Anything But Dull. A Perfectly Patrick Thanksgiving By Dish Stanley

Anything But Dull. A Perfectly Patrick Thanksgiving By Dish Stanley

. 7 min read

Every family has its own love language, and some involve a lot of time in the kitchen.

My nephew Patrick and I hosted a Thanksgiving consisting of just the two of us and my dog, Ricky, which was just what I needed this year for a number of reasons (including the ones I wrote about last week in I’m Not Going Home for Thanksgiving. What Are Your Doing? ).

We discussed the menu at length two weeks before Thanksgiving, over dinner in New York. “It’ll be so low-key,” we agreed. “And let’s not have turkey,” Patrick said, matter-of-factly. “Turkey is “dull.”

In my family, with foul (or any other species) “dull“ is the kiss of death. Sending me out into the world after college (I was headed to New York City), having graduated with “meh” grades from my state university, my Mother (who is never over-prescriptive) had only one admonition for me. “I don’t care what you become, honey,“ she said. “Just don’t become dull. I can’t bear dull.” As if, after four years of under-achieving academically (eight if you include high school) in the wilds of rural New England, the City That Never Sleeps was going to turn me dull.

So Patrick and I ditched the turkey on account of its dullness, but we did incorporate the best part of my Mother’s Thanksgiving menu. Her pumpkin pie. She obligingly weighed in with sage advice from afar when I called her, early on in the day, at odds over a tricky crust moment. “Honey,“ she said, scrutinizing my crust via face time “I think you may need to add some flour. It should be moist like a sponge, not wet like a leaking diaper.”

Patrick and I had agreed that our Thanksgiving wold be “low-key,” but I had my doubts. When it comes to meals, my family doesn’t really do low-key. We grew up having a seated dinner, with the whole she-bang — fully set table, cloth napkins, and some sort of centerpiece, etc. — practically every night. The meal didn’t start until everyone was seated, even if that meant waiting an awkwardly long period of time for somebody to finally exit the bathroom. We then said grace aloud together. Nobody got up from the table until everybody was finished, and that included ignoring phone calls or knocks on the door. (Although if somebody was too slow, my brother might ”help” the food to disappear off the culprit’s plate into the mouths of one of the panting dogs tucked under the table.)

This idea that sitting down with loved ones over a meal, paying undivided (if not often snarky) attention to each other is a sacred ritual that has been strongly embraced by my siblings and me, and their children. The first time I joined my just-then divorced brother at his new home for dinner with his kids five years ago, I walked through the door to see his fifteen year-old son rounding the table, putting proper napkins down. “Nice!” I said to him. “Oh, this is every night now,” said my brother. “Thank god,” I thought. We’re back on solid ground after years of chaos (at the table and beyond) with his ex-wife. “Everything is beautiful, and everything’s going to be fine,” I said, hugging him.

On Thanksgiving day this year, the non low-keyness began in the morning. “I don’t think we should have the house cocktail,” Patrick said. (Yes, I have a house cocktail, The Jupiter Spritz, which he concocted during COVID.) “It’s Thanksgiving! I’m going to the market for some fresh herbs and a blood-red orange.”

Not to be outdone, while he was out I decided that the cous cous we had planned (my one other addition to the meal, besides my Mother’s pumpkin pie) would now not do. Instead, I flipped through Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook and settled on the recipe for Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants & Herbs. I texted Patrick “Can you pick up currants and a fine sea salt please?” He replied, “We have sea salt.” “But,” I said “it’s medium grain. The recipe calls for fine grain.”

No Ottolenghi recipe is ever simple, I don’t care what some of you have to say about his Simple cookbook. (Patrick and I learned that firsthand because we cooked through that one during Covid.) At 4:00 on Thanksgiving, when I had one pot, one sautée pan and two saucepans on the stove going simultaneously (for a rice dish, CRUSHes!) Patrick started laughing. “It’s the fucking Pomeranian of rices!” he exclaimed. (For you non-dog-conversant readers, that is the very most high maintenance breed of dogs.)

Anyway, things snowballed from there. His “easy” Moroccan chicken dish went into the oven a hour late and then either took much longer than the recipe called for to roast, or my thermometer wasn’t working (we couldn’t tell).

And then the custard wasn’t thickening on my Mother’s pumpkin pie. Patrick and I were opening the oven door and shimmying the dish every few minutes, with no obvious progress. ”I think you need to call Nanny,” he nudged.

“Honey,” she said (she always calls me that) “are you sure you added all the ingredients? It should jiggle like jell-0, as they say in the South. It‘s wiggling like a wave.” In fact, I had left out the eggs. “That’ll do it!” she said, before devising a rescue mission for the custard so absurd I am going to skip through the steps to avoid exasperation.

I think our lack of concentration was not so much owing to Patrick’s special Thanksgiving cocktail (which we named a Holly Paloma), but to the fact that we were singing (loudly, and badly) to his holiday playlist playing on my Sonos system in the background, and dancing with my dog Ricky, who was feeling left out.

We were also, even at five hours in, doing an awful lot of talking.

At one point Patrick said “Did I ever tell you about my two sorority roommates in college?”

“The one whose Father was an NRA lobbyist?“ (He went to college in Virginia, where that can happen.) “Or the vixen?” I asked.

“Yeah, so I guess I did tell you. The vixen, you’ll remember, was having a fetishy sexual thing with my other roommate’s long-term boyfriend. She got caught in flagrante delicto. Really cruel. And, by the way, I think they did it on my bed at one point. So gross.”

“Anyway. The vixen is living in Texas now, and based on her social media feed she seems to have a new boyfriend. Hopefully he is not already sleeping with her best friend! But the point is, her boyfriend looks like a Perfect Ken. We’re all certain he has some serious, non-obvious defect, or he wouldn’t stay with her. She’s so mean. We’re currently taking a poll on whether he’s (a) socially inept, (b) a convicted felon or (c) has a micro dick.”

“Let me see his picture,“ I said. “Pull up his Instagram.” (He did.) Scanning the feed, I announced “Definitely (c).” (Inexcusably and inappropriately, I’ll admit. But also, I didn‘t care.)

That one was followed by many more amusing anecdotes from Patrick throughout the afternoon, all of which began with “Did I ever tell you … “

For instance, “Did I ever tell you about the two couples I sat in between at the pool at the Hotel Healdsburg when we were there a few summers ago? The one from San Francisco and the other from Alabama?”

”Ummm, no. It is sounding like something I’d remember …”

But, more importantly, much later on he got to, “Did I ever tell you about my ex, who lives in the East Village?”

“Nope, you did not.”

“I just saw him for dinner,” he said.

“What about him? How come you never said anything?”

“It was more of a situation-ship than a relationship,” he said.

“Oh. That doesn’t sound great. What do you mean?”

And he went further, into places I’m not going to go here, but the question I have for those of you who don’t cook is, how do you really know anything about your family? I don’t get it because all the good stuff, the interesting stuff, the meaningful stuff, the stuff that anyone really needs to talk about, only comes out in the kitchen in my family, and only after hours (maybe days) of working side-by-side.

Anyway, everything we made for our Thanksgiving dinner turned out (eventually) to be delicious. Except my Mother’s pumpkin pie, which turned out to be just okay, once it thickened. “But it was an impressive rescue!” Patrick said, encouragingly, “Like the Miracle on the Hudson of pie rescues!”

In the end, our Thanksgiving wasn’t that low-key. Or perfect. But it was very, very good.

And it was never, not for a moment, dull.

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