At no time of year does it become more apparent that Americans are a people who enjoy their freedom of choice than on Thanksgiving Day. Aside from those vegans and vegetarians who will opt for Tofurky, most cooks will weigh the options of roasting, grilling, smoking, basting, deep-frying, slow cooking, brown bagging, or saltwater-brining their birds.
When it comes to stuffing, many preparers will fill their Toms with onions, garlic, and breadcrumbs; enliven their Butterballs further with dried fruit, nuts, wild rice, or sausage; and season with cloves, oregano, peppercorns, or a myriad of other spices. Many shades, temperatures, and viscosities of gravy will also be poured. And as to the sides, I know of one cook who buys his cranberry sauce jelled in a can, another who gets her berries fresh from a plastic bag, then heats them to a bitter sauce.
Continuing with the choice of sides, does your Anaxagorean palate recognize the infinite textures, between chunky and smooth, of mashed potato? And when it comes to the creamed corns, the marshmallow-topped candied sweet potatoes, the green beans in mushroom sauce, sourdough and pumpernickel rolls, and salads topped with Thousand Island dressing, do your choices span the full range of a clothed table?
Setting aside the pumpkin, pecan, and minced meat pies, as well as the plum puddings, there’s one thing that most turkey tasters have no choice about on Thanksgiving Day: the experience of an after-dinner tryptophan high. As we now understand from persistent, investigative science, consumption of massive amounts of carbohydrates, wine, and turkey meat products induces in us a post-coital-like head-trip. And in this experience, all Thanksgiving Day feasters are united.
While I have heard people complain that this comatose state can be annoying, distracting from time otherwise reserved for exhilarating after-dinner family arguments, I’ve never heard anyone say that they had a bad trip. In fact, for most, despite the bloated belly, trippin’ on turkey yields a welcomed feeling of contentment.
Speaking for myself, my tryptophan torpors have always provided a pleasant journey through what I’d call a personalized and collective American mythology. It begins with my announcement that I’m about to lie down and take a nap. Once supine on a couch, bed, or carpeted floor, one hand on my swollen belly, the other beneath my head, I shut my eyes and flash through a few of the day’s residual images:
Grandma’s dining room chandelier hung above a table that’s set with china and silverware. Squash, gourds, and miniature pumpkins spilling forth from Norman Rockwell cornucopias. The morning’s televised Thanksgiving Day parade with Santa Clause afloat, cruising down Central Park West. And of course, stadiums abuzz with cheering football fans as Cowboys and Lions brutalize, or get brutalized by, their opponents in stimulating combat.
Consumption of massive amounts of carbohydrates, wine, and turkey meat products induces in us a post-coital-like head-trip.
The next images are more abstract, a combination of past, present, and future: the approaching gray winter skies, wet russet leaves paper-macheted to sidewalks, smell of kitty litter, smoke rising from the neighbor’s corn furnace, and foam mustache from the chai latte I drank yesterday.
Backwards into history I float, to Abraham Lincoln top-hatted on the steps of the Gettysburg Hotel, paring a 700-word Thanksgiving Day Proclamation down to 500 words. When I peal the onion further, Pilgrims appear, setting up redwood picnic tables near Plymouth Rock, hiding loaded muskets under their long coats while kindly Wampanoag Indians offer deer meat and wait for relocation westward.
Fast forward to a giddy Wayne LaPierre proposing stricter gun control laws, singing, “what do you want me to do?” and I begin to emerge from my coma, hearing a child talk excitedly about Black Friday shopping at Best Buy, purchasing the latest Apple electronic, Justin Bieber CD, and cartloads of holiday wrapping paper.
Awakening from my drowse, I catch a rope of drool descending a corner of my mouth, and while still disregarding those obstinate vegetarians and vegans who will have none of this, I begin to wonder if others have similar visions during our collective tryptophan drunk. Do you too get a glimpse of Abraham Lincoln reclining in his Barcalounger, enjoying a day of civility and serotonin uplift? Or of Benjamin Franklin seated at roll-top desk, quill in hand, pondering his preference for turkey or eagle meat?
I understand we should all be allowed to keep our private dreams private, but I do wonder about yours. Given the chance, I wouldn’t mind training my bird’s eye on your postprandial wishbone visions, tapping the cell phone of your subconscious to find out how your giblets are cooked.
On the other hand, I do respect your privacy, and I know that nothing is more precious than your innermost hallucinations. In deference to those, perhaps you would be willing to meet me half way. Please, if you have a moment, don’t hesitate to send me any Thanksgiving Day recipes that induce particularly pleasant tryptophan highs. For such generosity, I would be seasonably grateful.