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November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving from Away

I have only been home to Maine for Thanksgiving once in the last 15 years.

This in no way means I don't adore my family. I love the din of everyone running around and slamming doors to keep out the chill and sharing baby duties, serving lobster with turkey, walks in the woods after supper and my mother cooking nearly everything the day before and leaving it out on the porch, which was colder than any fridge and had the added benefit of limitless space. When I was growing up, my grandmother would serve fresh cranberry relish, made with a hand crank, on china and by candlelight. When we ate at my step-father's mother's house, there was football in the snow with the uncles as well as limitless deviled eggs and tourtière — traditional French Canadian meat pies to bring home for later.

When I went to college 14 and 1/2 hours from home, I began to explore the holiday through other people's eyes: Bowling after dinner in Ohio and eating egg rolls at the Chinese buffet with hockey teammates when there was nowhere else to go. After school, I shared meals with my growing extended family of friends and workmates: traveling to Rhode Island with a women's basketball team during a holiday tournament and eating in a banquet room at the Providence Biltmore, hoarding cornbread stuffing and pumpkin pie for overnight staffers while covering pro football and breaking news as an online editor at the nation's newspaper; gathering fellow holiday orphans for a psuedo-vegetarian meal on the floor of my living room.

For the last four years, I shared the holiday and, in the weeks following — a traditional tree cutting — with my boyfriend's family in Washington. The highlight, other than his mother's amazing rolls, was singing Christmas songs with a truckload of his cousins, handling well-worn carol books and trying hard not to belt out "O Holy Night." When I forgot myself, I would find a gentle hand on my back, reminding me that 7-year-olds are easily drowned out by former musical theater freaks.

But this year was my first Thanksgiving as a single girl in five years. After delivering a few turkey dinners to others, I came home on empty roads and cooked for myself. Risotto with brie, cauliflower and almonds, roasted root veggies, chicken liver mousse with Calvados and apple and beer-can chicken with garlic, Natty Light and sage. Wine was a Cakebread Chardonnay Reserve 2003 that I have been saving since I bought it nearly four years ago — at the time, the most I had ever spent on a bottle. I talked to my family in Maine as I walked around my apartment, covered in apple brandy, rosemary and chicken stock. And when it all came together, I sat and ate and looked out the window, wishing someone was here to help with the dishes, to yell at football on TV and to remind me to sing so other people's voices could also be heard.

Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

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