Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

I have just finished today’s cook-a-thon in preparation for tomorrow’s celebration.  I’ve made stuffed garnet yams with pecan streusel, mashed potatoes that can be baked off in the oven, prepped the green beans, baked a gorgeous pumpkin roulade with ginger mascarpone buttercream.  I’ve chopped the leeks, mushrooms, and celery for dressing, made an apple crumb pie (and bought another gorgeous pecan chocolate chip one from our school’s fund raising activities), made my cranberry conserve and Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish.  My niece and daughter are bringing other things, and I have a pretty short punch list of things to do tomorrow, so I’m in pretty good shape for the holiday.

The holiday?  I know that the original holiday was one of thanks for being saved from near-starvation (thank you, native American people).  In a show Ben and I are doing with our Revels Repertory Company, Ben says, “From pestillence, fire, flood and sword, we have been spared by Thy decree.  And now with humble hearts, oh Lord, we come to pay our thanks to thee.”  That sense of gratitude is what moved this country to declare a day of thanks-giving.  And so why has it become a holiday that is all about food – much of it bought, not prepared by our hands – and shopping?

Whatever happened to gathering around a roaring fire, telling stories with members of your clan who you haven’t seen in months or more, listening to lovely music, maybe taking a walk if the weather’s good?  I can not say that all my Thanksgiving holidays were like this.  For many years we celebrated at my aunt and uncle’s home in Newburgh, NY (or at my cousin’s in Rochester, NY, or at my parents’ home in Hamden, CT).  The den in each of those homes would get blue with cigar smoke, as the men puffed away, drank bourbon, and watched college football, while the women sat in the living room, drank cocktails, noshed, and caught up on all the family news.  Many years, my cousin and I ended up making most of the dinner as the cocktailing went on a little too long.  And yet, we would gather at the table, champagne would be poured, my uncle would carve, and we — descendants of poor Russian immigrants — would indeed count our blessings.

But now it is different, and not just because my aunt and uncle and parents are gone and I am the mom-in-charge.  At the risk of being branded “Mrs. Crankypants,” I have been so bombarded with Black Friday ads that I could gag.  I don’t need a large screen TV, thank you, nor a cashmere sweater.  And they aren’t on the list of anyone else I’m buying for this year.  And when I see that lunatic woman from Target gibbering about how she hasn’t slept in days because she’s so excited about the Christmas sales, I nearly run screaming from the room.  So even though you want me to get out of bed at 4 AM, I can assure you that I’ll be sleeping in on Friday.

Where did this madness come from?  I certainly support the idea of stimulating the sluggish US economy (not to mention, the crippled world economy).  I feel, however, like the traditional Thanksgiving holiday got turned, somewhere along the way, into a gluttonous pig-out followed by a massive shopping trip.  And I’m not sure how all of that happened, really.

Some of it has evolved, I fear, from people not knowing how to cook any more.  Things get bought, pre-packaged, rather than made; I’m not kidding when I write on my catering business’s Facebook page that I’ve gotten lots of questions about how to make gravy, not to mention how to make good mashed potatoes from ‘scratch.’  I was fortunate to learn this stuff from my grandmother and my mother (and then to have perfected it through opening a catering business).  I’ve made sure my children know how to cook, and I wish more of us did – both because it’s better for us and because it would cost us less money.

And what about the zombie-like commitment to shopping and running to the mall in a state of stressed exhaustion immediately after Thanksgiving dinner is concluded?  My friends, John and Connie, will be out skiing near their home in the mountains of Montana.  I hope that our friends, Margarethe and Reinhard, will be doing the same near Reno, NV, where they have a lovely home.  While my funky knee will probably suggest that a walk isn’t in my Thanksgiving plans, I do expect a soak in the hot tub will be.  We will be spending time with our relatives and friends, and visiting Ben’s parents the next day.  I expect that none of us will watch a single football game on TV, nor, I expect, will anyone in the family have an argument with another guest at our table. We may even go see Kermit and friends over the weekend, and we’ll all be singing “The Rainbow Connection” when we do.

Sounds pretty sappy and boring, you’re saying?  Maybe so — but I’ll take it over the madness at the mall, any day.  I’m taking back my Thanksgiving — and if you want to join me, I’ve got enough leftovers to go around!

Read Full Post »

For years I have had this cookbook idea which revolves around Thanksgiving.  In my mind, I always called it “Up From the Melting Pot,” and it would focus on the mix of cultural influences that converge around the one holiday which (it seems to me) almost everyone who lives in the United States celebrates in some way, no matter their culture or religion or country of origin.

