Rachel Antonison’s Thanksgiving

Photos by Rachel Antonison. 

The night before Thanksgiving break, I fill my carry-on bag to the brim with clothes and shoes for my three-day trip home. The next day, I struggle to wheel the bag through the busy streets of Midtown as I make my way to the Hampton Jitney Bus Stop at 41st street between Third and Lexington. A line of passengers already stretches down the block, with travel bags and Starbucks holiday cups in tow, eagerly waiting for the bus to arrive.

As the bus pulls up, people swarm the entrance of the vehicle, pushing past one another in a classic New York scrum. I wait for the crowd to diminish and take my turn. To my surprise, there is an empty window seat right in the center, far enough from the bus driver communicating on his push-to-talk cellphone, warning fellow drivers of the traffic on the Long Island Expressway, and the revolving bathroom door at the rear. I get situated and put my headphones in to drown out the noise of crying babies and idle chit-chat.

By the time the bus makes its way through the country roads of the North Fork, lined with farmstands, quaint shops and charming waterfront homes, the city skyscrapers are merely a distant memory. The bus begins to empty with each passing stop. After two and a half hours, I arrive at my destination: Southold, New York. I step off the bus and am immediately greeted by the crisp, slightly sharp smell of autumn air. I look up to see the star-lit night sky, that in the city is blocked out by urban light pollution.

Among the other cars, I spot my family’s white Jeep Wrangler, with the “NOFO Jeep Club” bumper sticker. I may even be a bit more excited to see the car than to see my parents after months of negotiating the MTA and overpriced Ubers. My father steps out to retrieve my bag, groaning at my inability to pack lightly, and my mother embraces me in a tight hug. The next few minutes I am overwhelmed with a list of to-dos to help prep for the big day.

We turn onto the private road leading to our two-story home with its cedar shake shingles and a large front porch. I am greeted by our family dog, a Weimaraner called Zack, who buries me in wet kisses and love bites. Soon after, I cuddle up in my parent’s king-sized bed, squished between them and the dog, drifting into a deep sleep.

I wake up the next morning in my own bed – my father had carried me in the middle of the night – awoken by the smell of challah french-toast. Challah bread, a special bread of celebration in the Jewish tradition, with its pillowy-soft inside and crispy exterior, makes for the most decedent french toast. The challah is soaked in a rich cinnamon custard, delicately flavored with vanilla, and showered with maple syrup. My mother whips up this treat each year to keep everyone full until the big meal.

I devour my breakfast and pour myself a heaping cup of coffee; I will need all the energy I can get for the tasks ahead. The first order of business is to pick up the pies from Briermere Farms, a fruit farm and bakery where people have been known to wait hours for a pie. The raspberry cream pie is a family favorite.

The Briermere Farm were Antonison shops to pick up desserts for Thanksgiving dinner.

I stop for a last-minute grocery run at IGA, Southold’s hometown market, and back home to accompany my mother in the kitchen. We start on the sides. My mother makes the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows that toes the line between side dish and dessert. I tackle the cranberry sauce, a family recipe from my late grandfather’s kosher takeout store. The sauce has a tropical twist with pineapple chunks and mandarin oranges, making it both sweet and tangy.

The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal is the turkey. With the booming turkey population on the North Fork, we skipped the store-bought turkey this year, and my father caught a wild bird. The turkey breast has been brining since the night before, this is essential to keep the meat moist and flavorful.

After several hours, the green beans with caramelized onions, creamed spinach and roasted cauliflower are finished. The meal would not be complete without the vegetable dishes – this is especially true for my vegetarian sister.

While my mother tackles the pre-dinner kitchen clean up, I beeline to the shower, itching to rinse out the marshmallow that somehow ended up in my hair.

I put on my best Thanksgiving outfit, a chunky-knit cream sweater and jeans that are one size too big – the loose waistband means more room for seconds (and thirds). Heading downstairs, I am delighted to see the table has been set. It is decorated with delicate floral arrangements and illuminated with candles.

I smile when I hear the doorbell ring, followed by Zack’s animated barks, indicating the guests have arrived. Much of the joy I get from Thanksgiving dinner is not the meal itself, but the memories of time spent with my family preparing for the festivities.