I am going cold turkey this Thanksgiving.
For the first time in my adult life, I am not inviting family and friends to a table laden with five hot vegetables and a roasted fowl. Instead, my husband and I are leaving our nearest and dearest to fend for themselves. We are starting a new tradition – getting out of town.
There, I've said it. I'm done with the apron, the sweaty brow, sneaking a glass of white wine as I baste the bird and the back pain from lifting the stuffed and trussed turkey out of the oven – at least for this year.
Holidays became both simpler and more complicated when my children grew up and found partners. Co-ordinating with the in-laws, especially if they are divorced, can be a nightmare. I've heard tales of young parents forced to schlep their babies from one laden table to another, sometimes as many as three times on the same day.
And then there is the feast-or-famine routine many of my friends endure because their grandchildren live on the other side of the country or the world. Either they sob into their solitary takeout in front of the TV, or they cram three generations into forced togetherness, provoking tantrums, bathroom lineups and jousting with the in-laws they acquired – however reluctantly – through marriage.
My husband and I have been lucky: We live in the same city as our grown son and daughter, who both found partners with just one set of parents. Nevertheless, getting everybody on the same schedule of away and home festivities was as tricky as negotiating a trade deal. Fortunately, my son's super-organized wife, herself the youngest of four, set the alternating rhythm and we happily fell into line, especially since we can see our three grandchildren any time because they live within walking distance.
Thanksgiving is one of the best traditions that the United Empire Loyalists brought with them when they fled north after the American Revolutionary War in the 18th century. Originally a religious harvest festival celebrating foods such as turkey, cranberries and squash that are native to North America, Thanksgiving has morphed over the centuries into a secular feast.
Unlike Christmas, there are no presents to buy, wrap, or fight over, no preambles such as going to church, no soggy winter boots turning the vestibule into an obstacle course. In fact, the weather is usually so splendid you can shovel the guests out of the house for a walk between dinner and dessert.
Speaking of guests, it was the 24 visitors – all of them welcome, all of them beloved – at our cottage on Prince Edward Island this summer that pushed me over the entertaining cliff.
Normally by now, I have ordered a 25-pound fresh (not frozen) bird with extra giblets, stocked up on bread and sausage meat for the stuffing and am scanning recipes online to find tempting variations on mashed potatoes and sprouts. My gustatory fancies run to roasted eggplant soup with lemon to start, followed by a cheesy, savoury cauliflower cake decorated with red onion rings and carrots sautéd in ginger.
As for the guests, I love spicing up the predinner conversation with new people, especially if they will bring a dessert. Trouble is, I miss most of the chatter and the laughter because I am stuck in the kitchen.
Still, I was feeling guilty when I stamped my foot and decided to bolt this Thanksgiving, at least until my daughter-in-law reminded me that it wasn't even our turn. Besides, "We've made our own plans this year," she announced.
Instead of heading down the highway to her parents, she and my son have decided to create a new family ritual. They are meeting up with friends, all of whom have a passel of small children, and taking the Canadian harvest ritual south of the border. I'm not sure if they have figured out how hard it might be to get a turkey so far ahead of American Thanksgiving, but they haven't asked my advice.
"What about your parents?" I asked, feeling bereft on their account. "They won't miss us," she replied. "They have four kids and 11 grandchildren. There's always a full house."
Our daughter is heading to her partner's family, so, in what appears to be an evolving holiday tradition, we are free as birds. Instead of flitting aimlessly around our blissfully empty cottage, we are descending on somebody else's feast on Prince Edward Island: Our neighbours on the shore have a rotating feast, so we asked our closest neighbour if we could take part. He made entreaties on our part and after an anxious few days, the message came back: Yes, but, "What will she bring?"
That's easy: my cauliflower cake – perhaps with cranberries as well as red onion rings, as an homage to tradition.