Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. People aren’t harried, exhausted and driven to purchase presents that will be soon forgotten. Instead, they tend to gather to enjoy good food and one another. No presents and no worries about who we left out; just time to enjoy our loved ones and be thankful. Arguably though, one of the best parts of the day is the food. Turkey, mashed potatoes, pie, and a smorgasbord of too many things to relate often adorn tables all over the country on this special day. 

Cooking as a Gift of Love

I had the privilege of having my great grandmother in my life until I was 19 years old. Born in 1899, Isabelle Penny was a remarkable woman and loved by all who knew her. Even those not related to her affectionately called her “Mommo” and she was gifted at making all who came into her presence feel welcomed and loved. One of the ways she did that was in her loving preparation of food. I have fond memories of the special silverware and dishes she had for me when I came to visit. She was also known for her angel food cake, baked holiday oysters and relish trays. Most of all, everyone who knew her could easily attest to the fact that she was ALWAYS trying to feed everyone. Food was a tangible way she could demonstrate her love for others. 

Passing the Baton

Over the years I’ve grown to love cooking and entertaining; and I’m noticing that, like “Mommo,” I love to feed people and see them happy and satisfied. I derive immense pleasure from seeing others enjoy the fruit of my labor. Thus several years ago I started cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It was an amazing opportunity for me to show love to those in our family through some tasty, delectable dishes. When we were living in Pennsylvania it was not unusual to have nearly 30 people in attendance as all my extended family would attend. Since moving back to California our local extended family is much smaller so we often have only about 10-12 people. But I still labor over the menu each year; writing it out, including some annual favorites, but taking great care not to duplicate everything so that there is the opportunity to experiment with a few new items. Much like my beloved great-grandmother, I find much joy in sitting down and seeing others savor something I’ve made for them. 

Putting Down the Oven Mitts

This year will be different. We have a friend from South Africa who also happens to cook privately for people, and he made a generous request; he offered to cook our Thanksgiving meal. I’ll do the desserts and perhaps one or two of the other staples, but he has concocted a fantastic menu that I’m sure all present will thoroughly enjoy. 

My husband, who feels that the stress of the holiday meal preparations is not worth it, is thrilled that someone else is going to take up the oven mitts and  shoulder all the work. He has encouraged me to enjoy that fact that someone else is doing everything and we get to simply enjoy the feast. I don’t quite share his perspective.

Control or Giving Up the Opportunity to Give to Others?

You see, even though there is stress associated with the planning and preparation, it is a gift I’m able to give those I love. One that I lovingly and meticulously craft for those most important in my life. So despite the wonderful gift our friend is bestowing upon us this year, I’m finding myself struggling with the fact that I’m not able to be the giver. I know I’ll get over it and enjoy the amazing fare, not to mention I will have less stress, but it will be different. I’ll be more of a spectator instead of the initiator; on the receiving instead of the giving end.

It’s Not Really About the Food

This new twist in our upcoming Thanksgiving celebration has made me reflect upon the residents in our communities. As we all know food is always a hot-button issue. Not hot enough, too spicy, too bland, and on and on the criticisms come. I’ve started to wonder if it really isn’t all about the specific complaints and more about those same feelings that I have as I anticipate my first Thanksgiving with little creative input.
Perhaps it’s more akin to that feeling of loss I am dealing with, on a much smaller scale of course, than real complaints. Our residents have given up their homes, may have limited accessibility to family, and are relegated to consuming the food we choose to serve. If they get hungry in the middle of the night, they can no longer go to the fridge and pop some leftovers in the microwave.
Likewise, they cannot whip something up because they get a craving. I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time giving up that piece of my independence. I’m grieving over giving up one meal; I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to give up that portion of my life, a slice so integral to each day’s existence, permanently. This is reality for our residents. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is great to have others serve you, but even now, if I’ve eaten out too much, I find myself longing for the normalcy of being able to make my own meals and presenting them to our family. Our residents don’t get the luxury anymore.

Some Suggestions

Now that we’ve considered these things, I’d like to leave you with a few suggestions to consider the next time you get complaints about your food program or have a holiday coming up:
  • Dig a little deeper — is it really about the food, or about the loss of that piece of their lives? 
  • Help them feel as though they are involved in the menu-writing process. Perhaps let them help you prepare their signature dish. Then advertise it to the community so everyone knows with whom it originated.
  • Incorporate as much choice as possible. Empower your residents to feel as though they can still decide as much as possible even if they can’t personally prepare.
  • Finally, seek to embrace their traditions whenever possible. This may mean holiday celebrations and other important dates. You won’t be able to catch them all, but you can put things in place that will show your desire to respect those who have long served delicious food and special recipes to those whom they love.

In the meantime I’ll be trying my best to step away from the turkey leg and all other items I won’t be in charge of preparing this year. Wish me success!