the leftovers sandwich

this is not a rant about a misappropriated seasonal or holiday celebration.
this is a love letter to the people and sandwiches that sustain me.

Last week, I perused and refreshed as my Instagram feed filled up with beautiful tablescapes of savory dishes– mostly earth tones with a  bright sprinkling of cranberry salad.  I know it gets a lot of heat, but I’m no hater to the food photography fad. I saw a great piece on CBS Sunday Morning that encouraged us to be more engaged with the breathing beings around the table than with the lighting and angle (don’t forget the filter!) to best capture the essence of the food that covers it. Of course, I’ll buy that argument too. I am rarely one to insist that my table-mates pause to pose for a picture at dinner. I count on another friend to call us to finish our bites and smile at the iPhone. My role entails grumbling sufficiently before asking that friend to share it immediately so that I can also have a copy. I come by it very honestly: my family is not great at capturing the moment on camera. Our latest addition to the family came in with cameras a-blazin’ and her energetic attitude gave us a few years of our family history that’s chronicled on film, but after twelve years or so, but we’ve all but beaten it out of her too. Sure, we want the photos, but no one wants to actually sit for one to be taken. We all “look awful right now.” If we can’t have the candid smiles and chewing poses (or God-forbid, a group photo in front of the mantle), the next best option is to remember the thing we ate while we were giving thanks and enjoying ourselves and our loved ones around the table.

These days, our family convenes at (my parents’) home for Thanksgiving. We pour in on Wednesday night and enjoy a (hopefully) annual dinner of grilled oysters, seafood soup, and ample chardonnay to kick off the festivities. Everyone is excited to see one another, often for the first time in months. It’s delicious and rowdy and wonderful. We begin Thursday morning with the Macy’s parade, interrupted only for an epic spread of biscuits-and-gravy, eggs-to-order, bacon, and all the works. We don’t eat the big meal  until 4:30 or so, which means the rest of the day is filled with watching the dog show (and doing some subsequent ill-advised browsing on petfinder.com), shooting skeet in the front pasture, worrying about the guns, napping in front of a football game, and, of course, cooking. This year, I volunteered to make the mashed potatoes before realizing that my mother does not own a vegetable peeler. The potatoes were all the the more delicious because of the love from both my heart and my now-mangled arthritic claw of a right hand. Spoiler alert: Mom, I know what you’re getting for Christmas this year.

Bring on the pitchforks, but I don’t love Thanksgiving dinner. There are so many options — all delicious, but a little overwhelming. I like it a lot, but it’s not my favorite holiday meal (New Year’s Day, obvi) and I’m glad it’s only once a year. We’ve all anticipated it so much. We’ve all walked by and assessed the probable moistness of the turkey based on its beautiful Norman Rockwell-esque color and stature. By the time we’re ready to eat, everyone is starving (snacking is verboten), so I’m certain each person has walked by to encourage Papa in his carving endeavors and sampled a small sliver, confirming the suspected moistness. We pray, we give thanks, we gorge ourselves in record time before retiring back to the den to watch more football.  The overachievers crawl back to the dessert table for “orange pie” (not as gross as it sounds– it’s just “pumpkin pie” spoken in the lingering precious vernacular of “Baby Quark”. Clark is now 8 and knows what it’s called.) but most of us are useless until it’s time to hug goodbye, thank the cooks for the annual gut-buster, have another glass of wine, and go to bed to dream of the best (in my  humble opinion) meal of the holiday that is just around the corner:  the leftovers.

I’m positive that the size of our turkey is chosen with deliberate excess in mind. I can assert this with complete certainty because I know who buys the turkey and it is her beautiful love of food (this meal, in particular) that has nurtured my own obsession with food and it’s connection to our living and our remembering.  Sure, we know we’ll have around 15 people for dinner, but it’s important that we get one big enough to feed 25. Because here’s the thing: if we’re not going to have enough leftovers for a turkey sandwich, we may as well just call off the whole damn thing.

My benefactress has her own recipe for the perfect leftover turkey sandwich. Multigrain bread, crisp lettuce, mayo. Side of sweet tomato pickles and sea salt kettle chips. It’s

leftovers sandwich- wb 2014
leftovers sandwich- wb 2014

simple and wonderful and she loves it. Mine is a little more complicated and expressive of my novice status: toast the bread, just enough mayo to keep the lettuce in its place, thin layer of cranberry salad, and throw a few of the kettle chips on the turkey for the crunch factor. It’s amazing. (Sometimes I add a little mashed-up layer of dressing, drizzled with gravy, but it’s usually a little too leftover-aggressive. Live and learn.)