But my friend, Sofia, convinced me that the ‘melting pot’ analogy isn’t quite right…this is not a process of assimilation, where you throw everything in the pot, boil it down and get some new unified (and perhaps, bland) soup or stew.  The idea here is not to lose one’s cultural heritage in favor of another, but rather to celebrate it, layered on top of this American holiday involving gratitude to native people for help with the harvest, of setting food in store for the coming winter.

So perhaps a “horn of plenty” analogy is better…where all those interesting flavors get put into a container and then celebrated, one by one and all together.  Whatever the best reference is, I find Thanksgiving to be an interesting holiday.  It really is a food-focused occasion…mostly, people come together, sometimes traveling over long distances, to reunite, share experiences, hopefully not argue, and…eat!

I started to realize that this might be interesting when I talked to friends who, low and behold, had entirely different Thanksgiving traditions from mine.  If we were spending the holiday with my mother’s family, we would drive to the family farm in Cuddebackville, NY and Gram, along with my Aunt Edith and my mother, would set a table with most of the foods you’d think of as Norman Rockwell ‘traditional’:  turkey with herb/white bread stuffing and gravy, corn (probably frozen from the summer harvest), mashed potatoes, yeast rolls, cranberry sauce, and maybe a green bean and mushroom soup casserole.  For a while, I went on a turkey strike, and my aunt got a Muscovy Duck which was roasted and stuffed and which I found delicious.  This meal would be followed by pies, including pumpkin, apple, and mincemeat (sometimes including deer meat in the mince, prepared by great-Aunt Addie!)  My father and grandfather and uncle would sit in the living room smoking pipes and cigars and cigarettes while watching football, my cousins and I would play with dolls in another room, and I suspect the women were left to mop up the feast.

Later we started celebrating Thanksgiving with my father’s side of the family.  We’d go to Newburgh, NY, or fly to Rochester where my cousin, Ellen, lived.  I’d be given champagne or wine with dinner (even when 13 or 14), and the appetizers, consumed as the women sat in the living room and the men sat in the den watching football, included my Aunt Estelle’s chopped liver, herring in cream sauce, meatballs, and clam dip.  The turkey was sometimes stuffed with a matzoh dressing, and there were always candied sweet potatoes as well.  Afterward we’d exchange presents — “Jewish Christmas,” my cousin dubbed it — and I remember it as a great, festive time.

Didn’t everyone have chopped liver for appetizers?  No?  My friend, Connie, a vegetarian of over 30 years, often enjoys baked stuffed Acorn Squash or sometimes, cheese fondue for Thanksgiving.  My friends Zoe and Lisa, who are raising three foster children, are making a Mexican stuffing for their turkey, one that the children were accustomed to having when they lived in Los Angeles.  Most versions include pork, tomatoes, chiles, pecans, and cornbread.  My friends Janice and Mike, who are African American, always serve ham in addition to turkey, along with macaroni and cheese, collards, and corn bread. Canadian friends include gougeres (a cheese puff) and an apple-carrot casserole.  And Latin American influences suggest a Mofongo stuffing (with fried plantains) goes well with the traditional turkey.

The common denominator, it seems to me, is gathering around the table, whether large or small, to celebrate.  My family’s dinner this year — which brings together members of my husband’s and my family — will include both ham and turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, twice-baked sweet potatoes, broccoli, creamed onions, cranberry conserve, yeast rolls, raisin-squash bread, and a green salad.  For dessert, my niece will bring her fudge pie and perhaps a caramel pie (a southern favorite); there will also be an apple pie and my own favorite, a whole sugar pumpkin baked with bread pudding inside. And oh yes, there may be some of my other seasonal favorite on the dinner table:  Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, which is NPR reporter Susan Stamberg’s legendary cranberry-with-horseradish mix that does indeed look like Pepto Bismol, but carries a wicked kick along with sweet and tart flavors.  There will definitely be leftovers for all (since eating a turkey sandwich before bed is practically mandatory behavior) and we’ll be playing board games and probably enjoying a first fire of the fall in our fireplace.

Any way you slice it, the holiday’s one for coming together.  And in case you’re looking for a new, fun cranberry recipe, try melding 16 oz. of cranberries, 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/2 c. of currants, 1 small diced granny smith apple, 1/2 a sectioned grapefruit, 1/2 c. port wine, 1/2 c. orange juice, 1 tsp. orange zest, 1 tsp. cinnamon plus 2 sticks cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ground cloves, a shake of nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp. ground ginger.  Simmer for 30-45 minutes, remove cinnamon sticks, and enjoy one of the most delicious cranberry conserves ever.  And to all – good wishes for a holiday filled with not too much excess, but boundless amounts of family and togetherness!

Read Full Post »