Sunday, November 6, 2016

I buried paul

Thanksgiving at my house always included one timeless ritual. After my mom fussed over the turkey, we all took a seat around that long, utility table that was set up in the living room to accommodate the extra dinner guests. One by one, my mother would bring out each component of the meal — the fried onion-topped string bean casserole, the Mrs. Paul's frozen sweet potatoes piping hot from the oven, the big bowl of canned corn, the hot Pillsbury crescent rolls. My dad would rev up the electric carving knife and slice off thin, but crooked slices from the golden-brown turkey breast. The various serving plates would make their way around the table and each guest would load his or her placesetting with a generous portion of Thanksgiving fare. The meal would begin and, invariably, my dad would soon lift the dish containing a glistening cylinder of dark purple jellied cranberry sauce and, after cutting a chunky piece for himself, point the thing in my direction and, just like every year, say those same words to me: "Do you want cranberry sauce?"

Of course, I didn't. I never wanted cranberry sauce. Ever. I'm not quite sure what it was about the cranberry sauce that made it so unappealing. It could have been the fact that it maintained the shape of the can, even after the can had been discarded. It could have been the color — that dark reddish-purple that gave the side dish a somewhat visceral appearance... sort of like an internal organ. I can't vouch for the texture, though, because that stuff wasn't making it anywhere near my mouth. I would always answer my father's inquiry with: "Have you ever seen me eat cranberry sauce? This ain't gonna be the year I start." As the years went on, I believe my father got to the point where he knew I didn't want any cranberry sauce. He was just taunting me.

Look, I know I was a picky eater when I was a kid. But, I got to be more culinarily adventurous as I became an adult. My wife regularly remarks "Your mother would be proud of you." when I swallowed a forkful of string beans or popped a sushi roll into my mouth. Even the baked beans I avoided as a child have become a required accompaniment to hot dogs (well... the veggie hot dogs I now eat).

Last year's Thanksgiving dinner was the best one in recent memory. It was my son, my wife and me gathered around our beautifully-set dining room table. Just the three of us, something we never had the opportunity to experience in our many years as a family. It was lovely. Mrs. P forwent traditional turkey and made a Tofurky for her two vegetarians. She also made from-scratch cranberry sauce that looked more like this...
... than that slimy-looking stuff that slides out of a can. It looked delicious and it tasted delicious. (I was reminded of a favorite episode of All in the Family from 1975. The Bunkers are having Thanksgiving dinner at Mike and Gloria's house next door. Archie asks his daughter for cranberry sauce. Gloria proudly displaying a bowl filled with something that looks like the photo above, says, "Sure, Daddy. I made it myself." Archie frowns and says, "Don'cha have the real kind that slides out of a can?" Disappointed, Gloria exclaims, "Try it!" Archie, still eyeing the bowl with contempt, replies, "I'll have some later on my ice cream.")

So, a few nights ago, Mrs. Pincus made vegetarian hot "turkey" sandwiches. I have fond memories of them from my youth. My mom would often make the real (re: meaty) thing for our family. My dad, a butcher by trade, would never stand for "pretend meat." But, Mrs. P,, while still a carnivore, will partake of "fake" stuff every once in a while. So, we each covered our plates with two pieces of bread and several slices each of LightLife® Smart Deli™ Veggie Turkey Slices. Mrs. P mixed up and heated a pot of Serv-a-Gravy®, the most meatless of gravies available. (It is, essentially, brown water. But, it is delicious brown water!) While, my wife was busy at the stove, I opened up the cabinet in our kitchen where we keep canned goods and perused the options. I found a can of creamed corn, usually reserved for Mrs. P's corn fritters. Hiding behind the corn, between a surplus can of cannellini beans left from the last time my wife made vegetarian chili and a stack of canned salmon, I found a can of Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. I stared at the can for a few moments. Then, I extracted the can from its resting place. "How about we have some of this, too?," I said, waving the can over my shoulder in the direction of my wife standing by the stove. She turned to me and laughed. "Really?," she said, smiling, "Oh, your mother would be so proud of you."

I thought of all the things I have accomplished in my life. I'd like to think that eating cranberry sauce would not be lumped together in the "pride department" with graduating high school, getting married, buying a house and starting a family. But, you know... I'll take it.

And, guess what? That thick plug of jellied cranberry sauce was pretty darn good. I actually look forward to having more on Thanksgiving.

To make up for a lot of missed opportunities.

(I realize that I wrote about cranberry sauce around this time last year. You can read it here. Although, the story above contains similar elements to the tale of a year ago, I did not consult my previous blog post before I wrote this one. I suppose cranberry sauce has just weighed heavily on me all these years.)

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