Each year I set out optimistically to write my signature piece on the Holidays and wind up in the middle of December without having written a single happy sentence. I was hoping that this his year might be different.
The fireplace on the back patio has grown cold and dark before dawn, the wind is blowing brown leaves that sound like rain drops spattering on the drooping canopy. The temperature has fallen below the mark where even brave souls in our coffee club can enjoy the icy fog of our own breath in order to drink our coffee, eat our fresh-baked breads, and share our early morning conversations. The merry crackle of the fire has been replaced by the warmth of the kitchen, the smells of muffins baking, and ticking sound of the gas floor furnace popping on and off. This morning I have turned on the Christmas lights that I have strung along the back porch railing. They seem more inviting as a guide to the kitchen door than the bare porch light. I hope no one stumbles on the frozen hose crossing the sidewalk. Even so, it’s not enough raise my mood.
I think the downslide began while I was watching Bobby Flay doing one of his famous “throw downs” in which he challenged an Oklahoma ranch-woman to a Thanksgiving cook-off. It was all about the mashed potatoes.
This perfectly ordinary rancher who owns only a few thousand rich acres of land near Pawhuska, a place near where I grew up, told us all how us Oklahoma peasants never had a Thanksgiving without the famous mashed potatoes and gravy.
Now I ask you, “What’s so danged special about mashed potatoes?”
Mashed potatoes were something we had every day EXCEPT Thanksgiving precisely because they were incredibly ordinary. Never mind the exotic giblet gravy or the flour browned in bacon drippings. Stuffing or dressing is what you have for Thanksgiving if you want something special. To put it in pioneer terms, you used those last few sacred, withered apples from down on the Caney River bottoms along with either last weeks bread or cornmeal and one or two high class, fresh celery stalks and you constructed the most incredible dish to go with the Bird—go easy on the sage. The Bird might be turkey, or it might be a wild duck or goose. The Bird might even be the rooster that no one wanted anymore. He would be disguised as a wild turkey which everyone knows is lean, stringy, and tough.
Of course, the local girl wins with her ‘taters’ like everyone knows she will, while Bobby stands there with a tray of the most scrumptious roasted vegetables ever seen by man or steer. Privately, the youngest daughter announces that she thinks Bobby’s feast is better, but kids don’t count.
Some of us were shouting and screaming at the TV screen. I helped myself to another portion of dressing made with sweet Italian sausages and orange zest. “Please pass the creamed dill sauce,” I said to the attractive lady to my left.
Someone across the table asked if there were any mashed potatoes. I can only hope that they were joking.