We are not a Black Friday family. For us, the day after Thanksgiving means things get a little bit calmer, fewer pots of coffee, less and less food prep-time. It usually means a dishwasher that cries out in a panicked plea for help. The leftovers come out and you warm up your own plate in the microwave (or make your own sandwich, of course). The dear ones we embraced over Wednesday’s oysters are fewer and fewer with each round of leftovers. I hope to express this genuinely enough to not offend, but I think all the wonderful folks in my family know that as much as I love everyone being together, I love even more the times I spend at home with just my mom and dad. We sit. We make few plans. We read. We play sudoku. We occasionally crowd around a game of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. It’s still. It’s quiet. It’s all I want after a fun-filled, loud, exciting time with a house full of extended family.

This year, as I reflect on the most recent holiday gathering and spurn the advances of the next, I am grateful for all of it. The leftover sandwich is delicious because of the Thursday meal. The Thursday meal gives us an excuse to come together for the merriment of Wednesday night. And after the last taillights turn left out of the driveway and disappear for a month, the absence of the beloved chaos — the chaos that marks the joy of being together — makes that sandwich on Friday all the more peaceful and delicious.

Thanks to all and for all.

happy holiday: a 20-year-old seasonal tale on laundry, pets, and recycling

when i was 7 years old, my mom and i went to the humane society on valentine’s day and came home with a little black and gray kitten. my creative genius was already in full throttle at this young age, so i dug deep and decided to name her Valentine. she was very cute and almost certainly hated me. i am not and have never been the type of human into which cats can seem to avoid digging their claws and teeth. sure, these mini-attacks are quickly followed by some licks as if to say “i’m just playing, calm down.” despite the pink scratch marks that covered my little hands, valentine and i were doing just fine during our first month together.

for the first twenty-or-so christmases of my life, i got a new wall calendar. it was always an exciting mystery as to which characters or theme would decorate the pages of each month — not as exciting as my new year’s eve tradition of using my colorful pens to copy birthdays into the new calendar (i think it’s safe to say that NYE has gone way downhill since childhood).  1994 was ushered in with a Berenstain Bears calendar that sported an environmental agenda. it was dont-polluteawesome – and i assume its production was affirmed after the publisher watched the classic “The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore)” fly off the bookshelves. it was filled with tips about turning off the water while brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, recycling soda cans, and organizing carpools to get to school. (this also should have been my first indicator that mom was doing santa’s dirty work.) of course, major holidays were printed on the appropriate days as they are in all calendars. the Berenstain enterprise chose to keep with the theme and make a bigger deal than most about arbor day, earth day, phases of the moon, and the like.

on march 20, 1994, we were having some people over for burgers and my mom was picking up around the house. she had moved the load of towels from the washer to the dryer and walked back into the kitchen, when only minutes later, she heard a rhythmic thump coming from the laundry room. after mentally eliminating a pair of tennis shoes as a possibility, she darted to the dryer to find poor Valentine, a freshly fluffed and very dizzy kitty. dad rushed her to the vet, holding her in the car while she responded physically the way you might imagine after spending a few minutes in a running dryer. Valentine made it out alive that day — the vet told us it was good that the dryer was so full of towels so she had some cushion for her little spin.

i was naturally relieved yet very upset by the traumatizing near-death of my tiny cat. i sat in my dad’s lap, thankful that Valentine was going to be okay* and sobbing a snotty wet spot onto his shirt. our guests had arrived in the middle of this episode, fortunate enough to experience this atypical apple valley catastrophe. (i couldn’t resist.)  i lifted my little face and rested my chin on his shoulder, pleading to god and all the empathetic adults in the room, “how could such a horrible thing happen on a holiday!?” everyone looked around at each other, utterly perplexed about what holiday i could possibly be talking about. my mom took the bait, “what holiday is it today?”

“IT’S THE VERNAL EQUINOX!”

after the scarring faded from both my hands and my soul, we started telling this story with some regularity. and nearly every person i know has heard me tell it, probably around this time of year. and every year for as long as i can remember, my dad wishes me a “happy holiday” on march 20th or 21st, however the calendar falls (although, obviously, none of my calendars since 1994 have had quite the same impact).
the beginning of spring is a wondrously hopeful occasion — a day on which you might find yourself so in awe of the new life blossoming around you that you may not notice a little ball of fur hopping in the dryer. it’s a day that brings the renewing sunshine (even if it’s overcast) whose promise has kept us trudging along, bitter and pudgy, through the winter months. it is a day whose official, fully deserved holiday status might pass by unrecognized without a helpful tip from those environmental (probably) Jewish cartoon bears… just not if you’re a Booth.

from my family to yours, have a very happy holiday!

*Valentine recovered fully from this incident, but ran away two years later for totally unrelated personal reasons.