Feature image photo by DebbiSmirnoff via Getty Images
It’s November 2016, and I’m lonely and missing my family a lot more than I expected. I say I can’t come home for Thanksgiving for a mix of reasons. I’m just starting to make friends at college, and the plane ticket home is a little bit too much for the part-time student job that I have. My mom says she misses me a lot and it doesn’t feel as warm as Thanksgiving at home. I feel guilty spending it with people I’ve only known since August of that year, but the dorms feel like someone else’s house all the time, so anything’s better than that. The air in the Bay is cold and crisp. It smells good and new. Like an invitation to become someone different.
It’s lonely at the same time. I drink shitty tequila and get a little too stoned on Thanksgiving and eat the food my friends like to have. We cram into a kitchen belonging to my only friend that lives off-campus, and I try my hardest to emulate the care my mother puts into her food for that special day, but I burn the sweet potatoes and don’t even attempt to make my favorite dish, the stuffing. My friend, the host, shares a beautiful dish that reminds her of home, and I’m thankful for her hospitality. I text my parents that I miss them, separately of course, and wish for my mom’s couch to nap on.
There are no leftovers, but then again I don’t really have enough room in my mini-fridge to care. Soon enough, it’s Christmas break and time to go home, so I don’t linger on the feeling of missing that sandwich too much. It’s just a sandwich after all.
But then again Julie, it’s not just a sandwich. It’s your once-a-year Thanksgiving sandwich.
The one my mom would pack for me to take to school when I was little. The one I’d sneak downstairs to make after everyone had gone to bed. It was the best little thing I’d enjoy alone, after all the predictable conversation and cleanup. A little private sermon I’d hold. A party of one. God’s light shining through the refrigerator door’s glow. A secret for only me to know when anyone asked why there weren’t as many leftovers as the previous day.
I consider myself an introvert, even when it comes to family and intimate dinner conversations. Julie’s just so mature. Julie’s so reserved and grown up for her age. You’re so lucky to have such a responsible daughter.
In actuality, it was a mix of repressed anger and wanting to damage-control the things that were happening around that made me so quiet during occasions with big groups of people. I was also fighting the urge to blurt out I was gay at the dinner table by not saying anything besides “can you pass the stuffing” for quite a few years, but that’s less relevant here I guess.
It may sound strange, but in order to make the most perfect Thanksgiving sandwich, I must first hunker down and experience a tiring Thanksgiving day. It should be slightly uncomfortable, then kind of enjoyable, and then a blissful solitude as I focus on my upcoming moment of sandwich. If someone were to rate my Thanksgiving experience, I’d like them to give it a strong six out of ten. The food just doesn’t taste as good without good gossip and an argument or two. This is a fact of my life that I’m learning to accept as someone who spent most of her early life refusing to speak aloud the things that would make her angry. I don’t think I like when things are too perfect.
It’s been some time since that year I first spent Thanksgiving away from home. I now understand that the warmth of Thanksgiving is a feeling I was chasing beyond that one day of the year. I don’t just miss having someone cook a meal for me or tell me that they’re thankful I’m in their life — though these are things that I cherish. I’m also missing the ever-fleeting sense of home I associate with the holidays. The way my mom would put out my brother’s and my old school Thanksgiving crafts. The scent of cinnamon and pumpkin. The sound of good china being cautiously pulled out of a high cabinet. The cheesiest Thanksgiving movie on our TV.
For me, home is now found within people and the energy I want to put into the holidays.
If you just came here for the recipe, I feel you. I’ve scrolled through thousands of blogs wishing I didn’t have to read about the author’s dark past or dinner party hosting tips in order to get a three-direction recipe for baked feta pasta, yet here we are. But if you’ve read along this far past my mentions of inner child healing and slightly pretentious ideations of loneliness and family, I’m happy to share with you how I create the best sandwich in the world.
In order to make your perfect Thanksgiving sandwich, you must first choose your bread. If I’m feeling energetic, I love seeking out a loaf of sourdough or dutch crunch and getting it fried in a pan with some olive oil. But just a dinner roll will do if you’re not trying to buy more groceries. Dinner rolls are a perfect handheld vehicle for your sandwich.
Then slather that good cranberry sauce on it or any other sauce you like. I’m personally a fan of just getting canned cranberries and mixing them up a little bit and adding walnuts, but it’s up to you. Homemade sauce is also so good. I’m a mayo hater but mustard is sometimes acceptable if my turkey is too dry. And sometimes if I make gravy, I’ll put some on as a condiment. Nasty? It’s not, but I won’t tell you how to live your life.
Next, you’re gonna want to find the heart of your sammy. Be it turkey, tofurkey, ham, veggies, or what have you. Heat that up in a pan or microwave and lay it ever so gently on top of your spread and bread.
Here’s where your creativity can shine through. Depending on what you actually enjoy eating on Thanksgiving, you may have a different assortment of sides than I do. For me, I mix an egg with the leftover stuffing and cook it to create a more solid hunk of stuffing. Throw that on there along with some mashed potatoes — sweet or regular, I don’t care — and you’re set. You can add traditional sandwich things like tomatoes, lettuce, and onions if you want. It’s just not my personal sammy vibe.
Really, just make it how you like it. Add or remove things that don’t serve your sandwich. And try sharing it with others. I’m learning how to do that now.