This year will mark the first time in seven years that my dad and I won’t be planning Thanksgiving dinner. Ever since we moved back from the Midwest, it’s been a “thing.” Prior to that, we never really built a Thanksgiving tradition, Jeff and I. Jasmine tended to be in and out of the hospital from mid-October through January, and we just couldn’t make plans. We ate a lot of turkey dinners at Denny’s, and for awhile, we just didn’t eat turkey at all. When we moved back to Arizona in 2004, we easily fell into holidays together, and I cooked my first turkey the following year, in our house in Gilbert.
We’d start planning sometime in October. I would consult my Food magazines to see what might return from last year’s menu and what would be new this year. He’d ask for a shopping list; I’d always feel guilty about asking him to buy anything more than the bird. We’d go over the menu together and tinker, until we came up with the right stuff. We haven’t used canned cranberry sauce since that year in Gilbert when I learned how easy it is to make my own (and how much better it tastes). Mom would cover the pumpkin pies. The rest was up to me (with Dad’s close and, uh, hands on supervision).
A few days before T-day, I’d start cooking. I tried to do a non-pumpkin dessert each year so we’d have more to eat. I’d do the cranberry sauce and whatever else. On T-day, I’d be up early, starting the bird. Dad was always up first (and bless him for the years Nina rose at dawn, and Dad would entertain her). Sometimes Mom would be up too, sometimes not. For the rest of the day I’d work with Dad “testing” from time-to-time to make sure I was on track. We’d shoot to eat somewhere around 3 or 4, and it was always delicious, which he would proclaim in short bursts of words scattered in between bites. I loved cooking for him.
Friends will tell you this is something I’ve often spoken about. My dad and I shared many things, but two loves in particular: good food and good music. My dad was an adventurous eater (sometimes too adventurous, but that’s not for this writing). He’d try pretty much anything, but what’s more, he wasn’t afraid to step into the kitchen to try to whip something up himself. He watched cooking shows. He read cookbooks. He loved getting spice blends for the kitchen. He made great marinades and chilis, though he occasionally had a really terrible idea, like using tea-flavored Gatorade as a base. And he was incredibly inventive with left-overs, especially making stews and soups. Above all, he was appreciative. No matter what I cooked, he tried it. If he loved it, he said so. If it wasn’t so great, well, we talked about ways to make it better next time.
This year Dad won’t be there. I haven’t planned anything, though I know the day is looming. And I’m far from extended family. I’ll cook something for our little quad pod, and it will be good, but it will not be the same. Not without my dad.