My mother has taught me many things over the years - far too many to count, of course, but among them are the tricks to making some things turn out really well: a good spaghetti sauce, a flat felled seam, a proper cake-style gingerbread. Many of these are food (cheesecake, hummus, mock boursin) and the techniques are often designed to allow one to eat well on a limited budget. But Thanksgiving allows me to rock two of the culinary skills I value particularly highly (not least because they are less than universal): flaky piecrust and gravy based on a roux made from pan drippings. For our Thanksgiving potluck, I'm making an apple pie to bring to our friends' house, where I'll take over the roasting pan and make the gravy. Himself is making two kinds of stuffing, his family's traditional Ashkenaz recipe, and a fancy one made like a savory bread pudding, with mixed mushrooms and parmesan.
My favorite gravy-making incident took place at the Salvation Army soup kitchen where my dad volunteers. I forget whether it was Thanksgiving or Christmas, but turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy were on the menu. I volunteered to make the gravy. There was a limited quantity of pan drippings, and we were worried about how far they'd stretch. I set a gigantic flat-bottomed roasting pan across three or four industrial gas burners, and scraped all the drippings in. I kept adding flour to the roux, then the potato cooking water to thin it out. It wasn't enough. More flour, more potato water - it still tasted good. We started to serve it. Not enough. More flour, more potato water, and still it tasted like turkey gravy. As far as we could tell we had discovered the bottomless pan of gravy. There ended up being enough for everyone plus the volunteers. Who knows, maybe we had been visited by the Gravy Fairy.