Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

(Third installment in Dr. Patricia Yarberry’s ongoing chronicle of her life-changing holiday trip home — a trip born of change and time, and evoking far more. )

I am travelling from New York City to my birthplace, Columbia, Kentucky to recreate in my mother’s kitchen, Thanksgiving foods from memories.  My mother is ill and can no longer live without skilled nursing care.  After weeks of intermittent hospitalization and rehabilitation she has been at the Summit Manor Nursing Home for one week.  She is almost 90 years old and has been away from her home where she had lived independently until this recent illness.  She will be in her home for the day of Thanksgiving and I am making her Holiday meal for the family.  I am lost before I begin.  Nonetheless, I set out with my 40-year-old ratty Joy of Cooking that Mommie and I shared — filled with special recipes handed down, written on the inside of the book’s cover and written by hand on tiny recipe cards.

When the benchmark for a successful meal comes from  memory, and that memory is filled with sounds of chopping and kneading and stirring and pushing and bending and women’s voices murmuring and teasing, suffused with the aromas of a roasting bird stuffed with sage, cornbread  sausage and secrets,  braised vegetables bubbling with their bouquets, giblets simmering for hours for sauces and gravy, corn pudding with its delicate voice and color asking not to be overlooked in competition with the fat noisy yams covered in caramelized marshmallows, a vat of green beans simmered for hours with country cured ham, homemade bread baked that morning with fragrance of yeast and sugar and love pouring out of the kitchen and that is before we get to desert….there can be no replication of such a meal.

I made a menu and a shopping list.  I have everything that I will need in the back of the car from shopping in New York except for dairy and eggs.  I have, yes indeed, I have with me in the car as I write, a 20-pound Madison Avenue turkey packed in ice. Germophobe that I am, I have checked this bird as assiduously as a microbiologist for its temperature control throughout the drive.  It is my plan to start with the best ingredients, add  the able assistance of two sons who inherited their love of cooking from my mother and then, add constant prayer.

People who live up north don’t understand that cooking in the south is not just competitive; it is a blood sport.  I am up against not only my own memory demons but sisters and a sister in law who are both accomplished in the kitchen and easy in it.  I am a scientist in the kitchen.  I get it right but I don’t always get it, if you know what I mean.  Fortunately, I always make a beautiful table.

— Dr. Pat Allen

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