One of the few things I do fairly well in the kitchen is make gravy. For every holiday meal at my grandmother's house, that was my job. My grandmother would take the turkey or roast beef out of the roasting pan and turn it over to whomever had carving duty that day. Then she would take the pan of juices, put it on one of the burners, and slowly add flour and water -- or more likely, the juice left over from the boiled potatoes, since there was never a holiday meal without potatoes. (We're Irish.) When I was very young, my job was to stir the gravy--keep stirring and stirring until it was just right. I remember being almost level with the pan in the beginning. As I got older, I was allowed to add the flour and potato juice myself, which often resulted in lumpy gravy, but homemade by me and dutifully praised around the table.

What I remember most about those late afternoons in my grandmother's kitchen was the smell and the heat: sweet potatoes, boiled potatoes, rutabagas, stuffing, green beans, turkey or roast beef, all cooking at once. Every burner was used, sometimes in shifts. The bottom oven held the meat, the top oven the rolls, the warming oven something else. The heat was incredible. My grandmother would fan herself with her apron, wipe her glasses, shoo everyone out of the kitchen and take another sip of sherry. In later years I remember her drinking whiskey sours. My grandmother wasn't a drinker -- only a small glass of something before holiday meals. But she was a bit of a ham and played up her swoon to the hilt.

Since my grandmother's death I make the gravy solo at family gatherings. I'm included in the round of sherry before dinner now and have been known to swoon a bit myself. But maybe I just play at it as she did.