This Thanksgiving I’m going to give a toast to all the nomads in my life - the travellers, the road warriors. The sojourners, seekers, and the strays.
Some people – even those we love more than they know - are born nomadic. They’re not meant to be in one place for too long, it makes them gitchy. The road calls out to them and they have to go – for their art, their wanderlust, the adventures…and that means they’re not always going to be home for dinner. Or home for Thanksgiving. Like our son, Elijah Berlow. He’s driving across country, making music, and says he plans to be somewhere near Chicago come the holiday.
This is going to be our first one without Elijah. He’ll land at a friend’s or a family table. And back here, we’ll keep extra place settings for any wayfarers who come to our door for safe harbor, and some turkey.
The last few Thanksgivings we’ve cooked up a feast with Elijah’s former employer, Jefferson Munroe. He’s a farmer in Vineyard Haven. Jefferson raises livestock for the meal, slaughters and butchers them. And then he debones and rolls them all into this crazy-wonderful- 5-in-1 - animal inside of the other – with herbed lard between the layers. It’s kind of like a turducken, if you’ve ever heard of one of those. Elijah learned all this by Jefferson’s side, so he can tell you what’s been in it…
The roast. Well past couple years we’ve done pig, turkey, goose, duck, chicken and I think just a pheasant. That was it. I don’t know what it’s going to be this year. Jefferson, he deboned everything and then sewed it together and then lubricated all the meats with fat, I think specifically pork fat, pork lard. That’s what we did the last couple of years. And it was delicious.
This year we’re going to simplify and reduce the number of species in our main course. Basically that means we’ll include every animal but the pig. I’m going to miss the pig. What does my 20 year-old troubadour say he’s going to miss?
Well, I think I’m going to miss the multiple meat layers of our Thanksgiving. Not just the meat layers - the layers of people that come to the Berlow household during Thanksgiving. From the farmers or the restaurant owners, or the chefs, or the stragglers… or Lisa and Isabelle from Miami, or Bob, eating everything in sight, but also, the walk on the beach, after of course, which is great and fantastic, and that everyone loves being by the ocean during really cold November beautifulness of Martha’s Vineyard. The starkness. Helping out with the roast.
The thing about our nomads is they have to go. It’s in their blood. I’d like to believe that because they know we’re here, we’re home while they’re away - that gives them the strength to follow their journey and steady their compass.
So at this Thanksgiving, we’ll serve up food that reminds us of who’s not at the table this time around - those mashed potatoes, that weird cranberry jelly sauce with ridges straight from the can, Brussels sprouts three ways, kimchi, latkes and smoked oysters. Lots and lots of pie and ice cream. It’s a long way home through the heart. But just until they come back. - for a visit and for leftovers.
Ali Berlow is the author of The Food Activist Handbook.
The Local Food Report is produced by Atlantic Public Media