The house at Thanksgiving is brimming with activity. The kitchen is warm: a 30-pound turkey roasts in the oven, its skin turning a burnished, crackly gold. A batch of my mom's famous butter fan rolls cool on a baking sheet. The compost bucket overflows with cooking scraps. I stand at the sink, plucking dirt-covered beets from a wire garden basket and scrubbing them under hot water. I peel them and cut them into thin slices, tossing them with olive oil and sea salt. We'll spread them in a thin layer on battered cookie sheets and cook them for barely 10 minutes until they crisp at the edges, like potato chips, and stay chewy in the center.
There are mashed potatoes, chunky and rich with butter and cream. They come from our garden. There is cognac-heavy gravy, and chopped broccoli, flash-cooked in olive oil to stay crunchy and barely softened on the edges. We have stuffing, heavy on the celery and strewn with buttery, toasted cubes of bread. For dessert, my mom makes her famous apple crisp, which is mostly softened slices of fruit with a cap of pecans and oats and brown sugar. We pour cold heavy cream over the top of the warm crisp. We have pie, not pumpkin but better, a classic custard filling in a thick graham cracker crust, topped with billowy mounds of loosely whipped cream.
My niece squeals in the living room, happily paging through her collection of picture books by the fire. My dad sits beside her, patient and encouraging, reading along in a sonorous voice. When she tires of books, we bundle her in a tiny puffer jacket and boots and go outside. We walk down to the pasture to feed our two Yorkshire pigs their Thanksgiving dinner (the apple peels from our crisp alongside their regular feed). She loves to help scoop their food into their black plastic troughs, and she pets each pig enthusiastically as my mom carries her carefully into their pen.
I am thankful for so many things. For cold, crisp air on my skin. For soft baby cheeks that get rosy and flushed after playing outside. For the generosity of my parents--how much they love each one of the four of us, how it never wanes, how their enthusiasm for our small and large triumphs amplifies everything. How lucky I am to be part of a family that has a boundless capacity for being there for each other. How lucky we are that each person's happiness never diminishes anyone else's. How lucky to have three sisters who exemplify the sort of person I endeavor to be in a multitude of different ways: tender and nurturing, bitingly sarcastic and wildly witty, kind beyond measure.
I am thankful to be a piece of a whole, and I come home thinking that even in my lowest moments or worst days, the best part of me is always the together part. I have a fiercely independent streak, and am easily content being home and by myself and quiet. I like being social, and friends, and connection, but I don't need it the way some people do. But I am my best, happiest, and most whole self--the version of me that can take good risks and be confident and thrive in the world--when I'm woven closely into the fabric of our family.
On top of all that seriousness, who wouldn't be their best self when they have feasted on warm, homemade butter fan rolls? These are always on our Thanksgiving table: My mom originally got the recipe from an old Gourmet magazine, I think, and she usually makes hers in the classic shape, with slices of soft, tender dough squished and stacked together with plenty of butter. I like to stack mine in muffin tins to keep them together.
If you want to jazz them up a little, feel free to add some fresh or dried herbs to the melted butter.
Butter Fan Rolls
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant or active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
Take one tablespoon of your melted butter and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
Stir together the yeast, water, and sugar in a small bowl and let stand until bubbly (about five minutes).
In a large bowl, mix the flour, buttermilk, salt, and six tablespoons of melted butter together. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together as a dough (it will be soft and a touch sticky). Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough with as much flour as you need to make it a smooth elastic ball.
Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap. Leave it in a warm-ish place and let it rise for about 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Punch down the dough gently and divide it in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half into a 12 inch square (about 1/8 inch thick). Make sure your square is as precise as possible, otherwise the strips won't match up when you cut into the dough.
Brush the surface of the dough with 1/2 tablespoon of melted butter. Slice the square into 6 equal-sized strips. Stack the strips on top of each other and then slice the stack into 6 pieces. Put each mini stack on its side into a muffin cup. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Cover the rolls with a towel and let rise for about another hour. They should puff up and fill the muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes, until barely golden. When they are still warm straight from the oven, brush the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoon of melted butter and then let them cool until taking them out of the tin.