A forkful of dark meat enveloped in brown crackly skin topped with crispy stuffing and a smidge of cranberry sauce — my perfect Thanksgiving bite. It’s all about the stuffing. Our family recipe, a blend of the usual, sauteed onions and celery with carrots, and the unusual, crushed Ritz crackers and oatmeal, passed down from my mother’s mother. Supposedly this is what she used to stuff her kosher chickens on Friday nights.

My mother was the queen of all of the holidays we celebrated in my Jewish family. The brisket she made and served on Rosh Hashanah and Passover was legendary. Her Yom Kippur break-fasts featured “to die for” kugels and jello molds. But Thanksgiving was her masterpiece. We celebrated at my uncle’s second home in New Hampshire with never less than 20 people. When my mom died ten years ago, my uncle, her brother, could not conceive of anyone else in the family cooking. For the next eight Thanksgivings, he and my aunt hired a local caterer, always insisting that they use our family stuffing recipe. The caterer, believing that the recipe was written incorrectly, would never make it properly and the stuffing always tasted awful.

Last year my cousins finally convinced their parents that, with a love of cooking, I was up to the task. So, like my mother before me, I packed my car and headed to Northern New Hampshire with all the supplies I needed. My cousins volunteered and took over the sides and some of the desserts but the main event was mine. The turkey was 28 pounds, one of our largest, ever. I was confident but nervous. This was a crowd that was quick to criticize and it is hard to compete with memories of perfection. Fortunately, the dinner was a triumph and for the first time in a long time, everything tasted as it should. Moreover, as one of my cousins commented, there was harmony in the kitchen. In the past, the older generation believed that the volume of your yelling indicated the depth of your love.

With first time nerves behind me, I was looking forward to being even better this year. No surprise, it is not to happen. My cousins are gathering at their homes. My dad is staying in Massachusetts with his girlfriend. We will be just five, including my mother-in-law.

This year’s Thanksgiving will be our fourth holiday by ourselves. We started in the spring with Passover. We Zoomed the extended family during the Seder, and while it was nice to see everyone’s faces, it was not really a substitute. This fall we did Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by ourselves. Holidays without family do not get easier with practice.

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I’ve bought festive placemats to brighten the table and a jigsaw puzzle for after the meal. And even though it is imperfect, I am going to reach out to my cousins about organizing a Thanksgiving Zoom toast.

Many of those “once a year’ dishes we make and love to eat will be sacrificed. Three different kinds of homemade cranberry sauce are not all on the menu when you are only feeding five. Luckily the New York Times published a recipe for pecan pie ice cream, so we do not have to choose between apple and pecan pie. And of course, there will be my grandmother’s delicious stuffing.

I am grateful that we have a warm home, a sweet puppy, and plenty of good food to eat. Thanksgiving will be different this year but in six and a half weeks we celebrate New Year’s and 2021. I’m looking forward to that.

Nana’s Stuffing

  • 3 medium onions, diced small
  • 4 stalks celery, diced small
  • 3 or 4 carrots, grated
  • 2 cup Ritz cracker crumbs (1 stack)
  • 1 cup corn flake crumbs
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil

Sautee onion and celery in oil. Add a little chicken stock and cook until tender.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix dry ingredients separately and add cooked vegetables and grated carrots to mixture.

Add more chicken stock if dry.

Stuff in turkey or bake separately.

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