Thanksgiving 2013: A Good-Hearted Holiday

Next Monday is Thanksgiving Day in Canada so this is my weekly column welcoming the holiday of food and family and blessings. I am going to count this as my first post on blessings:

Thanksgiving Day Greetings

Thanksgiving Day Greetings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 “Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”  ~ W. J. Cameron

            We all look forward to a long weekend, but a long weekend that includes Thanksgiving Day is just that little bit more special. There is a lovely nostalgia to the holiday and it is one that merely asks us to gather together, feast, and give thanks. In her book, “Family Traditions”, Elizabeth Berg says, “No one has been able to tamper with the essential good-heartedness of Thanksgiving Day, or to trivialize it; and probably no one ever will. For that alone, we can be grateful.”

            Thanksgiving does seem to be the one pure holiday left, unfettered by blatant and constant commercialization. We do not need special clothes to give thanks—our Sunday best or best jeans will do. We may send a card or two to special relatives far away, but there is no need for gifts. What is expected is that we gather together and feast on the harvest. And be thankful for family and friends and food. Back to the basics of life – camaraderie and feasting.

            I love the word feast—it has an old world feel to it that appropriately defines the groaning board that is our Thanksgiving. Most of us pull out all the stops for our Thanksgiving meal—almost in an attempt to be thankful for everything. Berg said her “grocery policy at Thanksgiving time is this: BUY EVERYTHING.” I guess her thinking is that if we are going to count our blessings, we should have lots to count.

            She also tells the story of the Thanksgiving when her father, somewhat of a gourmand, tampered with the menu. People politely “put a few crumbs of his oyster dressing on their plates, then relieved, stacked up high beside it the cornbread dressing we always have.” The two key words here are “always have”. We seem to have deep traditions when it comes to the Thanksgiving meal, and though cooking turkey is a bit more adventurous for me that I usually like to be, in the name of tradition and all things Thanksgiving, I serve turkey.

            Thanksgiving and tradition seem to go hand in hand. We all have our own special rituals and customs that it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without. But I still think we can mix it up a bit and add something new to our old repertoire without taking away from the celebration. Over the years we have always celebrated Thanksgiving with the traditional dinner, but one year we went to the Point and cooked breakfast on Thanksgiving morning; another year we went to an apple orchard and picked apples, all the while our youngest son was wishing everyone a “Happy Turkey Day” much to the embarrassment of his older brother; some years we share our feast with others and sometimes it is just our family.

            Every Thanksgiving is unique but always with familiar elements. The word Thanksgiving itself is as Cameron quoted above says “a word of action.” In our celebration of the event we give thanks for our blessings. The day makes us more mindful of what we are grateful for and in being mindful we are being attentive to the things we tend to take for granted.

            Recognizing and appreciating what we have is the gift of Thanksgiving. And, if like Berg, we “Buy Everything” at the grocery store this one time of year, we are doing so to celebrate the plenty that is available to us.

            I will end with the first verse of The Thanksgiving Song by Mary Chapin Carpenter. The simple yet meaningful words encompass Thanksgiving for me:

            “Grateful for each hand we hold

            Gathered round this table

            From far and near we travel home

            Blessed that we are able.”

Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm  Comments (41)  
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~The Aftermath of Thanksgiving Dinner~

Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is from my weekly newspaper column, coincidentally called On The Homefront. I speak to my readers as if they are my friends (actually many of them are, and even more are relatives–I am related to almost everyone in my corner of the world, and I may be mistaken, but I think some of their cats are related to mine.)

Like many of you, we had Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Sunday, and now the remnants of a fairly decent meal sit in my fridge. The remnants are the best kind of leftovers there are, just waiting to be made into  soups and casseroles (in other households not mine) and the piece de resistance—the turkey sandwich. There are many ways to build a turkey sandwich and we all have our favourites, mine being white meat on buttered white bread (I know, I know, it should be a whole grain bread, but it is not) with a little mayo, lettuce, a tiny bit of salt on the lettuce, and then the sandwich cut into four dainty pieces. To make the meal complete it should be served with a side of cranberry sauce, green onions, and potato chips (if ever there was a politically incorrect meal, this is it.)

But let us go back to before the leftovers. Back to yesterday, when I was fixing the grand meal for Thanksgiving. I always have lots of food for Thanksgiving, as if I am expecting to feed an army. I guess I think the bounty of the harvest season should be on my table. The good thing about my “over cooking” is that we have lots of leftovers, which at Thanksgiving is a good thing (here I am, channelling Martha again). Speaking of channelling………

As many of you know I am not a domestic diva or gourmet goddess. I cook because we need to eat, which makes me a very practical (read: fast as I can) cook. I enjoy reading gourmet; I do not particularly enjoy cooking gourmet. So yesterday while I was making a couple of new recipes (yes, actual recipes—I was not just cooking by rote) I channelled a couple of my favourite Food Network personalities: Michael Smith, most recently star of Chef  Michael’s Kitchen and Chef at Home, and the Barefoot Contessa or “how easy is that” Ina Garten.

