Imperatives 3 - Rented Room Thanksgiving


Every year we head to DC for Thanksgiving where my parents, my aunt, and my uncle take turns hosting the big meal. The number of guests has varied ever since grandchildren arrived on the scene, and sometimes there are too many people to fit easily into someone’s dining room. My parents will host at their place when it’s not everyone; my aunt is more game and always hosts; and my uncle — since his house is too small, when it’s his turn he gets a rented room in a building in downtown DC and has it catered. This year, though it was my parents’ turn to host, they did it in a rented room. Twenty-five people wouldn’t work with their setup.

While I’m happy, regardless of the venue, to see everybody, nothing beats a home for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in a rented room doesn't feel as warm. There's no couch to kick back on, no TV for watching football, no kitchen to go into when nobody’s looking to steal a bit of skin or grab a pinch of stuffing. Plus, the presence of catering personnel makes me uneasy. I’d rather not be served by people on Thanksgiving. I find myself wishing that they could be at their homes with their families having Thanksgiving. Also, rented room Thanksgiving has an ending time. When time’s up, everybody must go. No lingering, no post-meal pre-dessert walk to “work off” the food, and no shenanigans — like the time many years ago when everyone except my aunt (it was her host year) was watching football after dinner, it seemed that a long time had passed and we were starting to wonder when she would offer dessert, and then she entered the room carrying a plate with wedges of cake and pie and melting scoops of ice cream just for herself. She sat down and went at it, unaware of our stares. No, in a rented room it’s unlikely that awesome stuff like that will go down.

What can happen in a rented room on Thanksgiving... is mishap. With the earnest goal being to address my unsated wish to have had Thanksgiving in my parents' house and to have cooked the entire meal for the goup, my mom had asked me to make and bring a butternut squash soup. So I made it, with curry and onion. The flavors weren't perfectly right for Thanksgiving but it did taste good. However, no one got to try it because all two quarts of it wound up spilling all over the passenger-side floor of our car across the street from the rented room building. (The building, by the way, is owned by NYU, where I went to college. Getting the room wasn't technically a rental but rather, a donation. In, since I'm the alumnus, my name. Apparently there is now a chair with my name on it somewhere within NYU's vast empire of university buildings.)

I know that not everybody celebrates Thanksgiving in someone’s warm and cozy home. My friend Chris and his family, I remember, were always quite content with their tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant in DC called Mrs. K’s Tollhouse. The name itself, perhaps due to the cookies, always sounded fun to me. They did it, he recently told me, because Thanksgiving (and Christmas) were set aside as days to give his mom a break from cooking. I totally get it! 

Whenever I express to my dad my hope that an upcoming Thanksgiving will be in a house not in a rented room (and that I'll do all of the cooking), he always says the same thing: it's about the people not the place. I agree, of course, that it's about the people. But, and I always say this and I'm not sure he agrees, the type of place does affect the type of experience had by those people (see paragraph 2). 

I say all of this and write on this topic not because I feel a need to prove a point to my dad or to anybody. But rather, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and my favorite thing about it is the feeling I've experienced so many times during my life, where it just feels right to be there — when it's a house, not a rented room.

I hope that next time it’s my parents’ turn to host, it’ll be at their house. I would love the chance to proceed with the plan I did not get to execute last year: I was going to bypass making a whole bird and instead just make turkey breast for the turkey, but then also make confit duck legs. As a decent enough cook willing to try just about anything, I honestly don't see enough payoff from roasting a whole turkey — if you aim to cook the dark meat enough but the white meat not too much, it's too complicated. Tradition be damned — I can make the stuffing in a pan with homemade stock. White meat eaters will have turkey meat that's not dry. And dark meat eaters will have crispy and rich duck legs that I think are way better than turkey anway. 

It’s a few years to go until that opportunity will again arise and, in the meantime, I can say with certainty that whenever we go to DC for Thanksgiving — whether it's to occur in a house or in a rented room — I'm legitimately happy to be there and to see everybody. On the flip side however, here's a confession. Thanksgiving or not (and if it is Thanksgiving it doesn't matter where it will be held), when I visit DC I'm not there just to eat some turkey (or duck), nor just to see family and friends. All that stuff is great, true. But also on my mind — perhaps dominantly, even, and certainly lately — is something entirely separate from all that: it's my favorite Italian restaurant, the Pines of Rome. And given that the Pines of Rome will probably not be in business too much longer, getting there top eat at every opportunity is severely on my mind.

LAST CHAPTER: (My) Childhood Foods
NEXT CHAPTER: The Pines of Rome