My first Thanksgiving away from home was in Gainesville Florida, while I was at the University of Florida. I stayed in town and invited all the other “Thanksgiving Orphans” who for reasons of work or other circumstances were not going home for Thanksgiving. It was a potluck affair naturally, and in addition to all the pot people brought, we had an amazing turkey some guy in my German cinema class prepared.
Another non-traditional Thanksgiving took place in a yurt in the wilds of Northern Florida with my sisters friends. Someone decided to replace the button mushrooms in the stuffing with psilocybin and everything transformed or deteriorated (depending on your state of mind) into a phantasmagorical evening of deranged conversations and a fire pit of epic proportions.
After the age of twelve, family specific Thanksgivings took on a whole new dynamic tinged with expectations and regrets and disappointment. So after years of traveling back home for the event, I decided all the holiday travel stress was not worth it and besides my mother always said: “Thanksgiving/Christmas is when we are together not when the calendar dictates.” That eased the minor guilt I had and freed me up to do Thanksgiving my way. For years the T-Day ritual for me and my husband was to play golf in San Francisco and then go to Mel’s Diner for the $11.95 Thanksgiving meal special. Over the years, the price of the special kept ticking up but the scene remained the same. You can view the entire spectrum of mankind--all walks of life--at Mel’s on Thanksgiving Day. I highly recommend you experience it at least once in your life.
One year my husband and I traveled to Vallecitos, New Mexico--a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it town between Taos and Santa Fe, where some friends had opened a writer’s retreat. I still remember the pumpkin pie I ate there made with some mysterious ingredient that turned out to be Borden’s condensed milk. We played Pictionary way into the night as a light snow fell and watched the moon rise over the mountains in the cold heavy air.
The most disastrous Thanksgiving occurred when my husband decided he wanted to mend his relationship with his estranged mother and invited her to our ranch in a ill-advised attempt to recapture something that never was. I’ve written a 30,000 word account of her entire stay-- the details of which remain mind-boggling to this day, but the short version is we had barely gathered round the table when the “giblets hit the fan” if you take my meaning. My mother-in-law, well versed in the art of instigation and no stranger to bar room brawls, picked the wrong person to attack that day. Me. I still remember the shocked silence that settled over the table as I told her “…we better take it outside.” Our poor friends tried to busy themselves tiding up in the kitchen and taking walks around our property to avoid the tension. This story ends well though, albeit in a very Dickensian way.
On a whim and drawn by a great travel deal, we went to Hawaii post hurricane Iniki and it was very odd. The entire landscape was strafed, nary a leaf on a tree, and I was sick the entire time with some mysterious respiratory ailment that I have only just recently discovered is quite common and even has a name—VOG. Our Thanksgiving meal was a traditional luau composed of the three P’s –Pork, Pupu, and Poi.
A few years ago we had a great Thanksgiving Day spent out on my sisters boat in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and it was fabulous. We grilled our catch right on the boat and later in the evening, back at her house, we made s’mores around a fire.
These days we tend to stick close to home and it’s hard to beat the bounty of food and wine and flavors one can find right here in Sonoma county. I miss my family of course, and would dearly love to see them all again, lively and in the pink of health gathered around my table. They are still there, in my mind and in my heart, but the traditional Thanksgiving of my past is just that—past. Tomorrow our newlywed friends will be joining us for their first Thanksgiving as a married couple and the menu does not include turkey.
I know a few of you may be wondering where’s the WINE in all this? Isn’t this supposed to be a "wine blog"? But I was thinking about that last night too and wondering why all the fuss about Thanksgiving wines? Well, I think it all comes down to fear and perfection. People have wildly high expectations and feel pressured to impress friends and relatives with a meal worthy of a Food & Wine photo spread. And this leads to fear their choice of wine will not be perfect. So here is my Thanksgiving wine advice: Relax!
Perfect is not all is cracked up to be. Choose wines you like and let the day unfold. Odds are, unless your family and guests are extremely wine centric, no one will be talking about the wine served. Just have plenty of it, whatever it is, and everything will be just fine. But if you feel cheated by this post and still want some Thanksgiving Day wine recommendations you can read this from last year it still applies. -- Cheers