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Cooking Thanksgiving food with a friend

Posted: November 21, 2014 2:30 p.m.
Updated: November 24, 2014 1:00 a.m.

It started accidentally. Some good ideas and memorable moments are like that. They aren’t planned. They’re born, bringing with them an ability to nudge a way naturally into our lives and become a tradition.

That’s how my longtime friend, Karen Peck, and I began cooking our Thanksgiving meal together. First, you must know this: Our friendship, strong and true, dates back to the long ago days of braces and freckles. Karen still has her freckles and two years ago, when a front tooth started to move, I went back to a retainer. Some things never change. Some things change back and forth.

Since I host around 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner and have been doing this for more than 20 years, I spend Monday and Tuesday cleaning the house and getting dusty spots that haven’t been touched since last Thanksgiving. I used to shop for groceries on one of those days, but the year that I went into the grocery store and had to wait for a buggy (that’s grocery cart to you non-Southerners) to be turned back in from myriad shoppers, I changed that. I shop the week before.

Then, on Wednesday, I prep for the dishes that will be cooked on Thanksgiving Day, pull out the china and silver and prepare the dishes I can. This includes Aunt Ozelle’s macaroni and cheese and peeling a 5-pound bag of potatoes, cooking them, mixing in a package of ranch dressing, French onion dip, sour cream, butter and creamed cheese, then pouring it into a casserole dish to be baked an hour before dinner.

The only thing that I will save to the last minute will be the Southern buttermilk biscuits that I make out by hand, bake until they’re bigger than a hamburger bun and a gorgeous golden brown from the butter that has melted on the top. Last year, the kids in the family ate every one that was left, nibbling on them as they played with dolls and iPads. Zoe, who at 8, is the quietest of the kids and is always toting a book around with her, sidled up next to me, held out her biscuit and said, “This is the best thing I ever ate.” It was the loveliest compliment possible.

Neither Karen nor I can recall how we began the Wednesday tradition of cooking together. More than likely, one of us owed the other a return call. Probably me to her so I called while in the kitchen and she happened to be in the kitchen, both of us working on pre-holiday preparation. I do remember this: When we said all we had to say -- and since we’re both talkers, that’s a lot -- Karen said, “We’ve been on the phone for over two hours! And I have baked two cakes and done everything I had to do. This is wonderful.”

To give credit where it’s due, I’m pretty certain that it was her idea to make it an annual get-together. So, that’s how we do it -- we cook together in separate kitchens by putting an earpiece on and talking by phone. The conversation lasts between two and three hours and we catch up on everything that has happened.

In fact, we now avoid talking by phone for two or three weeks prior so that we’ll have enough material to see us through all the casseroles, cakes and pies. She texted the other day. “I have so much to tell you.”

I replied, “Save it for our Thanksgiving cooking. We’re still on, right?”

“Absolutely!”

It has become one of my favorite traditions of the entire year and it makes the dreaded task of peeling 5 pounds of potatoes speed by quickly.

I am thankful to have a friendship so long in endurance that we know each other as well as our husbands know us. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and, thanks to Karen, the day before is equally beloved and anticipated.

(Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of There’s A Better Day A-Comin’. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.)

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