When I think of my father and the holidays, I always think of him in the kitchen. Cooking was one of his passions and holiday cooking beat all. He spared no resource to prepare this special meal; no pot, no pan, no bowl was left untouched. No spoon or baking dish, no counter space was left unutilized. Daddy managed to fill every bit of our kitchen.
I grew up eating cornbread dressing; it was my father’s favorite (no “Yankee” dressing in his kitchen.) We teased him that it had everything but the kitchen sink and we weren’t far off. He started with the mirepoix, or as we called it chopped and sautéed onions, celery and carrots. He added the giblets from the turkey, browned sausage, currents, hard-boiled egg, herbs galore and always three cornbread kits. He made sure we had plenty.
We also always had my father’s specialty, asparagus pie. That was a work of savory deliciousness, asparagus in a white sauce poured into a pie shell, topped with grated cheese and baked until bubbly.
Of course there were the requisite mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole (my specialty.) There was fresh bread, salad, an exquisite turkey, browned perfectly and a beautiful ham. And oh the desserts! We had apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, chess cake and chocolate cake. The house smelled like the holidays. It smelled like home, like family, like love.
My dad was fearless in the kitchen. He never shied from trying new recipes – even on the holiday. For instance, once and only once, he made oyster dressing. Not everyone’s favorite. My dad was the model of calm in the storm that he created while preparing Christmas dinner. He never seemed stressed or frustrated as he was working to get all that food out hot and on time.
The kitchen was his canvass and the dining tables were his completed works of art. He would tell you that he was no artist. I would beg to differ.
My father died February 18 this year. Though I was with him when he took his last breath, there are moments when it is impossible to me that he is gone. I miss those Christmas dinners. I miss that nearly destroyed kitchen and those beautiful tables. I miss my father. As I reflect now, my father’s gifts were rich and abundant. He gave food and beauty and heart. He gave himself. He gave love and he gave generously.
My wish for you this holiday season is that you enjoy all the gifts given you over all of your life. Those that were obvious when you received them and those that become obvious in memory.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.