Sistergiving

by Megan Reynolds

I have hosted Thanksgiving at my apartment for the past three years, mostly because I intensely dislike the idea of sitting on a crowded Metro-North train for two hours the Wednesday before, hiding behind magazines in order to avoid the people on the train I haven’t seen since high school. We are not a Christmas family. Thanksgiving, with its food and its revelry and the easy familiarity of drinking a nice glass of red wine around 3 p.m. with people I haven’t seen in a year is our tradition.

For as long as I can remember, we went to my best friend Sonia’s house for Thanksgiving, my small family merging with her larger one. We’d make stuffed mushrooms and gossip in the corner, moving in the kind of synchronicity that comes from years of cooking together, in the same kitchen. Any year that I didn’t make it home for the ritual felt off.

I spent one Thanksgiving at the house of the boy I eventually fell in love with, in San Francisco. He had just returned from a three month trek in Nepal, and was jetlagged and dealing with the end of a bout of altitude sickness. I was nervous to see him, and spent the entire day in my apartment, alone, making noodle kugel and forgetting to eat. When I showed up, his mom offered me a glass of wine, and I was instantly tipsy. I smoked a cigarette with his brother on the back porch and ate a dinner roll. Before we sat down to eat, everyone stood in a circle holding hands and saying what they were thankful for. I blurted out something about missing my family but being grateful I was there, and promptly burst into tears.

After a few years, Sonia’s older sister moved to L.A. with her husband and new baby, and my family’s Thanksgiving was uprooted. One year, my father and his wife went to Miami for the weekend. Another year, they did Thanksgiving at a local restaurant, a small private dinner with friends of the owner. “You guys can come home, and it’ll be fun,” my dad told us on the phone. “You can talk to our friends.” Because we are brats, or because my sister, Jenny, and I do not excel at small talk, we declined. Thus, the Sistergiving was formed.

The day after Halloween, we circulate the menu-planning email, fighting small battles within over division of labor and money. Because my sister, Tessa and I live in an apartment with a big-for-New York kitchen and enough space for almost everyone to sit down, we host. This year, we will be joined by an Irish dude that Tessa met a couple years ago and some of her friends. There might be others, due to the storm that’s due to barrel down on the Northeast today. All are welcome. Here’s what a Sistergiving costs me.

$8–16 lb Shadybrook Farms Turkey, puchased at Foodtown.
Our local grocery store does a thing every year where you can win a free turkey or ham, if you spend a certain amount of money by Thanksgiving. My sisters and I love a free thing. We attack this goal with the tactical forethought usually reserved for planning prisoner extractions. The phone number associated with the card is distributed to roommates, with strict instructions to use it for all grocery purchases in the month of November, and we keep track of the balance religiously. Last year, we got the free turkey, which is a lump of frozen, sad turkey that requires 2–3 days of defrosting. This year, after we hit our goal, we got a turkey that at least got to see the outdoors for part of its life, and it was a ridiculously low price.

$72 — almost everything we need for gravy, stuffing, mini pumpkin cheesecakes and Mallomars, purchased for sanity’s sake.
The Saturday before Thanksgiving, my sister and I spent the day wandering around the house, asking each other if we were ready to go. Tessa sat on the couch watching a rerun of America’s Next Top Model, while I put my shoes on and got my bag. “I’m ready to leave now,” I told her. “You said that you weren’t, so now I’m not,” she said. We watched the end of the episode in silence, me in my jacket, and her in house shoes. Foodtown in Williamsburg on a Saturday afternoon is not the best place to be, but it’s especially bad the weekend before Thanksgiving. I made a list, checked it twice, and then forgot to buy the celery for the stuffing, and everything for the dry rub for the turkey.

$45 — the stuff that we forgot.
While I was at work on Tuesday, Tessa went to the grocery store and picked up the turkey, the stuff she needed for her to be determined “winter vegetable salad”, and some fennel seeds and celery, for the stuffing.

$50 — mashed potatoes, star anise, apples, more butter than is normal or acceptable.
This is an estimate, as I will have to brave the crowds tomorrow morning to go get stuff to make mashed potatoes, maybe another side dish, and then the obscure and frustrating spices that I have to make for the dry rub.

$25 — Hangry snacks
There is a moment that happens every Thanksgiving day, usually when one of my sisters has been chopping things for a long time in the kitchen and Tessa and I haven’t showered yet, when we all realize that it’s 1 p.m. and we’re starving. If a hangry snack is not procured the day before and consumed by all parties at once, we are liable to just yell at each other for fifteen minutes until someone storms off to a bedroom to sulk.

$0: Alcohol
This is what the guests bring, not me. If I’m making turkey for 12, I would like to drink a steamy cup of bourbon apple cider that someone has lovingly prepared for me and put in my hand.

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.