I like to call the season from now until the end of the year, “The Months of Eating Dangerously.” In the next forty plus days, we will all be celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Year’s. These are all wonderful holidays where we gather with friends and loved ones to rejoice in our family traditions and important religious observances. Each holiday is rich with meaning and also with rich food. We are faced with an onslaught of holiday eating. There are office parties, school parties, holiday open houses, snuggling up in front of the fireplace drinking the hot chocolate and eating the sugar cookies that were left for Santa. With all the hams, turkeys, latkes, egg nog and even the ubiquitous fruitcake, it’s no wonder the average person gains five to ten pounds over the holidays. This time of year is rough. My daughters have barely recovered from the Tootsie Pop and Hershey Kiss induced coma brought on by Halloween and we’re already making plans for the upcoming foodapolooza.
For the holidays we get together with my childhood friend Allison, her husband Chris, a fellow writer, and their kids, two boys close in age to our two daughters. Allison and I take turns hosting the dinners. We split the planning, shopping and cooking chores. We create a signature drink for the day (this year it’s going to be a Pumpkin-tini) and cook and drink while letting the husbands wrangle children in the other room. I used to dread making holiday dinners, but this cooking comradeship we’ve developed turns a chore into fun. I always know the meal is over when the kids, a la Richard Dryfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, start making mashed potato sculptures on their plates or doing some other food inspired mischief. But even splitting the food between two families, we still have an embarrassment of leftovers.
Last year, I ended up with three extra turkeys I got free through grocery store promotions. Allison and I had the turkey for our communal meal, so they were just extras causing gridlock in my freezer. I had my daughters help as I cooked my three extra turkeys and some side dishes. I packed up the turkey dinners with everything you’d need for a fine Thanksgiving picnic, put them in my car and started driving in search of the homeless people in our area who I see at the bottom of freeway exit ramps or road medians with signs saying “Will work for food”.
I spotted McDonald’s guy, as my daughters have dubbed him, standing at the end of the drive-through lane. He’s a regular there. My husband, David, often offers to buy him a burger but McDonald’s guy always asks for a fish sandwich instead. I wasn’t sure if my turkey to-go was going to get a thumbs up from him. I pulled over and offered McDonald’s guy a shopping bag with the turkey dinner I’d made inside. When I told him what it was, he smiled and joked, “You must have had a lot of leftovers.” I said, “No, my daughters and I cooked this for you this morning.” He paused, took the bag from me and said quietly, “God Bless.” As we drove off, my older daughter, who was in the back seat, asked, “Why was he sad?” I answered, distracted by driving while looking out for our next drive by turkeying. “I don’t think he was sad, honey.” I said, spotting a woman with her dog under the freeway and trying to cut across two lanes to get to her. “Then why did he look like he was going to cry?” Nicole asked.
When I was a kid, my mother would take me with her to deliver meals to elderly or sick neighbors or local families in need, particularly during the holidays. I went begrudgingly as a kid, wanting to hurry home to play with my new toys or gobble down Christmas cookies. Now, I realize it was her way of reminding us what the holiday season is all about - that the parties and gifts and lavish holiday meals were only part of the story.
We gave away all three turkeys that day to men and women who all looked, as Nicole described, “A little sad,” because of the tears in their eyes. As I write about what I did and actually see it in print, I realize that a mother with her kid in her car cruising the streets for homeless probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do from a safety standpoint. Maybe I was lucky. Or maybe it was just the spirit of the season.