“All right, now, sweetie. You sit here. Mama will be over there at the big table. See? See where Daddy and Memaw are sitting? See? Wave! Hiiiii Memaw! Okay, be a good boy.”
Braden watched his mother back slowly away, her eyes latched on his like he was a deer in the middle of the road and would spook at any moment. When she finally took her seat at the big table, he sighed with relief.
Pretty good showing at the kids table that year, he thought. He took a sip of water (it was a holiday, a special occasion- would it kill them to get him some milk?) from his sippy cup and assessed the girl on his right. His cousin Althea was stuffed into an orange dress and the sleeves were too tight around her chubby arms. She was two and her mother had placed in front of her a plate full of vegetables with a tiny pile of mashed potatoes in the corner. Althea looked miserable and Braden knew from experience that she was only a few mashed handfuls of peas and carrots away from a full-throated baby scream that would send his Aunt Dorothy running. He quickly used his free hand to grab a fistful of stuffing and dropped it on her plate. She ate it gratefully.
Also at the table that year were Robbie (secret nose picker) and Lori (vegetable eater, rule follower, general brown-noser) and Joyce whose plaid bow was not only a woeful fashion misstep (wrong season, Joyce’s parents!) but it was also enormous and slipping over her forehead, dropping down every time she tried to take a bite of turkey. It would’ve been amusing if the poor kid didn’t look so hungry.
Across from Braden and Althea sat their other cousin Alby who was the oldest at two-and-three-quarters. He was wearing a bow tie and glasses and his dark hair was slicked to the side. He looked like he was about to audit the rest of them. His parents, Braden’s Aunt Lucy and Uncle Max, had fixed him a plate with the good stuff (stuffing, mashed potato mountain complete with gravy lava and a pile of cranberries, with no turkey or vegetables in sight, God bless them. They always gave the best presents at Christmas too) but Alby had pushed the plate away in disgust and was coloring a paper turkey instead. Braden delicately picked up a green pea between his thumb and forefinger (a year ago, that little trick had taken him months to learn. Time, you tricky mistress.) and scowled, imagining the pea was Alby’s face as he smushed it. Babies who got mashed potato mountains AND gravy lava and didn’t appreciate it? He shook his head in disgust.
Althea must’ve noticed the look on Braden’s face. She pointed inquiringly to her diaper and he shook his head- he was clean. She offered him her bottle of milk (which he considered taking, briefly) but he shook his head again. When his scowl remained fixed on Alby (a mashed potato mountain!) she reached over and handed him her most prized possession, the one good thing on her plate, a small buttered roll.
Braden took it with sincerest thanks. She was good people, that Althea, he thought as he ate all the butter off the roll. He reminded himself to sit next to her next year at the kid’s table.
YOU GUYS. WE’RE SO CLOSE.
Just days until we can eat ourselves silly. (Also, please tell me you’ve seen this. It’s brilliant.) And give people big hugs. And watch the parade. And eat pie for breakfast the next day.
Seriously, is there a better holiday? There is not. You are correct.
For our dessert this year, we went with a classic from Nicole’s family table. Her mother makes this Pumpkin Cheesecake every year and it’s always a hit. I mean, look at it- can you really go wrong here?
Almond Crunch Pumpkin Cheesecake
For the cheesecake:
1 and 2/3 Cups of graham cracker crumbs
1 Cup of sugar, divided
1/4 Cup of sliced almonds, chopped
5 TBSP of margarine or butter, melted
3 packages (8 oz. each) of cream cheese, softened
1 Cup of solid, packed canned pumpkin
1/2 Cup of sour cream
2 Teaspoons of Pumpkin Pie Spice (or make your own)
For the almond crunch topping:
1/4 Cup of firmly packed brown sugar
3 TBSPs of butter
1/2 Cup of shredded coconut
1/2 Cup of sliced almonds
for the cheesecake:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F if using a silver 9-inch springform pan (or to 325°F if using a dark nonstick springform pan).
2. Mix graham cracker crumbs, 1/3 cup of the sugar, almonds and margarine until well blended. Press firmly onto bottom and 2 inches up side of pan; set aside.
3. Beat cream cheese and remaining 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
4. Add pumpkin, sour cream and spice; mix well.
5. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until blended.
6. Pour into crust.
7. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven. Open door slightly; let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes.
for the almond crunch topping:
8. Place sugar and butter in small saucepan; cook on medium heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.
9. Add coconut and almonds; mix well.
10. Preheat broiler.
11. Spread Almond Crunch Topping over warm cheesecake.
12. Broil 6 inches from heat for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Run small knife or spatula around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim of pan.
13. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.