My parents were married on Nov. 29 and celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1995, which is also the year I got married. To mark the milestone, I invited my mom’s sisters, my grandparents and my in-laws for Thanksgiving to our not so spacious, one-bedroom apartment. I had one requirement: everyone cooks their signature recipe in our tiny little kitchen.
Proud of myself, I thought this was how great memories are made. Admittedly, the holiday looked more like “National Lampoon’s” rather than Andy Warhol.
Thanksgiving arrived and Mom’s Denver-based sisters – Aunties Bobbie, Shirley, and Arlene – flew direct with their recipes safely tucked in their purses and ingredients in hand. Our small kitchen had only one work surface, which forced us to build out a cooking schedule of which the producers of Iron Chef would be proud.
Our menu was set. My mother-in-law made sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, my grandma made green bean casserole and my sisters-in-law made appetizers. Auntie Bobbie made her signature stuffing. Her first step was to pull out multiple baggies of pre-toasted bread from her purse. She carried it on the plane so that she wouldn’t tie up my toaster.
Not all the recipes were from the old country. Auntie Shirley made the Kuner’s recipe for pumpkin pie in store-bought pie crusts, and my Auntie Arlene made hot Lipton tea. (My Auntie Arlene is the first to admit that her favorite recipes are ones cooked at restaurants). As I sifted through pictures from the weekend, all I could find was a picture of her preparing a cup of tea. I asked if that was what she remembers making, and she thought that sounded about right.
In addition to their editions, my mom and I made the bird. In the 80’s, Richard Simmons hosted a talk show cooking segment that shaped my mom’s turkey preparing routine. He not only seasoned that bird, but also worked its muscles with leg lifts, wing presses and what may have been the cha-cha. My mom and I were in hysterics. From that moment on, preparing turkeys went well beyond basting. My mom would get those polkies (Yiddish for legs) and fligls (Yiddish for wings) sweatin’ to the oldies. After its aerobics routine, my mom would rub it down with garlic salt, paprika and Lawry’s seasoning, and off to the roaster it went.
Each dish cooked was to perfection; while each dish used to prepare the meal piled up in the kitchen. My grandma taught me the importance of cleaning as you go. Sage advice, however, the sink was filling at a record pace – pots, pans, bowls, and utensils – and this was before the meal even began.
The cooks in the kitchen cleared out as we maneuvered for a seat around the table, which became a game of musical chairs. Pardon, pardon, excuse me, excuse me was the common chorus that kept our guests moving from chair to chair. Those helping serve were to sit at the table side nearest the kitchen. However, that wasn’t communicated before everyone took their spots. Once seated, our guests understood that getting up and out would require an act of Congress.
Finally settled, we enjoyed our food and celebrated my parents’ silver anniversary. My mom’s maiden name was Milstein, which means milestone. How appropriate. Meals, milestones, and Milsteins; these are just a few ingredients that make up my most meaningful memories. There’s no better way to honor my mom than reliving the laughter and the food, especially from that weekend. My mom always said: family comes first, always.
Here’s my mom’s recipe for turkey. Be sure to crank up your favorite tunes and work that bird!
Turkey – rule of thumb is one pound of turkey per guest
1 to 2 Onions
Large roasting pan
Use cooking spray on the bottom of the pan. Place cut up onion on the bottom of the pan. Grab turkey legs and gently move them to the right and then to the left at a two-count beat. Then grab the wings in a flapping motion to the same two-count beat. Doing the cha-cha is optional. Turkey is ready to place in the pan once tears of laughter are rolling down your chin. Place turkey in pan and sprinkle seasonings over the bird. Cover with tinfoil and bake at 325 degrees. Cooking time is roughly 15 minutes per pound. The internal temperature of the bird should be 165 degrees when done.
When I got married, my mom passed along a stack of her go-to recipes, which I keep in a white three-ring binder. The collection includes a handful of her mom’s recipes for the holidays – Jewish and secular – along with selections from friends, family, synagogue cookbooks and popular ladies’ magazines. My mom passed away a year ago of pancreatic cancer. To honor her memory, I’m writing a series of articles featuring the back stories on recipes in my meal-planning rotation.