When my family gets together, there’s one thing we do often and without fail or shame — eat.

Though I grew up in Southern California, both sides of my family have Southern roots, thereby blessing my tastebuds with the unmatched, heavenly flavors of Southern cuisine. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve standing on a chair in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen in Mississippi, stirring a pot of butter beans on the stove. In that same kitchen I’d watch her make buttermilk biscuits by hand, first mixing the wet and dry ingredients in a bowl, then forming them into imperfect little mounds to be baked, then devoured, for breakfast by myself and my younger brother.

When we’d travel cross-country for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we’d

always gather at my grandmother’s house — aunts, uncles and cousins would bring a covered dish, Grandma would always “hug our necks” when we’d show up at the carport door, and we’d “visit” and eat for the rest of the afternoon. It was one of the only times of year that most of our extended family would be in one place at one time. I remember the anticipation — waiting for family members to arrive so we could finally dig in to all the good food spread across the kitchen table, hearing the familiar crunch of gravel underneath tires and peering out the front window to try and guess whose car it was.

Nowadays, we aren’t much for big, holiday dinners. Some have been spent around a table on the Oklahoma prairie with my paternal family, one in a basement apartment with mostly microwavable Thanksgiving fare and a Butterball turkey cooked on the grill, and others just a small feast with a few family and friends (and a Honeybaked Ham, if we’re lucky; 10/10 would recommend).

While I’m no Southern cook like my grandmother was, my mother would always graciously volunteer me to help with some task in the kitchen — fill the glasses (which were usually red Solo cups, if I’m being honest) with ice, ask everyone what they’re drinking (sweet or unsweet) and fix their glass, etc. And of course, in keeping with manners, she’d always shoo us away from the front of the line when everyone was called to eat.

Some holidays are synonymous with food and family, and equally synonymous with famous dishes that make it to the table every year, time-honored family traditions, and general warm, fuzzy feelings that annual repetition and familiar faces tend to bring. I know families that do these things and secretly envy them. As lame as matching Christmas onesies are, I’d at least like to be given the option to roll my eyes at and later begrudgingly agree to.

While my family aren’t “Hallmark” people, we’re definitely not a lost cause. The regular trips my mom and I take to visit my brother in Tulsa are nothing if not an excuse to eat out all weekend. My brother has a penchant for ethnic food of all varieties, I’ll never turn down a cup of coffee and my mom is generally just along for the ride. I guess those trips — and the meals we eat along the way — are starting to become our new “tradition.” Food, for us, is the centerpiece of a good time.

No matter what food we spoon onto our plates or how many or few surround us while we eat, I try to remain thankful for what is there.