It started this week when we happened upon the 90th Celebration Show for Macy's Parade. It was really interesting to see "behind the scenes". How they sketch and then design a model for each "inflatable" -- one that is so precisely to scale that the resulting huge floating float is made from this exacting model. They talked about the importance of this element of the parade -- because while most parades cater only to the audience on the street, Macy's Thanksgiving Parade must also include the "vertical audience" -- all those hundreds (thousands?) of people who own apartments and throw a Parade Party for their friends (did you watch that episode of Seinfeld??); or, and I never thought of this, folks that love this tradition so much that they rent a hotel room along the route (a year or two in advance) at just the right floor level to see the inflatables pass by their window. They showed us the inflation process, how they are blown up the night before and then have to be anchored to the ground with huge (heavy) netting, just waiting to be released the next morning. And they told us it's like a ceremony, all of these giant figures, Snoopy and Spiderman and Paddington Bear and Hello Kitty all rising into the air like some ominous giant floating army getting ready to invade. Well, maybe not the Kitty.
The high school marching bands work for an entire year to achieve the level of expertise needed to submit an audition tape. These tapes come pouring in from all over the country, schools both large an small; I missed how many tapes are received vs how many bands are accepted. But here's something cool -- a representative from the Parade Council actually goes to the high school in person to deliver the news that -- They've been accepted! They're in! They're going to NYC!! The kids go wild, some clapping, some cheering, some crying (there's always a few criers in the crowd); all giddy with excitement. What a great life-experience for a high school student.
They interviewed the Parade Hosts from through the years -- Katie Couric being the longest, along with Matt Lauer, and who could forget the fun-loving and witty and sometimes goofy Willard Scott? All, without fail, talked about the brutal early hours and the cold. Oh, the bitter cold. Long johns, gloves, hats, coats notwithstanding, that NYC winter cold that bites clear to the bone. And that's if its not raining or snowing or blowing!
The Broadway show acts start with a pre-dawn rehearsal inside (mercifully) at Macy's itself. This element was added when the realization that not everyone will get the opportunity to attend a NYC Broadway play in their lifetime, and these little snippets of each act are a way to bring that element to the crowd -- both present and watching from their television sets at home across the country.
I was particularly captivated by all this background. I've watched the Macy's Day Parade since I was little, I remember Mom usually had that on TV on turkey day. As I started my own family, it became one of my own traditions to put the parade on my little kitchen TV to keep me company as I (lovingly!) cooked for hours to produce our annual feast.
So this brings me back to traditions -- The commentary pointed out, after 90 years of this parade, it's not just a New York City tradition, it's a National tradition. They talked about the year that the gigantic snowstorm swept in and kept many participants out. Did they cancel?? They did not! They simply put out the word for local New Yorkers to come fill the void -- and of course they did!
So as we maneuver our way through our combined traditions, it's clear that, whatever those traditions might be to you, it's not quite the same holiday without it. Fresh cranberry sauce vs canned; baked yams or sweet potato casserole; white meat or dark meat; plain stuffing or sausage, or oyster, or.......
For me, it's about the potatoes & gravy. Potatoes must must must be real and perfectly mashed -- not to mushy (or it won't hold the gravy properly) or not too stiff ('cause then you feel like you're eating cardboard). I prefer Yukon Golds. They must be whipped till they're light & fluffy -- add a scoop of sour cream (for flavor) and another scoop of cream cheese (for firmness), and, of course, a healthy scoop of butter. And there must be a gigantic bowl full. Gigantic. It's the one time a year I make mashed potatoes (now that that "older age metabolism has taken over -- you know the one -- the non-existent metabolism, where you can add a pound just by smelling a carbohydrate), so I want to indulge for plural days, not just a singular day.
Then there's a gravy debate at our house. Mr. C makes this amazing stuffing, stuffs and laces up that bird like a pro, and it's all just delicious, both bird and stuffing. But. It calls for so much butter that my much-anticipated and much-needed turkey drippings are at risk of being too diluted and too greasy for my much desired farm gravy. The end result is -- you might have guessed it -- packaged gravy. Oh my. You're talkin' to a farm girl here. The single advantage of the packs is, you won't run out of gravy to swamp your amazing stuffing. That is, if you eat stuffing (which I do not).
Serious dilemma, yes? An answer came from the blue a couple of seasons ago on the cooking channel. I will be forever grateful. Saved my gravy, saved Thanksgiving, saved the marriage.
Their recommendation to even out the white and dark meat you're serving ('cause the bird is comparatively short on the dark side) is to purchase "extra bird parts" (well, that sounds a little gross) -- extra thighs and drumsticks that can be roasted off the day before, and whalaaah! You have both extra dark meat and fabulous unadulterated drippings for the best best best homemade gravy of your life. Every year.
Another thought on traditions, are you like me and keep some of them going, never stopping to ask whether you really like them?? I'm speaking specifically of the mandatory green bean casserole. Because this was a family tradition at both our houses, I continued this each year for -- well for waaaay too many Thanksgivings -- long after we stopped eating canned anything, long after I started making my own sauces from scratch. And guess what, my kids didn't really enjoy it either! One year as I scraped most of it into the garbage -- I stopped to realize -- even though I like the tradition, and I really really like green beans, I really hate the flavor of this dish!
Then came another saving bolt of lightening from the cooking channel. Guy Fiera's Fresh Green Bean Casserole with Homemade Mushroom Gravy -- it's gourmet mushrooms, browned to golden goodness, turned into gravy with a little chicken broth and seasonings (fresh thyme, garlic, cayenne & nutmeg) -- it's just delicious. But then, to put it over the top, add -- sour cream -- and real cream -- topped with a bit of Parm -- and yeah, just toss those French Fried Onions on top -- oh, baby! Now that's a green been casserole that I can call a tradition. (I shared this recipe last year on the blog, look under Recipes).
Both this one and my mashed potatoes can be done a day ahead, the potatoes can either be baked off or put in the crock pot on high to stay warm.
Of course, no blog story on traditions would be complete without cold turkey sandwiches, topped with everything possible, tons of mayo (Miracle Whip at my house) and football on the big screen.
So here's a thought, in closing: Don't you just wonder who that guy was, over 90 years ago -- some young Macy's exec trying to make a splash, who mumbled aloud at a board meeting, "Hmmmm......Maybe we should think about sponsoring a Thanksgiving Day Parade........" You just never know what's going to become a tradition, now do you? Or what just might turn into what Katie called a "National Annual Ritual", to be shared with the entire nation. It's something to ponder........
I love this holiday, and all it's traditions. Now you'll have to excuse me, I have a gigantic bowl of perfectly whipped mashed potatoes to attend to.........with a cupful of good ole' farm gravy. Maybe a little turkey on the side. Maybe not.