Michael Smith, a bona fide chef, and Ina Garten, a former caterer and now famous cook, are both somewhat laid back but at the same time enthusiastic about cooking. And that is exactly what I need in the kitchen–a little enthusiasm as I peel, and chop, and cut. And follow a recipe. Most of the time when I cook, it is tried and true stuff I have made hundreds of times, thus need no instructions (take frozen lasagna out of freezer, take off plastic covering, insert into oven, set timer).

Yesterday was very similar to every holiday when I cook a turkey, as it is never as easy as you think it is going to be. In an effort not to wrestle with a thawed out turkey I got one of those already stuffed birds that you do not have to thaw before cooking. But you do have to run it under warm water for a couple of minutes. I found out why when I took off the plastic wrapping. It is to make it possible to remove a plastic package of innards (ugh) and the neck (double ugh) that is tucked beneath an immovable wing. It took a bit of a tug of war, and my youngest son pulling the stupid plastic bag from under the frozen wing with all his might (and he is no little guy at 6’1” and over 180 pounds) which led me to declare the statement I make every holiday without fail: “Hope you enjoy this bird today, because it is the last one I make” and restate my vow to celebrate all future holidays with a pot of chili.

Once we had the plastic bag and neck loose and deposited promptly in the garbage (look away those of you who find this blasphemy and boil this stuff to make gravy) I proceeded to pour some melted butter over the turkey and shove it in the oven (covering parts of it with foil as instructed). Then I just basically forgot about it—which is the way I like to cook.

Cranberries popping

Cranberries popping (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came close to enjoying the prep of the rest of the meal: the apple and sweet potato casserole with a yummy syrup was pretty darn good (even though I forgot the cinnamon); the green stuff with marshmallows was a hit; the roasted potatoes a can’t miss; and the made from scratch cranberry sauce (which I am so proud of ) was good too. If nothing else, I am a gravy aficionado—so the gravy was delicious. The meal was crowned by pumpkin pie (with my cheat of Cool Whip on top) and spice cake with cream cheese icing. All in all, it was a decent meal—with Michael and his enthusiasm and Ina and her “how easy is that?” attitude keeping me company (plus a little calming piano music in the background, and a glass of wine that helped take the edge off.)

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and better yet, that you are still enjoying a few leftovers.

~Thanksgiving Trilogy~

1. Thanksgiving Sunday:

Fall colours

Fall colours (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We eat the first meal today

Leftovers tomorrow.

2. Can never decide

Which meal is better ~ today

Or turkey sandwiches?

3. Love the leftovers on

Thanksgiving Day when the mess

And cooking are done!

Published in: on October 7, 2012 at 6:01 am  Comments (39)  
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Olives ~ How Could I Forget Olives?

Olives

Olives (Photo credit: jurvetson)

I was going through my Thanksgiving menu in my head today for some reason. It is not like me to plan ahead, so this is a good sign for those who will have to eat the meal. I thought about the menu that I have created, and was gobsmacked that  I had forgotten the most important thing: OLIVES. Sure we will have turkey and stuffing and potatoes and corn and pumpkin pie—but how did I forget the Olives?

Olives have been on all my holiday feast tables since I left home and my mother’s table. And olives were on the menu of every one of her holiday meals—or at least Thanksgiving and Christmas, but probably Easter too.

I love olives. The little green ones stuffed with pimento were the ones from my childhood, and I still make sure I have them on my table for the holidays. I guess my tastes have expanded since childhood, because I now like briny black olives, but my hands down favourites are  huge green olives stuffed with a garlic clove. They are to die for (seriously that is what this cliché was designed for, to describe these garlic stuffed olives).

I am going to let you in on a little secret: when I do not have my jumbo garlic olives, but have the little guys with the pimento in my fridge, I open the jar and stick some garlic cloves in, and the next day, these garlic infused olives are also “to die for”. Learned this from my sister who got it from her friend Kathy.

English: Single clove garlic.

English: Single clove garlic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone once asked me if I liked garlic and was surprised at my response that I love garlic. Do I look like someone who does not like garlic—am I too white bread for garlic? (Is there even such as thing as too white bread for garlic?) I get this kind of stuff all the time—I was once told by someone that they were surprised I drank beer. Jeez, I need to get some kind of makeover—admittedly I am a little preppy in the way I dress—but hey, I love garlic and a cold beer. Hope that settles the controversy (though I think it is a controversy of my own making—the mind is a wonderful and complex thing isn’t it?)

I seem to have digressed here—but just so there is no mistake: Olives will be served at my Thanksgiving table. They will also be on the table at Christmas. When I was a kid this was the only time we had olives. Today, I have them whenever I darn well please, but they may not make it to the table in one of my mom’s little crystal bowls like they will this Thanksgiving.

~ We Gather Together ~ and Stuff Ourselves ~

English: Bow Bridge over The Lake in Central P...

English: Bow Bridge on Thanksgiving Day 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

~ we gather, we give thanks, and we eat ~

This is an edited version of my weekly newspaper column and though it is early it will serve to whet your appetite for the coming weekend if you are Canadian. I know that many of my readers are not Canadian but I think you may find a few things you can relate to:

“We gather together” are the introductory words of the first verse of a hymn sung traditionally at Thanksgiving. And it very aptly sums up one of the best attributes of Thanksgiving—it brings us together at a table heavily laden with harvest food.

