful. Everything tasted delicious (especially the mousse). You're my hero.

Lisa said...

Kim: Thank you!

Casey: Thanks for ALL of your help. Following your game plan really helped me get things done in advance.

Margaret: Yes, totally! We all have our problems but I feel lucky to have such good help.

Julia: Thank you so much! I am feeling better, thankfully.

Judy: So does this mean I am cooking again next year??

Anonymous said...

He conquers who endures. ~Persius

Daniel said...

Just to be clear: I don't consider myself a hero, just a guy who cares--even if I don't have the doleful, empathetic eyes of a certain someone.

Another point of clarification: When Lisa says she was stuck on the couch watching Notorious, she means the Biggie biopic, not the 1946 Hitchcock classic.

larry said...

I am personally awarding you the purple heart with peanut clusters. Your telling of the tale was truly touching. I mean that. Love.

Lisa said...

Anonymous: Well put.

Daniel: Vanessa says you look like that dog, eyes-wise, so maybe that's why I love him.

Larry: Ha! I will wear it with pride!

Jennifer Henry said...

Lisa C, you are a MARVEL. Once again, your story has a lovely ending, and your audience loves you for it. Thanks for not sparing us the tales-of-mayhem in between the happy start and happy end!

Unknown said...

I'm so glad you got to enjoy your hard work even if it was one bite at a time. You're table and all of the food looks beautiful.

Lisa said...

Jennifer: I'm glad you enjoy all of my mishaps!

Nikkilooch: Me too! Thank you so much. Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving too.

Kara said...

superbly done! i've enjoyed your blog for a while and was surprised to read that you have colitis --- i have crohn's! it's almost like we wore the same shirt to work without collaborating. or something.

keep up the good dinner-partying.

lulu said...

Oh man- that awful feeling is terrible & unpredictable.. but the meal looked so lovely, the food and the table-setting- i loved the bouqet, tablecloth and ginko leaves! hope you're feeling better...

Lisa said...

Kara: It's always interesting to discover that someone has the same ailment as you do, isn't it? That said, I'm so sorry you have Crohn's. I hope it's manageable. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Lulu: Yes, you know how it is! Luckily, it was all fine in the end and I feel okay now. Hope you guys have happy holidays! Let's get together in the new year.


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