Food is about more than just eating. Especially during the holidays. Aromas and flavors can evoke recollections, and unlock memories nearly forgotten. And there is nothing more nostalgic, no foods more worthy of reflection than those served up during the holidays.
Beginning with Thanksgiving, kitchens across America start rolling out recipes that “taste” like the season. Sure, you can make a green bean casserole—er, I mean hotdish—in July, but somehow it tastes better in November. Turkey and ham can be purchased all year, but for some reason they seem to taste much better on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The law of physics at work here must be the same one that dictates cake is always more delicious when served at birthdays and weddings.
For military families, and transplants holidays can be a tricky time. This is the time of year we are pushed to make choices about when we travel, the cost of getting “home” for the holidays, and how to discerningly use leave days. Which holiday will we miss? Who will we visit? Will we let someone down, or strain a relationship if we opt not to travel? Not to mention the added stress of deployments, TDYs, or a PCS that stretches across the holidays.
Holidays are a time of recipes and remembering. All that remembering can serve as a stark reminder that you’re far from “your” people. It can make you acutely aware that you’re are not-from-around-here.
I’ve felt the weight of holiday loneliness. But I’ve reshaped my perspective on being a transplant during the holidays. Instead of mourning the place I cannot be, I create a table that celebrates all the places we’ve been. In my house, our Thanksgiving plates are filled with foods that remind us of all the places we’ve lived, the communities that have taken us in, the people who have opened their homes—and recipe boxes—to us through the years.
I’ll never be able to create a holiday meal exactly like Grandma, but I can create a Thanksgiving spread that stirs just as much nostalgia. Instead of striving for sameness, I strive for something different. Something unique to my family and our experience. Something that leaves room for others to bring in their own unique flavor and traditions as well.
The meal I prepare each year for Thanksgiving, intentionally points to each of our duty stations. There’s corn casserole from Indiana. The pie crust I learned to make in Florida. The pumpkin cake recipe I drafted in Oklahoma. Every year, the brine and turkey rub I perfected in Louisiana show up. Our first tour in Minot introduced me to strawberry pretzel salad, and South Dakota brought overnight crockpot egg-bake into my life. Our second tour in Minot lead me on a foray in bread-baking that resulted in the perfect dinner roll.
The result is a meal that truly causes us to pause and give thanks. Thanks for the people who taught me to cook these dishes, thanks for the people we shared them with, thanks for the places we first ate them. It’s a tapestry of flavors woven over years, states, holidays missed, and new friends made. Every piece compels me to remember a moment, relay a story, or testify to the goodness of people we’ve met along the way. It’s an edible memoir, that knocks me over with gratitude for all life has given us—in spite of, and because of, the hard and painful bits mixed in.
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, or looking for a new approach feel free to steal mine. Make a dish that reminds you of each place you’ve lived. Invite friends to join and ask them to bring over something that tastes like Thanksgiving to them.
It won’t be exactly like the Thanksgivings you remember growing up, but will be nostalgic, it will be special, and it will be uniquely yours.
For more ideas on taking charge of your narrative, and creating a life of positivity and contentment, join me on Instagram (@amy_allender) and Facebook (@amyallenderblog).