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Melinda Wentzel Headshot

In Praise of Turkey and Tradition

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We make pot pie at our house each Thanksgiving -- a savory Pennsylvania Dutch meal that features the most perfect blend of onions, potatoes, thick squares of doughy goodness and meaty strands of chicken. Only we use turkey on this festive occasion. Six-and-a-half pounds of succulent dark meat to be exact, bathing in a vat of broth that most would find fairly intoxicating. It's tradition. Or more correctly, a slight variation on tradition that serves to remind our family of the delectable dish my mother-in-law made not so long ago.

That said, in the five years since Grandma Ella's been gone, I've tried at least four times to marry the flavors of the aforementioned dish as well as she did. And although I doubt I've managed to achieve that level of culinary success, I'm guessing I've come close -- which is saying a lot given my proclivity for food related disasters, making me heady with the notion that my skills are no longer thought to be among the most deplorable on record.

Today will be yet another attempt at pot pie mastery, and, of course, an opportunity for all of us to close our eyes, to breathe in the deliciousness that will hang heavy in the air and in doing so, to revisit a time when Grandma stood at the stove peering into a steamy pot, summoning her special brand of kitchen wizardry. I'll wear her rumpled apron for good measure -- a speckled and storied bit of fabric flecked with tiny green leaves, now wan and threadbare from decades of use. I'll wear it because I cannot imagine surviving the ordeal without splattering inordinate quantities of the soupy potage upon myself, but also because it's tradition -- or at least that is what it has become over time. Heaven forbid I disturb the delicate balance of good luck and a great recipe by offending the gods of tradition and/or flawless feasts.

With any further good fortune, I'll be able to lure my charges away from the colorful swell of parades on television, from their beloved Wii in the den and from the pervasive yet somehow endearing skies of gray and barren woodlands long enough to enlist their help in the kitchen. Never mind that Thing One completely abhors turkey. Or that Thing Two will feign interest unless and until I permit her to stand atop a chair to drop wedges of dough into a boiling sea of broth. Grandma would've let her do such a thing, mindful to teach her the importance of placing each wedge, carefully and singularly, atop a bubble as it surfaces within an impossibly brief window of time. Just as she taught me -- just as I hope and envision all three of my children will one day teach their children. Handing it down from one generation to the next.

Again, with the tangible and treasured notion of tradition -- on this Thanksgiving Day and, perhaps more importantly, on perfectly ordinary days -- the ones I routinely fill to capacity with obligations of one kind or another, dismissing all too often the mundane slivers of time with my family as opportunities to connect and share that which I value. Of course, I kick myself for doing so, recognizing that it is the harvest of tiny moments that matter most. Like the delicious time I spent with my grandparents, especially my grandfather in his workshop -- a place that reeked gloriously of motor oil and sawdust -- a place where I became inextricably consumed time and again with saws and sandpaper, two-by-fours and tape measures. A handful of seemingly insignificant pages of childhood that somehow clung to the corners of my mind, filling me with the warmth that comes from having lived them.

I'd like to think that simple traditions (like making pot pie) are like that, too.

Planet Mom: It's where I live (in praise of turkey... and tradition). Visit me there at www.melindawentzel.com and www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.