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How Pinochle and Pinot Brought a Family Together

How Pinochle and Pinot Brought a Family Together

After my grandmother died, my family went into a holding period. We boxed up the contents of her attic, sorted through troves of old photographs and jewelry, argued who among us would inherit her wedding ring. And then we retreated to our separate homes for a while, unsure of how or where to reconvene without this central matriarch.

In most cultures, the grandmother is the primary figurehead, the person through which all of the family recipes and traditions are passed through. She is the grounding force that keeps family returning home, for holidays and birthdays and funerals, no matter how far away everyone may live.

My grandmother was no exception to this. Her house was a place that felt warm, even in the dead of winter. Booze flowed plentifully there and food even more so. There were card games and cartoons, ‘Nilla wafers eaten at the kitchen counter. It smelled like...mothballs, and meatballs, and her. So when she died, it felt like the death of something much larger than a person.

But in the months that followed my grandmother’s passing, my aunt bought her house and moved in, replacing the decor but keeping a place for family to come and gather. So we did, slowly at first, uneasy to embrace my grandmother’s house as a place separate from her. Doing so felt something like betrayal. But over time, and out of simple necessity, we began showing up there for holidays, gifts and drinks and food in tow, ready, finally, to celebrate with each other.

On the first Christmas after my grandmother’s death, we pulled out a deck of cards and played Pinochle–my grandmother’s game–for the first time in a long time. My dad and his three sisters sat around the kitchen table and played under yellow light while I perched myself beside them, trying my best to learn a game in which the rules constantly seemed to be in flux. Snow piled outside as they drank freely, and I watched their grins grow bigger and bigger until their cheeks dappled red like the wine.

I don’t know if it was the booze or the game or the simple fact that we were together after a period of separation, but I noticed a shift in us that night. My dad brought out old tape recordings from when he and his sisters were kids, and we listened to the crackly voices of a much younger family. There were my dad and his sisters excitedly talking about school and sleepovers–kid things–and then there was my grandmother, her tongue sharp and biting, a looming figure even on tape.

It was a portal into a version of my family I did not recognize, or at least had not seen in quite some time, and I wanted to linger in their shared history for a while. We laughed a lot, listening to those tapes. I cried a little, too.

From that night forward, we were a family bound by alcohol and a deck of cards, these simple, human things that somehow allowed us to discover each other again. My grandmother’s old house became marked as a place where we could continue in her absence–I could keep trying and failing to learn the rules to Pinochle, the wine could keep flowing, and, most importantly, we could keep coming together again.

The Ways We Celebrate (And Don't Celebrate) Thanksgiving

The Ways We Celebrate (And Don't Celebrate) Thanksgiving

There are a lot of reasons I love Thanksgiving. I love that the holiday spurs people to come together, gather around a table, and give thanks. I love eating pie and drinking wine and laying on the couch wearing sweatpants and socks while the Cowboys play on the television. I love the pride a family can have over a dish of sweet potatoes, how a bowl of cranberry sauce can be so much more than a bowl of cranberry sauce. It’s a day that aligns so strongly with my core values (family and food, namely) that I feel the temptation to ignore the rest. It’s easy to pretend Thanksgiving is devoid of problems when, up until pretty recently, there was little to no public discourse saying otherwise.

For a long time, the story of the first Thanksgiving has failed to acknowledge the very real story of colonization and massacre. It has glossed over the unpleasant realities and instead painted a picture of turkey and camaraderie, of a false friendship between the Pilgrims and the Native American people they displaced. And I feel a growing hesitancy to continue pretending that Thanksgiving is a day about coming together and holding hands when I can see, quite plainly now, all the ways it’s not that.

This growing hesitancy to celebrate Thanksgiving is a collective one, as evidenced by the general decline in young people taking part in holiday traditions. Even here at AMASS, with a team that loves nothing more than gathering together over food and drink, several members of our team have chosen to opt out of traditional Thanksgiving festivities, citing the holiday’s problematic history as the predominant reason. One member of our team spends the day making an assortment of dishes from all over the world, while another simply takes advantage of the time off work to visit her family in Northern California.

But for those of us who do celebrate, whether that be because of familial obligation or a genuine desire to spend a day giving thanks, how are we supposed to reconcile Thanksgiving’s gruesome history with our own passed-down traditions? And more importantly: is doing so even possible?

Having a day to gather with loved ones and reflect on what we’re thankful for is not, at its essence, a bad thing. In fact, it’s an essential practice, regardless of whether that moment of reflection takes place on the last Thursday of November or any other day. But if we are going to use Thanksgiving as a day to eat, drink, and give thanks with the people we love, it’s our responsibility to do so in a way that respects and acknowledges the pain felt by many in the Native community.

I’ve found through articles like this one and conversations with friends that there are actually many ways to acknowledge the problematic history of Thanksgiving. By remembering and talking about the first Thanksgiving as it really happened, taking the time to not only give thanks but to reflect on the lives lost, and donating to indigenous-rights organizations like these, we can work to reframe the narrative of Thanksgiving.

The Case Against Meal Prep

The Case Against Meal Prep

I grew up in a house where my dad cooked dinner almost every night. He worked full-time and the meals he made for us were not particularly groundbreaking (read: meatloaf was often on the menu). He did not plan elaborate grocery lists or shop from artisanal stores or cull recipes from cookbooks written by esteemed chefs. He just cooked, simply, with the intent of eating food that would curb both hunger and cravings, every day.

Most nights when I get home from work, I make myself a meal and pour myself a drink. It’s nothing revolutionary, but in a cultural moment where cooking often means an assembly-line-style Sunday meal prep, making a single, thoughtful meal on a Tuesday feels like a small act of rebellion.

Sometimes the word “make” means cutting up a rotisserie chicken and placing it atop some rice and arugula, but there is still something important happening there, even if what I’m doing could barely be considered cooking.

As I stand over my kitchen counter, alone, for likely the first time after a busy workday, I feel something like release. The term “self-care” is overplayed at this point, but that is, to some extent at least, what I’m talking about here–the process of slowing down my mind and my body and making something to nourish myself with.

It’s not about the drinking or eating itself though–it’s all of the chopping and pouring and simmering that leads up to it. Lately, I’ve been making risotto, a dish that, in its very design, forces me to slow down. In fact, besides butter and rice and wine, that it is all it really asks of me–to slow myself and pay attention, to taste and smell and stir. It asks me to notice when the onions have softened and mellowed, when the rice is soft but not yet mush.

It’s a level of care that I think we are tempted to rush through. And that is a warranted temptation–we are all tired and overworked and at the end of a likely stressful day, we want to avoid, at any cost, taking on an additional, attention-demanding task. It is far easier to toss a bunch of ingredients in the oven on Sunday and call it a day.

But the act of creating something to be savored on a more regular basis, whether that be a martini or macaroni and cheese, is work that is, simply put, worth it.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to take a long time. The act of doing it at all is enough.


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