Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ad Nauseam Reconsidered

What's so wrong with repetition? There's some truth in the old adage "practice makes perfect." Why not do things the same way over and over again if nobody's complaining? In fact, there's a case to be made for continuity even if people do gripe and whine because kvetching offers its own weird kind of pleasure.

What's prompted this line of thought is the predictable annual onslaught of ideas for the Thanksgiving table. I've been swamped with press releases trumpeting products that will "kick it up notch." Everywhere I turn I'm encouraged to get creative and follow suggestions that are sure to lure and tantalize family and friends. I don't know about anybody else, but at my house nobody ever seems to need encouragement when it comes to eating. Wherever I turn, online and in print, recipes promise to liven up everything from side dishes to stuffing. I read headlines and teasers such as "tempting new creations to try," "fresh take on a classic," "change-up your usual menu," "make it memorable," and "break with tradition."

I'm not buying it. I think there's value in putting out the same feast year after year, a comfort in familiar ingredients and flavors, a compelling reason to pull out the old, tattered, grease-stained recipes for dressing and gravy that have been used for years. It doesn't matter how you do your turkey or your sweet potatoes, just that they don't change much over time. Experimentation and adventuresome cooking have their place. It's fun to find different and better ways to prepare foods, but not now, not for this occasion. I'm convinced that a big part of what turns a holiday dinner into more than a meal is the ritual of recurrence and reappearance.

That's why I'm not out to impress anyone with twists on the standards. There won't be surprises at my house. There won't be any cranberry gelee or pumpkin pie spiced with chipotles. I'm confident no one will have a problem with this. We don't need pancetta and hazelnuts in the green beans to be be happy — though I am sure it would be tasty.

The real truth — the dirty little secret of all this seasonal fuss and bother — is that the food is secondary. It's really about the who's sharing it. This is the 44th Thanksgiving my husband and I have celebrated as a couple. Our three sons and their wives, who live in three different cities around the country, will gather in Cleveland. My mother, who will be 90 years old in a few weeks, will be here too, along with one set of in-laws from out of town. Being together — and not how original or even how delicious the vegetables are or how moist the bird — is what matters most to all of us.

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