Steelers games inundate most local households this time of year. Everything pumpkin spice verges on overstaying its welcome at this point (yes, even the delicious pumpkin rolls piled high in Giant Eagle’s bakery).
When the Pittsburgh days dim to muted gray skies and a deeply penetrating chill dominates even the sunniest of November days, we know it’s time to kick-off the holidays seasons. Thanksgiving is the marquee holiday to start seemingly-endless celebrations.
The Kaplan family traditions probably ring true in most typical households. We’re not trend-setters and we don’t aspire to stand out from the rest by serving up exotic birds like duck or goose. We never ventured into turducken territory, either. Kudos to those brave households who attempted to successfully cook a savory turkey that’s stuffed with a duck, which is then stuffed with a chicken. I’m sure any of you out there who accomplished this culinary feat slept with full, satisfied meat-filled bellies Thanksgiving night.
My household’s traditions fall in line with what I grew up with in Upper St. Clair. I guess a few miles to my current home in Mt. Lebanon didn’t evoke any significant holiday changes. The day lines up in a predictable and familiar way each year:
1. Wake up at the crack of dawn. Though alarm clocks had been silenced, the body doesn’t understand that this particular Thursday doesn’t necessitate an “oh no, it’s too early and still dark out” wake up call.
2. Bake cinnamon rolls! Before the teenager melts out of bed for the day, I bake Pillsbury cinnamon rolls every year.
3. Purchase a Post-Gazette. I’m sorry to admit this but I am one of those people who run to Giant Eagle in sleep pants, at least on Thanksgiving morning. There’s no time to waste when picking up the special addition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette bursting with Black Friday ads.
4. The calm before the storm. After returning from the madhouse that I call a grocery store, (and no, I did not forget to buy the gravy. I just needed a paper), I turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. With a cinnamon roll cooling on my tiny ceramic plate and the Black Friday ads screaming for attention with glossy, colorful ads, I plop down to multi-task: Eat. Watch parade. Find deals.
5. Turkey prep. Now it’s time to get down to business. The turkey emerges from the fridge and it’s inevitable that my husband must drown the bird in a cold-water bath to complete the thawing process. After successfully securing the giblet bag and tossing the neck, we prep the turkey and throw it in the roaster.
6. Family arrival. Armed with sides, snacks and thermal bags brimming with edible contents, the family bursts through the front door to take up temporary residence in my house. My sister-in-law lines a fold-out table with an uncountable assortment of cookies that would rival any Pittsburgh wedding cookie table.
7. Battle for kitchen begins. I hold my ground and stage my standoff at the sink. The moms buzz around stirring, simmering and peeking on the bird for the next couple of hours.
8. We eat. Pants loosened and food dominating the dining room table, the family digs in. For a mere and brief silent moment, only the sounds of chewing and forks clinking on the plates fill the room.
9. We eat… again. The cookie table merely held off everyone’s sweet tooth. Slicing into an assortment of pies is necessary, regardless of the guests’ hunger status.
10. Post-dinner. The family convenes to various parts of the house. Some play games. Some snooze, while others clean up the dishes and place the wishbone on the windowsill to dry.
11. Calling it a night. After the chaos of political debates, religious debates and everything else that shouldn’t be discussed in mixed company comes to a conclusion, the family packs up and leaves with their leftovers crammed in random plastic butter and sour cream containers. We exchange hugs and compliments on how everything turned out as the family walks out the door.
This entire scenario has played out in my household for probably 20 years. We all have more kids and unfortunately, this year, we lost a patriarch of the family. The dynamic changes ever so slightly as the faces grow up, move on and move out, and we lose others. Because of this, I will never take a chaotic, stressful and exhausting Thanksgiving for granted. I’ll host this day, with our typical traditions, as long as I have family who will attend.