Thanksgiving alchemy

On Saturday we had our Annual alterNative Thanksgiving Feast.  I always take some time to inform our guests about the true history of relations between the colonizers and the Indigenous people of North America.  Then we sit down together for a marvelous evening of delicious food and very fine company.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love the food and it is one of the few holidays that I have  some happy childhood family memories of.   My Dad and I had a very difficult relationship.  We all grew up and lived under the crushing weight of inherited trauma and unresolved grief that he brought into our family from his Muscogee (Creek) heritage.  Relatives outside of our family and friends saw the charismatic and charming side of my Dad, where we rarely saw that person.  But Thanksgiving was a good day, with lots of food shopping and preparation leading up to it.  When I make Thanksgiving dinner, I connect with those good feelings of anticipation and sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

One dish that I always make is Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.  Legend has it that when we were visiting relatives Back East, we were invited to stay for supper, but the cupboards were nearly bare.  My Dad went into the kitchen and made this salad from a couple of cans of Petit Pois, mayonnaise, cheese and an onion.  As the cousin who related this story said ‘Your Dad was a great cook and could make something out of nothing’.   The alchemy practiced by a cook can be magical.

This year as I cubed cheese and minced a shallot, I wept, and not because of Propanethiol S-oxide.  I wept because I never knew that charming and charismatic man.  I wept because I grew up afraid of him and spent too much of my adult life hating him.  I wept for the fury and rage that he had carried into our family and the brokenness passed on to him from his ancestors and the injustice from a white society that shamed him for his Native heritage.  I wept that I only came to understand and feel compassion for him many years after his death.

As I worked Frank’s magic of transforming base ingredients into a wonderful salad, the alchemy of pain and grief being transformed into peace and love happened too.

I served the salad in a dish with a rabbit running around the outside.  Cufv the Rabbit is the trickster in Mvskoke lore.  The shape-shifter.  The shifter of shapes and the shaper of shifts.  When we can reach for and embrace our deepest and darkest places, this is when true healing happens.  And the light shines where it never has before.

I hope that all who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful, meaningful and delicious time.

Peace and love to you all.

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A Fabulous Furry Thanksgiving

Steve and I getting together with my American cousin and her family on Sunday to celebrate Thanksgiving.  They’re living with their new baby #5 in a beautiful part of Devon called the South Hams.  Susan and I Skyped last night to finalize the menu.  All the usual suspects:  Turkey, sage and onion stuffing, cranberry sauce, roasted root vegetables, sweet potatoes & marshmallows, a curious side dish of green beans and canned mushroom soup topped with crispy fried onions which would only appear on a Thanksgiving table, cornbread and of course, pecan pie.

We divvied up the list and I’ll be doing some cooking on Saturday.  They’re getting the turkey from Aune Valley Meat, a family run butchers.  They went to check it out a couple of days ago and said the turkeys are still alive and kickin’ and one will be butchered to order for our feast on Sunday.  It will be slowly cooked in an AGA, so should be fantastic!

I got to thinking about a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother cartoon I read when I was about eight.  I grew up in the 1960’s in Southern California and my big sibs were hippies, so I used to peruse their stash of Underground Comix.  Of course I didn’t understand most of them at the time.   This one’s pretty funny.  For a closer look you can click on it and zoom in.

Of course the Aune Valley crew will probably be using a more traditional butchering method!

I hope everybody in the US has had a good and happy Thanksgiving and that you all have plenty to be thankful for. Lots of love x

Thanksgiving in England

The 25th of November.  The eve of Thanksgiving 2011 in Moretonhampstead, my home town in my adopted country England.  In America, Thanksgiving is all about feasting with family and friends; the people we want to gather round us or travel near or far to be with.  We have eight lovely friends coming for dinner mid-afternoon tomorrow.  Some from around the corner, some from further afield (more than 10 miles hence) and some from even further afield (the other side of the country!).

This is my favorite American holiday and one that tugs deeply at me, even though my home is now on British soil.  Steve and I  planned the menu to include many of my beloved childhood Thanksgiving dishes – Heavenly Hash, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.

We shopped and started cooking today.  I had to order miniature marshmallows, canned pumpkin (Libby’s), Nabisco Graham Crackers and ‘Nilla Wafers online.  But the supermarket was a breeze (Sssssssh!  .  .  .  .  .  no one knows it’s Thanksgiving over here!)  This is our third Thanksgiving together and it’s already one of the best ever.  Even though Steve has yet to experience Thanksgiving on American soil, he enthusiastically joins in.  We love to entertain and host our friends, I am so thankful that he and I share this together and with others.

Tonight Steve and I made Gingered Nuts & homemade onion dip (tomorrow’s appetizers w/ Prosecco), three different pie crusts – Gingersnap pecan, short crust & Graham Cracker for Punkin Pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie and Maple Syrup Cheesecake w/ Roasted Pears , respectively, rinsed the brined turkey and made homemade corn bread for the stuffing.

I have a tin pie pan my cousin Cynthia gave to me in 1997, when I was still living in California.  She’d come out from Virginia to visit her sister (and my cousin Lanneau) and brought me an apple pie from the Julian Pie Co.,  near San Diego.  I keep the pie pan under my flour sifter (where we always kept one when I was growing up).  Once a year, it comes into service in its intended use,  as a vessel for my pecan pie.  All of these childhood memories, connections to foods and people, are woven into the  dinner preparations.

Cynthia's Pie Dish

Tonight, following on the success of our cocktail party two weeks ago (details to follow, but in the meantime here’s a teaser) we tried a Green Ginger Wine, Vodka & Cointreau concoction.  After a very full and productive day, time to have a well-earned sleep.

