The stage is set: a 9-foot-long island covered in plates of heaping mashed potatoes and buttery green beans, pies scattered between a tray of not-so-canned yams and jars of homemade cranberry sauce, apple cider spiced fresh off the stove, all surrounding an enormous plate housing a beautifully golden-brown turkey, after having spent the past 5 hours roasting in the oven and permeating the house with smells of autumn nights and Claude Debussy.
And then, of course, family arrives, and the display goes from something straight out of a Taste of Home magazine to a raucous event of Modern Family proportions.
Thanksgiving at home is one of my favorite events of the year. Not because of the food alone, because that’s a given, but because of a routine that hasn’t changed.
I arrive back in the boonies on early Wednesday, spend the afternoon and evening catching up with the fam and trimming the ends off of green beans and boiling potatoes for what is sure to be a busy Thursday morning. All the while a backdrop of the UEFA Championship league and a Christmas playlist courtesy of 8tracks (because I fully believe that it is, officially, appropriate to listen to Christmas music at this point) keeps my mind of the monotony of the tasks at hand. Later that night, a late showing of Ang Lee’s adaptation of Life of Pi (an absolutely gorgeous film, by the way, and highly recommended) with Yusra, a brief respite from thoughts of cooking.
Mum comes into my bedroom at 7-why-is-it-so-early-in-the-morning-o’clock on Thursday, shakes me awake in a manner that makes me flail my arms out in self-defense of potential abduction, and giggles her way down the stairs as I irritatedly brush the sleepiness out of my eyes and haul myself out of bed. The next six hours are a blur of prepping the bird, stirring pie fillings, roasting root vegetables, setting the table, and all the good-natured bickering that occurs when the two cooks in the house spend way too much time in the same kitchen.
Breaks from cooking – when both ovens are full to the brim and there’s little else to do until closer to serving time – are spent upstairs, putting together a wonderfully fake, pre-lit Christmas tree and hanging up glass ornaments, dropping them in tiredness that finally hits and laughing at Yusra for nearly breaking eight.
It’s the most normal – by American standards, at least – our household ever is. And it is glorious.
We celebrated a bit earlier this year, as a late lunch rather than a heavy evening meal, so as to spend the afternoon sleeping off round one of turkey feast with enough room to enjoy round two for dinner. My aunt, uncle, and their three sons join us every year, so we’re sure to have enough food on our table to sustain a small country. Yusra and mum spent much of the week putting together tablescapes and centerpieces, courtesy of Pinterest stalking and boredom with college applications. It made for a beautiful sight when we were all gathered around our dining table, normally too big for the four of us but merrily comfortable for us nine.
After waving our guests goodbye for the afternoon and a two hour tryptophan-nap, I trudged back downstairs around six pm for a slice of pie and football with dad (European, of course. My father isn’t quite Americanized enough to enjoy college football, but then again, neither am I). Yusra and mum tied scarves around their necks in anticipation of long lines for early-Black-Friday shopping – for which I resolutely declined to accompany in favor of yelling at the Italian team from the comfort of the living room couch – and spent the next few hours on the phone with my sister, telling her which TV shows to buy for winter break entertainment (Breaking Bad and the latest seasons of the Big Bang Theory), before flopping down on my bed for an actual night’s sleep.
Another typical Thanksgiving day over, another five pounds gained, and one more reason I love being home this time of year.
Brown Butter Pecan Pie
Adapted from Dash
Yields one 9-inch pie
- one base pie crust, blind-baked for 10 mins at 325F
- 1/2 cup [1 stick] butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups pecans, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350F, and set aside pre-baked pie crust to cool. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and toast the chopped pecans for 8 mins. Set aside, but keep the oven on.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium flame until it begins to brown, 3-4 mins. Watch the butter carefully to prevent it from burning. Remove pan from the heat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla, and eggs until smooth and well-blended. Pour in the brown butter and whisk well.
Scatter the toasted pecans evenly over the base of the cooled pie crust. Carefully pour the filling over the pecans. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake (still at 350F) for 50-60 mins, until set. Allow pie to cool to room temperature before serving. Serve with sweetened cream or vanilla ice cream.
This year’s Thanksgiving was a rather special event. Same as ever (though it does seem like each year’s turkey is tastier than the last), but not likely next autumn. Yusra’s off to college in the fall, I’ll be graduating in the spring, and my oldest cousin will be married this March, so it’s doubtful we’ll have another close-knit, family dinner as has been the case the past few years.
As such, it was an occasion to be savored, but also one that I wasn’t going to pass up due to a gluten problem, much to everyone else’s chagrin. So both pies baked this year featured gluten-free crusts (store-bought and frozen, because even I can be lazy when it comes to dessert), and some GF-friendly fillings. Salted caramel apple for one and brown butter pecan for the other.
I was, to be honest, anticipating mediocre pies, since gluten-free crusts lack the buttery flakiness of homemade flour crusts, but I have to say, the brown butter pecan just might have been the greatest pecan pie I’ve ever eaten in my 21 years. The brown butter adds a level of depth that, now, all other pecan pies desperately lack, while at the same combating the intense sweetness of the brown sugar and corn syrup. I did consider replacing the corn syrup with maple, but I’m not quite sure the maple would have held up well against the brown butter.
And, you know, I figure if you’re going all out once a year, a little corn syrup for one incredible pie never hurt anyone.
I’ve decided, too, that I’ll be using my GF-rights to monopolize the leftover pie (not that much is left at this point; it has served as both my breakfast and my lunch so far today), since I missed out on corn bread and biscuits yesterday afternoon. Needless to say, the others aren’t too pleased with me.
It’s hard to say what next year will be like, since so much is changing. 365 days is a lot of time to grow, after all, and who’s to say where we’ll all be.
But I’m pretty sure, no matter where I am or who I’m with, whether it be just the four of us or even fewer, this pie will definitely have a place on the table. Old traditions are well and good and all that, but, you know, new ones make for an event to look forward to.