A Canadian living in the United States wrote an article in the October edition of Chatelaine magazine comparing Canadian Thanksgiving with American Thanksgiving. Samantha See’s article, “Turkey Takedown” concluded that: “…we gather. And we dine. And we make a huge mess. But mostly we hang out and talk over each other and laugh and argue and fall asleep on the couch zoned out on tryptophan.”

The big difference between our Thanksgiving and our neighbour to the south, says See, is that we are the “first out of the gate” in that we celebrate in October and not November. Even though we cannot lay claim to the Pilgrims we “celebrate all the same, and Give Thanks and have Family Feasts, and all those good things.” That to me is Thanksgiving in a wonderful nutshell. On both sides of the border.

Sure the Americans throw in some parades and their Thanksgiving seems to be the harbinger of the holiday season, but if we look at in another way—our holiday season is even longer, because we start sooner. The point See makes is that “as long as you celebrate, haul that whole family together, and break bread in some way”, Thanksgiving has been appropriately commemorated.

She also makes the very salient point that Thanksgiving is the beginning of the “eating season”—a time of year when she bakes herself “into a woman-sized shortbread cocoon” and spends “two and a half months eating (her) way out.”

I think that the majority of us love Thanksgiving with all the fixings. I would love Thanksgiving even more if I were not the one in charge of fixing it, but over the years I have learned a number of ways to make that part of the equation easier. At the advice of a friend, I now buy a turkey that needs neither days of thawing nor the stuffing of its interior. No handling an unwieldy bird for me (but now I have to find something new to complain about).

Thanksgiving is important for so many reasons—the food, the giving of thanks, the camaraderie, but most important is the first three words of that hymn written originally in 1597: “WE GATHER TOGETHER”.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good appetite.

Thanksgiving Day Greetings

Thanksgiving Day Greetings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

T ~ is for Turkey Day

Thanksgiving postcard circa 1900 showing a tur...

Thanksgiving postcard circa 1900 showing a turkey and football player. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turkey Day is a term coined by my youngest son, Tyler, referring of course to Thanksgiving Day—but it really does synthesize what the day means to him. He has used this term for about twelve years now, first utilizing it one Thanksgiving weekend when he was about nine. We decided to go apple picking on this now infamous Thanksgiving Day twelve years ago for a “fun family outing”.  (For those of you who are not Canadian, and from the looks of my stats—that is many of you, Thanksgiving is the second Monday of October in our country.)

For some reason, many Canadians have their Thanksgiving meal on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, which leaves us time to do other things on Thanksgiving Day besides eat leftovers (which in my books is one of the most wonderful meals there is ~ I think I like noshing on Thanksgiving leftovers as much as the original meal.)

So, on this day in the year 2000, we decided to go apple picking, and while we were there we picked up a few pumpkins from the orange grove (just seeing if you are paying attention—of course it was a pumpkin patch, and no we did not see Linus there looking for the Great Pumpkin—it was too early).

Since it was late in the apple season, our wagon ride to the apple trees that still had apples was rather lengthy—and Tyler, in great spirits that day, kept wishing everyone a Happy Turkey Day. This garnered all kinds of interest, which he just ate up. He was a pixyish looking little guy, so he got a lot of waves and smiles with his exuberance.

To this day, he loves turkey—and Thanksgiving is just not Thanksgiving without turkey at our house. Before he grew to realize his love for the big bird, I would serve other meals I was just as thankful for (like prime rib or lamb or ham) and were much easier to contend with. Since he has made this realization, we serve turkey every Thanksgiving.

After lo these many years of thawing turkeys, stuffing turkeys, and complaining about thawing and stuffing turkeys, I have come upon a foolproof  Thanksgiving meal. I get one of those turkeys that come already stuffed and that you can take out of the freezer and stick into your oven with just some minor preparations.  I stumbled upon this solution at the advice of a friend who I think may have been tired of me complaining about the thawing and stuffing of the bird that stars in a proper Thanksgiving meal. And to that end the search for the perfect turkey commences today.

The search  entails buying one of these guys on sale. They are an arm and a leg if not on sale. As we speak, they are purported to be on sale at my local grocery store—so as soon as I get this post done, I shall be hightailing it out of here to get one that is affordable. Last time they were on sale (a couple of weeks ago) they had all been scooped up and only the regular turkeys were there biding their time in the frozen food bins.

I know that some people are suspicious of these already stuffed birds, but I cook mine until there is no mistaking that it is done—and truly the stuffing is delicious and there is a generous amount. And I do not have to thaw the dumb thing. In the past, I have taken turkeys out of my freezer and crowded my fridge for a full seven days and still the thing wasn’t completely thawed out.

Turkey Day is only a couple of weeks away, but I will not be satisfied until I have one nestled in my freezer among the corn and peas, and ready to be taken out just before I have to throw him in the oven (or place him ever so gently, let’s not get violent here.)

O happy day—this is me doing the Snoopy dance—Turkey Day is going to be easy peasy this year and every year hereafter.

Thanksgiving at the Trolls

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