Monday, November 14, 2005

What I'm Making for Thanksgiving: Reservations

My grandmother was a very wise woman. She lived to be 102, which still wasn't nearly enough time for her family and friends, of which she had many.

One of her many legacies to my family is the restaurant Thanksgiving. I realize it's become somewhat trendy to eat out on Thanksgiving, but I like to think we were sort of pioneers. (An argument that falls apart when you realize that, obviously, if we were really pioneers, there wouldn't have been any place to go out to. But I digress.)

In my family, Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal. (Being Jewish, Christmas Eve isn't, as you might imagine.) Thanksgiving was always a time for everyone in our relatively small group (anywhere from about 8 to 12 of us) to gather at my mom's house for a feast. And that worked for the first half of my life, until about 20 years ago.

By that time, I was married and living several hours from Mom; same for my brother. We all worked, which meant we couldn't get to Mom's house until Thanksgiving morning. That wouldn't have been so bad, except Mom taught community college, and for last 20 years or so before retirement, she always had a Wednesday night class that didn't end until 10 p.m. So she was left to prepare a huge meal by herself on Thursday morning, essentially on her own.

Why didn't my beloved grandmother (Mom's mom) help? Well, for all her wonderful qualities--smart as a whip, loving heart, great legs (like Marlena Dietrich's!)--Gigi (a variation on her name, Jennie, and pronounced with two hard g's, like a musician's job) couldn't cook worth beans. Heck, she couldn't cook beans at all. This was not a reflection on her intelligence or physical adeptness--she could sew and crochet beautifully, for instance--but rather an offshoot of a life of work begun at age 12, in 1903. She simply never learned to cook. And the one time Jim and I played host in our new condo in Virginia, she was savvy enough to realize that we'd spent a fortune on food and drink to feed the clan--a painful stretch on our newlywed/newly mortgaged budget.

So, realizing what a burden the Thanksgiving meal was becoming, Gigi laid down the law, in her own style: simply, succinctly, and with no room for argument:
"Thanksgiving has become too much for your mother to do alone. And you kids can't afford it. So I've asked her to find a nice hotel with a fancy buffet so everyone can eat what he likes, and your mother can just enjoy the day. Anyone who wants to come is invited, but everyone pays for himself. THAT'S IT."
We initially had several nice meals in Norfolk (where my grandmother lived), then later ended up everywhere from Baltimore to New Mexico to Boston.

In Boston, we've settled into a pattern: Thanksgiving at Cafe' Fleuri, at the Langham Hotel. Yes, this is the home of the famous Chocolate Buffet, though I confess I've never been. There's such a superabundance of great desserts (both chocolate and non-) on the Thanksgiving buffet that going to a separate pig-out seems superfluous.

We love it: the ambience, the food, the service. Tasteful, but not stuffy (Jim never wears a tie and never feels out of place). And all the savory food is wonderful too--from sushi to shrimp to pasta bar to--yes--turkey with all the trimmings. (Jim doesn't much like turkey, just another reason why he gleefully endorsed my grandmother's plan all those years ago.)

One of the things that won me over was the children's buffet--a special, kid-height table with things like mac and cheese, pizza bagels, and the best--the best--chocolate cupcakes I've ever tasted. (Yes, adults can scarf food from the children's buffet, and kids are equally welcome to eat the adult food.) Cafe' Fleuri doesn't just pay lip-service to the idea of serving children; they do it in a meaningful way. (Warning: none of this comes cheaply--be prepared to splurge.)

This year, with my folks (and my brother--I'm very excited about that) coming up again, I asked my mom if she'd like us to look around for another spot, to try something new.

"Oh, really, if you don't mind, I'd love to go back where we went the last couple of years," she said. "I just love everything about it. And not just the food--the room is so lovely, don't you think?"

So back we go. I just love family traditions, don't you?


Blogger Rebecca said...

I love this post.... I love to hear about other people's families and traditions, both old and new. :) I'm sentimental and nostalgic that way, and its really nice to hear how others spend time together, even when it's got a comedic spin to it. :)

3:39 PM  

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