Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and we, the Handlers–Alan, David, Marlene and I– spent it with our favorite family –best friends, Carol and Fred Snyder, and their sons, their wives and children. And their friends. And their children. Usually Marc, David’s best friend, accompanies us; when he was alive my Dad did; when she’s not headed to her son Michael’s in Unadilla, my sister, Catherine, does. Our benevolent hosts, Marc and Karen and their three children—Alex, Marissa and Lizzie, live in a big white house in Connecticut surrounded by 100 + foot tall spruce trees that I’m convinced were here when Adam and Eve walked around. If they ever did! Three lines of cars stretch out to the middle of the driveway to make room for all of us.
Outside by the garage, two turkey fryers bubble oil anticipating the two giant birds waiting unknowingly on the picnic table set up for them; the 3rd and 4th are roasting away in the oversized oven in the kitchen. Inside the door just beyond the impeccably white mud room is the sanctuary —the kitchen– and opening on to it the family great room. This is a home built to be filled as it is today–with family and friends—who today are all related. It’s huge center counter is surrounded by guests on foot or seated in various degrees of delight tasting Marc’s magnificent array of tapas which for all of us become the first of two very satisfying dinners. Marc is the chef for this feast (the whole family loves to cook—Marc and Karen’s three children and Marc’s parents, Carol and Fred, as well as their second son, David, executive chef at Somers 21 Restaurant).
This is a familiar setting for me; Carol, whom I met before she was married, and I are reaching 50 years as best friends, so I’ve been part of this family for the better part of my life. David and Marc, who will always be my little boys (despite their graying hair and wisdom), were brought up in just such a kitchen ‘manned’ by their Mom, Carol, and her Mom, Mary—a kitchen that welcomed guests everyday as if it were a holiday. All of us have stories of Mary’s famous feasts — everyday dinner was a banquet; I ate 4 bowls (yes, 4!) of her pasta on one of my spontaneous visits.
For today, Marc has brined and smoked salmon, turkey, and sausage and prepared his signature shrimp toast and sausage bread, and Karen’s Greek friend Laurie has brought her homemade dolmadas and spanikopita. To accompany these goodies, there’s wine and beer, cranberry juice, soda and water in abundance. Kids are spread out in various corners of the kitchen/family room painting, texting, playing video games, and telling stories of the family field trip the girls and their Moms took to Cheesecake Factory to taste test all their varieties of cheese cake (complete with spread sheets for scoring) in their quest for the perfect selection for this Thanksgiving feast. Has anyone ever done anything quite so splendid with her Mom and best friends? I certainly never did.
David (Snyder, Handler’s already here) arrives from his restaurant in time to begin his artful carving of the turkeys, a skill which always mesmerized my Dad and continues to stun Carol and me today (Moms never tire of admiring their sons!)–every movement graceful, deft and seemingly effortless –in this amazing dance his fingers perform for us. Once complete, the turkey takes center stage on the table where we are already waiting in line with plates and silverware. Turkey—fried and roasted, plain and sausage stuffings, brussel sprouts in the raw and in casserole (who ever heard of kids loving brussel sprouts? But these kids order them up two ways), mashed potatoes, pureed sweet potatoes, marshmallowed sweet potato casserole (these folks cater to all possible preferences and tastes), cranberry relish and honeyed carrots are rapidly devoured by this houseful of food and family lovers. And here there’s no one sneaking out to Boston Chicken for some creamed spinach or stuffing to supplement the meal. The only person who does not lunge for food is Marc, our chef, who admits he doesn’t care much for Thanksgiving food—one would never guess that from the way he lovingly prepares it for us. As his brother, David, always says, Food is Love, an apt mantra that fits every member of this wonderfully generous family; today it’s Marc telling us he loves us.
The lull between courses—especially entrée to dessert is critical—each of us rushing to our favorite corner of the couch, banquette, lounge chair or floor to dose blissfully in our turkey induced stupor. Marc’s wife, Karen, calls us all back to life with fresh brewed cappuccino, Bridgewater chocolates, brownies and blondies made by her friend’s daughters, pumpkin cheese cake, baklava, and the 2 sumptuous choices from Cheesecake Factory- chocolate chocolate peanut butter and oreo cheesecake.
When day is done and we push ourselves out from this warm and delicious cacoon that is the Snyder home to head toward our own, it occurs to me that our hearts are joined to several people we didn’t know before we got here and left loving. Our arms are heavy with aluminum casseroles for our trip to East Hampton where we will repeat today’s dinner for the next two days and top off our weekend—just the 4 of us—with a fire, noisemakers and lots of goodies—not surprisingly food gifts –to celebrate Alan’s birthday. Oh yes, and I got an e-mail from Karen today apologizing for not having had enough private time with me to discuss my book launch and party and promising to make that up to me on Christmas Eve when today’s caravan heads for Carol & Fred’s. Need I tell her that the whole day was utterly private and personal and as intimate a gathering as one could imagine—especially one like me who has always craved family and loved holidays and tradition. To be part of such a family is to be blessed. Simply, profoundly, blessed. Thank you, my beloved family.