This was a Thanksgiving of firsts. It was my first spent in Northern California, without my family, and my first to greet turkey day in the great outdoors. In preparation for my experiment in independence, I read Michael Chabon’s essay in the latest issue of Bon Appetit. In “The Comforts of Not-Home,” he writes about his family’s Thanksgiving ritual of not cultivating any particular tradition and, instead, keeping things freshly unfamiliar, year after year.
My family tradition can be described in a word: cozy. We begin by watching Martha Stewart’s Thanksgiving Special. The ancient VHS features Martha’s homemade holiday, in which she harvests cranberries knee-deep in a bog and roasts pheasants in her very own smokehouse. Inspired, we get to work in the kitchen. Although the menu never changes, our meal is enjoyed with an element of surprise. After all, homemade pecan pie only comes but once a year.
This year, as I embarked on a break with custom, I was inspired by Chabon’s narrative of celebrating change and building a tradition on non-tradition. Inspired, but also hesitant. What would Thanksgiving hold for me, without anticipating the taste of my Mother’s apple chestnut stuffing or my Grandmother’s thick and creamy turkey gravy?
I made a decision: if I was taking Chabon’s “comforts of not-home” approach, I would do so literally. First step: wake up in a tent on Thanksgiving morning. After a night of camping with friends in Point Reyes, it felt oddly festive rising with the sun to the sounds of wild critters. It was a morning of scents, not so much savory or sweet, but rather earthly and crisp. Aromatic Eucalyptus and Bay wafted through the air, as we waited quietly for a close-knit family of deer to cross the trail.
A Thanksgiving of firsts, I accepted an invitation to join a friend and her family that night for dinner. It was her first time hosting and my first as a guest. The meal was traditional but, of course, progressive for me. Tired and full, I skipped dessert and ate my first pumpkin pie of the season a day late. It wasn’t even from the leftovers. It was brand new.