This was my mother's latest article in the Williamson County Sun, recounting our Thanksgiving. I brought my boyfriend and two close friends, those are the "young men" she's referring to.
A Lazybone’s Thanksgiving
On the vagaries of ordering out for a family feast
Due to a renewed need for my presence at the Sun this fall, I decided to forego cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year.
I would make a nice Italian stew, or a pot of chili.
Daughter Kate nixed that notion.
It’s not Thanksgiving without turkey and dressing, she argued, and I agree, but since Luby’s abandoned Georgetown, there didn’t seem to be an easy shortcut.
Then one evening I opened Neiman-Marcus’s holiday food catalogue.
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner — turkey and dressing and all manner of sides — could be delivered to your doorstep the day before the big day.
It looked like a lot of food, plenty to feed the band of five I was expecting. The meal included a boned roasted turkey breast, gravy, traditional cornbread dressing, “loaded” mashed potatoes, sweet potato soufflé, broccoli slathered with sour cream and topped with cheese, and bread pudding topped with caramel sauce. Everything was fully cooked; it just needed heating up. The catalogue said it would feed six to eight.
All that was lacking was cranberry sauce, and we buy ours at H-E-B, in the can, because that’s our family preference.
The N-M feast was surprisingly reasonably priced — especially when you factored in the many, many hours of labor involved in producing a proper family Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, there would be Lots of Leftovers, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.
I didn’t hesitate. I ordered the meal.
Then, remarkably, we suddenly had 11 coming. We ordered more food.
I wondered: Would it all arrive on time? Would it be tasty? Would I be able to heat everything up so that all the dishes would all arrive at the table hot?
The question I didn’t ask was: Would the dressing arrive?
Wednesday afternoon, I was sifting through a bonanza of frozen packages, ticking off which ones needed to be thawed in the fridge overnight and which ones popped straight from the freezer into a hot oven. An odd dish met my eyes — crayfish cornbread with étouffée. I didn’t remember ordering crayfish cornbread with étouffée; it never would have occurred to me to order such a thing.
Suddenly suspicious, I started hunting for my traditional cornbread dressing. Negative. No cornbread dressing.
Disaster. My family loves dressing. I love my own cornbread dressing. Would family and friends even show up for a dressing-less Thanksgiving dinner? For some in our family, the dressing is the main course, not the turkey.
Thursday morning dawned bright, sunny and cool. I spent about an hour and a half over coffee writing up my battle plan — which of the 16 dishes, or packages, that constituted parts of Thanksgiving dinner went into which oven at what time, when they came out, how to juggle the entire circus into a meal.
Kate and I went to work. For two hours, it was nonstop preheating, popping dishes into two separate ovens in two separate houses (we own one next door to our main home), noting start times and end times, zooming back and forth between houses, changing temperatures, altering end cooking times. Thank goodness for Kate; the meal would never have come together without her.
Just in case, we cooked the crayfish cornbread with étoufée sauce.
Finally, we sat down to eat.
I pause for a moment, remembering my Mom, Clara Stearns Scarbrough, whose last meal on earth was Thanksgiving dinner. It was at St. David’s Round Rock Hospital where she was in intensive care battling pneumonia. She didn’t feel like eating, but when she saw a slice of pumpkin pie, she perked up and ate it all. That night, she lapsed into a coma from which she never emerged, dying early the next morning.
Clark’s Mom, Martha Thurmond, could not join us, either. She is at the Wesleyan at Scenic Drive because she has several severe conditions that require constant monitoring and skilled nursing. But her delightful mind and social abilities have not left her; she leaves people laughing at her wry comments, as sick as she is. Clark sees her nearly every day, but she misses her old life. Mentally I salute her courage and constant love.
At the same time, I inwardly welcome three young men who had come to share Thanksgiving’s bounty with us. They are strangers to Clark and me, though not to Kate, with whom they are good friends. They freshen and gave new life to the gathering — along with nine-month-old Auburn Pyka, the darling bouncing son of Grace and Jared Pyka (my first grand-nephew).
The food was great. The surprise hit of the meal was the crayfish cornbread with étouffée. “Amazing,” the young men enthused as they gobbled it up. Everyone especially appreciated the étouffée sauce with the cornbread.
“The traditional stuffing was not missed,” pronounced Mike D’Amelio, my sister Donna’s long-time friend. He was right; it was a mountain of a meal with oodles of tasty dishes and wonderful meat.
The bread pudding with caramel sauce was excellent, too, but though we searched hard, we could never find the second caramel sauce packet.
The guests departed; cleanup time arrived. Kate washed dishes. I opened the fridge and stared at a packet lying on a rack. Silhouetted against a heavy transparent plastic bag, a crayfish appeared.
“Kate,” I said. “Come look at this.”
We burst out laughing. It was étouffé sauce, still in the bag. I had served caramel sauce with the crayfish cornbread, and everyone had loved it.
Sometimes, things just work out.
As they should for everyone on Thanksgiving Day.