In praise of tradition, and holiday memories

Thanksgiving: From Coach Billick to Judge Hollander, Marylanders just love this day. Here's why.

November 21, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Thanksgiving is a day that lets us stop and catch our breath. Maybe that's why it's so many people's favorite holiday. Unless you're the cook, you don't have to do much more than sit around enjoying your family, then eat and eat some more.

We asked some local folks for their thoughts on what sets Thanksgiving apart from other holidays and what their traditions are. We found that most people just wanted to reminisce about why they like this holiday so much.

Here's what they said:

Brian Billick

Ravens coach

Brian Billick's Thanksgiving Day starts with an early-morning practice, then he goes home and watches football on TV that afternoon. No surprises there. But his fondest memory is of the first Thanksgiving dinner his wife, Kim, cooked for her new in-laws.

"My dad was a meat-and-potatoes man and he loved his Thanksgiving turkey," Billick says, "But we were vegetarians at the time. You should have seen the look on his face when my wife brought out the Thanksgiving trout. It was magnificent trout, but she's gotten grief about it for the last 20 years."

Katie O'Malley

wife of Baltimore mayor-elect Martin O'Malley

Katie O'Malley takes a practical approach to Thanksgiving. She starts the day with a 10-mile run with friends, "so I can eat a second piece of pie," she says. Dinner is at the O'Malleys' house, but her mom brings the turkey. As for the rest of the meal, "Martin's the chef," she explains.

Terry Owens

Channel 2 news city reporter

Terry Owens' memories of Thanksgiving revolve around the incredible tables his mother used to lay out when he was a boy in Detroit. Besides the turkey, oyster stuffing, cranberry sauce and other traditional dishes, the table would groan with gumbo, chitlins, greens, cakes and sweet potato pies.

"Those are the things I miss most," he says. "I love my wife dearly, but she's a '90s woman. She's mastered greens but that's about it. I miss it since my mother's passing."

Rebecca Hoffberger, director and founder of the American Visionary Art Museum

Rebecca Hoffberger chose to open the American Visionary Art Museum over Thanksgiving weekend, 1995, because she loves the holiday.

"It's one that hasn't been over-Americanized by making it a Monday," she explains. "It's not a gift-giving holiday, which always puts an enormous pressure on people. And then turkey and pecans contain [the sleep-inducing amino acid] tryptophen. It's the only holiday where you have the spirit of thankfulness, the sense of community, and then total zonking out."

Eddie Dopkin, a principal in Classic Catering People in Owings Mills

Eddie Dopkin is the carver for his family's Thanksgiving, which usually involves turkey for 40 people.

"The one most important piece of advice I can give people," he says, "is that it's so much easier to take the breast off the bone and then carve it. It's almost a no-brainer."

He puts the knife against the bone and gently pulls off the whole breast, then carves it on a board. "It's not challenging at all."

Diane Neas, restaurant consultant

Diane Neas' mom is getting nervous. Is her daughter giving out the recipe for the Family Stuffing? she wants to know. No, Neas won't do that. All she reveals is that it's made with chopped onions, schmaltz (chicken fat) and equal parts of crushed cornflakes and flour.

"It doesn't sound good," she adds (the understatement of the year), "But it's to die for."

Other than the Stuffing, Neas lives for the day after Thanksgiving, when she can have a turkey sandwich topped with cranberries and turkey divan -- "my comfort food" -- made from leftovers.

Ellen Hollander, judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals

Thanksgiving is Ellen Hollander's favorite holiday, so she spends time decorating for it. She puts out everything from little cornucopias to Pilgrim and Native American figurines to turkey salt and pepper shakers. Hollander finds her Thanksgiving memorabilia in catalogs and antique shops; family members know about her collection so they bring her treasured items.

"Over the years I've collected some lovely little figurines," she says. "It's a holiday that evokes warm feelings for me. It's so uniquely American."

Sally Kaiser, co-owner of the Palate Pleasers, a gourmet-to-go shop in Annapolis

Sally Kaiser has cooked hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners, for herself and other people, but the one she remembers most vividly was the year her family lived in Sweden. Her mother could buy sweet potatoes there, but the turkey had to be ordered from Germany.

"It was 12 pounds, the largest one that would fit in our oven," she says. "Our Swedish friends couldn't believe how large it was, and we couldn't believe how small."

Lee Wilhide, owner of Wilhide's Flowers in Ellicott City, Columbia and Owings Mills

Until about 10 years ago, says Lee Wilhide, people simply didn't buy flowers for Thanksgiving. Now, because people are more scattered, business is brisk around the holiday.

"It's increasing all the time," he says. "People are sending flowers because they can't be with their families."

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