The kitchen island is loaded, the soft jazz Christmas tunes are playing, and the fireplace is alive and bright. I am finishing shaping a homemade graham cracker crust for tomorrow night’s cherry pie, and my sister just asked – to no one in particular – Are these quilts for snuggling? Julie is making a hot, savory tomato sauce with poached mozzarella, we’re about to serve warm Brie with apples and walnuts, and Kiersten is stirring the last few ingredients into the crab dip. Glasses of Chianti pepper the kitchen. Thanksgiving Eve dinner is just about ready.
It’s Thanksgiving break of my senior year in college and I am in the kitchen of a beautiful, cozy home in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, home to the parents of my best friend Julie. (She and Katrina both go to Ursinus College, outside Philly.) This is my third visit to the Zdonek’s U.S. home – not counting all my visits to their home in Stuttgart when we all lived there, that is!
I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with my second family: Debbie, Mike, and Julie, plus Kiersten – our other great friend who we picked up in Canada this morning – and Katrina (okay, “real” family). I’ve been lucky to celebrate Thanksgiving for the past three years with friends or family of some sort in the U.S. But never have I experienced as much food, comfort, and relaxation as I will this break.
A few hours later, I’m not thinking about food anymore. I am full and in love with the evening and the restful days ahead of me. Laying next to the fire, I listen to the air mixing with the flames and I melt a little underneath the quilt that’s covering me. You know what’s really tricky? Finding the perfect temperature in front of a fire – at one point or another, your face or a limb or your lower back is going to be too hot… but your feet sticking out behind you are still freezing. Try to ignore all this, though; and don’t mind when the snow-white cat comes tiptoeing around your face that’s resting on the cool hardwood floor. Keep your eyes closed and enjoy the softness. Resist the temptation to play music or think about what you’ll be helping cook for dinner tomorrow. Hold on to that crackling sound of the air and the fire. Appreciate the cat’s slow claw clicks on the floor, and if you have to peek and open your eyes, do so to watch the snow outside the picture window.
We spent the break cooking delicious food, eating all of it and more, reading, drinking tea, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, sharing music, making fun of Canadians, holding our hands out to the first snow, chatting, playing Scattergories, attempting Black Friday shopping, and napping by the fire. It felt so good doing nothing but everything, staying in one place, being still yet silly, feeling relaxed but also invigorated.
Okay, back to food. (I can’t remember the last time I was this well fed!) Some of our dishes on Thanksgiving Day? Sweet potatoes, squash with wild mushroom cranberry stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted turnips and pears with honey butter. Trust me, the list goes on – but those were my favorite dishes, and a few of the recipes I’ve copied down. (My goal is to have learned how to cook by the time I need to make Thanksgiving dinner for my family in later years.)
Along with the long-awaited company and the never-ending dishes and flavors of food, reading was also readily welcomed this break. Newsweek, Tin House, In Cold Blood, prose pieces and poems written by my fellow Creative Writing Senior Seminar mates, National Geographic Traveler’s Edition, backs of wine bottles, part of my Canadian friend’s German essay, Christmas lists, my own creative nonfiction revisions… I enjoyed a nice variety of reading material. I read in bed, in the kitchen, in the car, and while in a long line on the morning of Black Friday. I have a rather mercurial taste when it comes to where and when to read. But, if I’m being honest, it’s almost impossible to beat the peace and pleasure one feels when reading next to a fireplace, basking in its low light, while the snow falls quietly outside. How incredibly nice it feels to not have to be anywhere in particular – no fancy destination, no rustic outdoors, no extravagant adventures – but in a warm house with close friends and family to feel at home.
For this, I am the most thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends & family!