FIRST PERSON: FAMILY IS WHERE YOU FIND IT

Depeche Mode, show tunes and scrambled eggs make a holiday

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WRITTEN & PHOTOGRAPHED BY CARRIE HAVRANEK

It happened one crisp fall Saturday morning, shortly after my husband John and I bought our house. We awoke to a baritone with a British accent booming, “Good evening, Pasadenaaaaa!”

That familiar recorded voice belonged to singer Dave Gahan. Holy cow, I thought. We’re living next to Depeche Mode fans. Kindred spirits. I felt a connection even before food came into the picture.

We had the good fortune of moving right next door to Chris Laskey and Linda Calsetta, who, along with their three grown daughters, observe every occasion—from the major holidays to minor events such as Kentucky Derby and Chinese New Year—with food, drink and fanfare. As food lovers, we felt like we’d moved next door to a secret supper club—except there were no secrets. The door was always wide open.

Inside, we all spoke the same food-addled vocabulary, discussing the latest meal at a restaurant or a dish we wanted to make. Quickly, we discovered that living next to the Laskeys means that we have one big shared pantry between us. Ingredients fly back and forth between our kitchens—a little panko here, a little butcher’s twine there.

These are people who make multicourse feasts, and invite you over for an elegant spread right when you most need it. Say, when you are uncomfortably pregnant in the sweltering summer, or right after your mom has passed away. We have gathered for countless meals sprawled on their lawn in the past dozen years, including Easter brunches punctuated by show tunes (Jesus Christ Superstar, naturally). It doesn’t matter if it’s a potluck barbecue or a five-course meal. When you consume food someone else has thoughtfully prepared, you take in a little bit of love at a time. (Or a lot, depending on the spread.) That open door goes right to the heart.

And that’s why Thanksgiving is my favorite time to have them as my neighbors. One main reason? It’s the one time of year we get to eat Chris’s velvety scrambled eggs. On that morning, all sorts of friends and family (and friends-as-family) wander into their home, share a.m. libations, and eagerly await the completion of Chris’s famous eggs. (Yes, there’s bacon, but it’s not the star of the meal.)

This Thanksgiving morning tradition, known as “Bacon and Beer,” turns 10 this fall. The event was started by their middle daughter, Caitlin, as a way to gather friends during college break, and in this early incarnation it featured beer pong. Chris says he and Linda decided that they ought to feed everyone, too. So every Thanksgiving morning Chris and Linda scramble roughly six dozen eggs and fry at least eight pounds of bacon as a pre-tailgate activity for the high school football game later in the afternoon. At this point, breakfast at Chris and Linda’s is as central to my own Thanksgiving celebration as it is to theirs.

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We discovered
that living next
to the Laskeys
means that we
have one big
shared pantry
between us.

When John and I bought our house, the nexus of holiday activity began to shift. To ease the burden on our parents, we began hosting Thanksgiving for whatever family members were willing to make the two-plus-hour trek from their own homes in Jersey and Brooklyn. Regardless of what size celebration will be happening later at our house, John and I proceed first thing in the morning to our neighbors’, cutting across the lawn with coffee mugs in hand, ready for some Bacon and Beer.

Our twin 7-year-old boys adore this part of the holiday, too: They know as soon as Chris and Linda’s grandsons Jacob and Tyrus arrive that it’s time for those special eggs. It’s just about the most relaxed start to the holiday season I can imagine, owing much to the values of simplicity and community. It is rare that someone takes out their phone.

These days, Bacon and Beer has evolved into a slightly less raucous event than it once was, though it still includes Chris and Linda’s three daughters, Tatham, Caitlin and Erin, and their significant others and children. And some coworkers. And lifelong friends. And us. And those college kids? They still come, though they sure aren’t undergrads anymore. “Now [they] are married and with babies,” says Chris.

About those eggs. Chris makes them a dozen at a time in a ten-inch pan that goes straight to the table where its contents are devoured almost instantaneously. And the bacon? The crowd has grown so much that the Laskeys enlisted restaurant-owner friends to cook it in their oven and bring it over.

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As much as bacon inspires unflagging devotion, every year we talk about those eggs. The obsession is now as woven into the fabric of Thanksgiving as is turkey and pumpkin pie. These eggs are the result of careful experimentation over the years, the recipe adapted and tweaked from one Linda’s mother followed. Much of the world isn’t, but these eggs are perfect every time.

I think of Chris’s eggs throughout the year when I make a weekday scramble. Sometimes I come close to egg nirvana. Mostly, I burn mine slightly because the toaster is popping and the oven is beeping and my kids are derailing me with random questions. On Thanksgiving Day, Chris stays focused on the eggs; a single-minded, meditative act. He uses a nonstick omelet pan with high sides, designed for the task.

These details make all the difference. In assembling this essay and its recipe, I am grateful all over again to have these nuanced conversations about food and cooking with people who get it. I had as many of these chats as possible with my mother before she passed, but my culinary inclinations quickly expanded after she died. I can’t pick up the phone and call her, but I can run next door or call the Laskeys.

These days, blood families are scattered, no longer so strictly bound by geography. Surrogate families, however, are everywhere—they’re your friends, your neighbors, your volunteer organizations, churches, yoga studios, you name it. In my case, our bond is a culinary one; I don’t have that with my extended blood family.

Thanksgiving at our house has become an event whose guest list mostly ebbs, a far cry from my childhood’s family-packed holidays. When you experience deep loss, like the death of a parent, these are often fraught occasions, as my scattered family attempts to recalibrate and redefine itself. But I take comfort now in superlative eggs, good company, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and kids chattering about what they want for Christmas.

That Depeche Mode moment marked the beginning of countless instances of opening doors to each other. I’ve shared homemade Christmas cookies, rosemary focaccia bread, granola and apple butter. I’ve brought over leftovers from recipe testing—pastas with sardines and creamy mushroom soup—along with sundry items I’ve been sent as a food writer. Food is the love language of this de facto family, but I can’t quite ever share enough with these kind-hearted people, who give as a matter of course; it’s a reflexive, automatic activity, as natural as my heartbeat.

RECIPE

Eggs for a Thanksgiving Crowd

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