In the morning, the pies will be assembled and baked, the bird stuffed and cooked, the vegetables prepared, and setting up our kitchen and dining tables for ten to gather round.  Then the welcoming of guests and the enjoyment of each other’s company and fine food, lovingly prepared and shared.

A Moveable Feast

I’ve been talking to all of my British colleagues and friends about our 2010 Thanksgiving dinner, a moveable feast which we are cooking in London tomorrow.  Most British people know that Thanksgiving falls on the last Thursday of the month and that we eat turkey.  One waggish person asked me if Thanksgiving started to celebrate throwing off British rule.  (One thing I love about my adopted compatriots is their sense of humour.)

Tonight, Steve and I are doing the prep for our dinner.  Steve soaked the turkey in brine for seven hours and mixed up a sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing.  We just drained the bird and will transport it to London on ice tomorrow, assemble the stuffing and roast it in my cousin’s oven.  I made a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie in a ginger snap & pecan crust.  I’m roasting some sweet potatoes mixed with butter, brown sugar and spices.  Tomorrow, these will be reheated, topped with  miniature marshmallows (which I mail ordered from American Soda) and put under the grill to brown.  I also mixed the dry ingredients for cornbread and put them into a Ziploc baggie with the next steps written on the outside.  This nestles in my 8″ square cake pan.  The cornbread is a special request for John, my cousin’s husband who hails from Minnesota.  He and I both grew up eating oven baked cornbread, not fried stovetop cornbread.

I’ll be making Heavenly Hash too.  This is a type of ambrosia or fruit salad containing miniature marshmallows, maraschino cherries, chopped apple, canned mandarin orange segments, banana slices, chopped walnuts and a tiny amount of chopped pickles.  All held together with whipped cream tinted with maraschino cherry juice.  I made it last year and Steve was very surprised when I asked him to put it on the table with the other side dishes.  He thought it was dessert!  Speaking of side dishes, my cousin Susan is making a recipe of her Mom’s.  A French bean and canned cream of mushroom soup concoction topped with crispy fried onions.  Last but not least, cranberry sauce.  We just made a Jamie Oliver recipe from fresh cranberries, Bramley apples, sugar, a cinnamon stick and a glug of The Somerset Pomona – a blend of apple juice and cider brandy.

We’re also taking ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ DVD to watch.  I grew up in Southern California and associate my Thanksgiving TV with The Twilight Zone.  KTLA Channel 5 used to air a nonstop marathon on Turkey Day.  I suppose we’ll watch a few episodes on YouTube as well.  I’ve seen ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ a couple of times.  Peanuts are always fun and my cousin’s little kids will like it, I hope.

Another holiday favourite of mine is Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  We plan to watch it nearer Christmas, just as we did on our first Christmas together in a wolf sanctuary in Shropshire.  I just had to listen to this song from the film tonight though and found this clip.  Spot the date change for Thanksgiving Day?

Abraham Lincoln had declared Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November in 1863 and it had come to be universally accepted.  In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt tried to change the date of Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, in part to extend the holiday shopping season by one week and give a boost to the economy during the Great Depression. There was huge public protest. Some referrred to the newly positioned Thanksgiving Day as “Franksgiving.” Roosevelt’s decision was quickly politicized, with some people in some states celebrating the holiday as the “Republican Thanksgiving” on the fourth Thursday in 1939, and others celebrating the “Democratic Thanksgiving” on the third Thursday.  Congress intervened in 1941, taking the date out of the president’s hands and mandating Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday in November.

One last thing we did tonight was to print off a Google map of our route into London.  So we’re off to bed and looking forward to an early start with our Thanksgiving meal on wheels.

Thanksgiving

Today, Thursday 25th November, is the American Thanksgiving holiday.  A feast day where family and friends come together to share food, to enjoy each other’s company and to give thanks for whatever blessings and abundance in our life we wish to focus upon.

Selfridges, Bullring, Birmngham

This morning, Steve and I went out for breakfast in Birmingham and I got the train back home, while Steve went on to another part of England for his work.  At the train station, I fell into conversation with a lovely Indian woman named Anandhi, an Economics professor, who after living in Boston for many years now lives in the Midlands.  She was on her way to Bristol to give a talk on her research on affirmative action in Indian politics.  She wished me a happy Thanksgiving and told me of her plans to have a dinner with her husband and some friends this weekend.  I shared our plans to make our Thanksgiving dinner a ‘moveable feast’ this year when we go to London this Saturday to cook and eat with my American cousins living there.

What Anandhi and I both love about Thanksgiving is its inclusiveness.  While Christmas is more of a family holiday, at Thanksgiving everyone is invited to join the table.  She asked if I have managed to find graham crackers over here and I said that digestive biscuits are a good substitute.   The train arrived and we parted from our very nice, brief encounter.

In my SOMA forum, Christine has invited us to think about and share what makes our hearts sing with gratitude in this quiet time before the rush of the holiday season.  As the train travelled through the beautiful English countryside, the landscape unfolded in it’s wintry aspect.  Frost lingered in dark pockets of shadow, the bright sunshine and deep shade carved fascinating shapes on the passing farm buildings and villages, tree and hedgerow-cast shadows undulated across the now fallow fields and the bare branches of the winter trees gave their secrets up to the sky, where birds flew along their invisible aerial routes.

Today, I felt gratitude for a chance encounter with a lovely person, the beautiful early winter day and to be travelling back home.  I couldn’t imagine that things could be any better than they are now.  This was great, as I seem to spend a lot of time improving on things, either in real time or in my imagination.  As my husband Steve often says, “It’s all good.”  Today, I was able to really feel that ‘all is well’ with no ‘buts or ifs’.  This feeling of peace is truly something to be thankful for.  The specific blessings will change from time to time, but I hope to court this feeling that all is right with my world and welcome it to the table every day.