Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 23 Nov 10 07:02
As Thanksgiving is upon us, and the winter holidays are not far behind, we open up Inkwell.vue to talk about the holidays of our pasts which have amused and amazed us. What was the best food? The worst company? The most amusing holiday anecdote?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 23 Nov 10 07:08
I'll begin with my absolutely favorite Thanksgiving of them all. It was 1965, in Englewood, NJ. That year, as this, Thanksgiving fell on November 25. My mother was 9 months pregnant. She had gone in for her appointment with Dr. Schnayerson on Monday the 22, and he told her that if she didn't go into labor by Thursday, to go to the hospital for inducing. So, at 7:30 Thanksgiving morning, my mother and father arrived at Englewood Hospital to meet the doctor. They induced my mother. At about 10:15 or so, they brought her to the delivery room. Mom looked at Dr. Schnayerson and said, "Why am I seeing this room? I've never seen this room before." To which he replied, "Linda, you've been here twice before." "Yes," she replied, "But I'd never SEEN the room." And then she was out. At 11:03 am on Thursday, November 25, 1965 I was born. So, this is my favorite holiday. Big surprise. And this year in particular, since it lands on my birthday so rarely, Thanksgiving is extra special.
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Wed 24 Nov 10 16:20
Congratulations, Lisa! And happy birthday tomorrow, too. Well, since you started with the good, I'll follow up with The Bad. My first Christmas in Taiwan was utterly strange. This was over 30 years ago when Taipei still didn't have much in the way of Western culture. American holidays passed by without much mention, much like Mid Autumn Festival here. It was late December, 1976. So there I was in my Chinese family's home, really wanting a tree to decorate, really anxious to have something that announced it was holiday season. My Chinese father, Uncle Chen, had a little potted palm that I brought in and festooned with wrapped candies, earrings, necklaces, and bits of foil. It looked weird and forlorn, but I sang Oh Christmas Tree for my adopted family, made an American-style dinner, passed out presents (this was the mid-seventies, so one brother got a t-shirt with the Fonz on it and a girl cousin got days of the week underwear, both of which really took some extra explaining), but they were sufficiently amused by the festivities to think that maybe they'd celebrate again the next year when they had a new American student. Besides, my pumpkin pie (made with a local squash) and gravy were surprising hits with the folks. So I guess it wasn't really too bad after all.
punkin' (gail) Wed 24 Nov 10 17:18
(Happy birthday, Lisa!) Great idea for story-telling, CJ. For years my family celebrated Thanksgiving outdoors around a bonfire in Sonoma county. It's curious in Northern California in November. Often on the afternoon of Turkey Day it is in the low 60's, and it's perfectly fine outdoors with a jacket on. A campfire makes such a warming hub. The turkey was actually only kept warm by the fire, not really cooked there. Yams wrapped in foil and buried in the coals were a treat that could go golden or darkly disastrous. I have to admit that some years tarps had to be suspended so the dinner table would stay dry, and sometimes the flapping tarps accomplished little in that regard. We had drama, though. A good kind of old-fashioned non-disfunctional weather and fireside cooking drama. The high or low point was the shock of a stick falling off a tall tree and landing in a perfect pie. Whoa. I kind of miss that tradition, as the elder folks in the family have lobbied for indoor eating. We're too polite for lewd stick-in-the-pie jokes, but the vivid memory is worth a chuckle or two.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Wed 24 Nov 10 18:15
Violating the topic title, I have something to say about this Thanksgiving. After years and decades of insisting on tradition, this year my wife decided that she did not want to do a traditional meal. So we're having home cooked Indian food, lots and lots of Indian food. Seven courses of Indian food followed by multiple desserts.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 24 Nov 10 21:14
In 1997, my mom, who'd been suffering from cancer for several years, died unexpectedly the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My dad, my sister, and I, as well as my husband, were in my parents' house kind of at a loss. Thanksgiving had always been her holiday. It would have been easier to go out to dinner, but we didn't. Between the four of us, we pulled it together and cooked Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn't awesome; certainly wasn't as good as she had made. But we had done it. Since then, I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, I have my mom's measuring cups and spoons, her canisters, and her turkey roaster. (This year, I also have her china and silver, but I don't want to go that far. I also have her linen tablecloths, somewhere.)
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 25 Nov 10 06:13
<scribbled by lrph Thu 25 Nov 10 06:14>
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 25 Nov 10 06:16
Jerry, I think it is perfectly acceptable to share this years celebrations if they are as unique as a seven course Indian meal. The bar has been set.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Thu 25 Nov 10 06:20
awwwwww... Having some of our own mothers' cooking tools is such a great way of feeling their ongoing presence in our lives, isn't it, Sharon? Even if our mothers are gone, we still have those wonderful touchstones that tie us to our generational history in the kitchen. I was talking with some of the caregivers at my mom's Alzheimer's home yesterday and we got around to discussing T-day dinner. Two of the caregivers said that they always put raw eggs into their turkey's stuffing. Two said "what? eggs? are you crazy?" Never ever ever heard of putting raw eggs into stuffing, but apparently it's an option. And it got me thinking: the whole idea of "traditional" stuffing is very much a household-by-household concept. In the home I grew up in, "stuffing" was made from scratch. It was the only time of year my mom ever bought balloon bread (usually she handmade whole wheat loaves every Saturday, but turkey stuffing required balloon bread). The stuffing included the bread, plus lots of onions and herbs sauteed in butter, chopped celery, pecans, and prunes. And it always went inside the bird, it was never cooked separately (or stovetop). But there are those to whom "stuffing" means crumbled cornbread and chunks of oranges, or sausage and fresh fennel, or rice and cilantro pesto, and maybe even chestnuts and couscous, for all I know. It's fascinating how many different variations there are for "stuffing," and I'm curious what other people consider the canonical T-day stuffing. And also, does the stuffing go INTO the bird? Or is it cooked on the side? (and as for cranberry sauce: whole or jellied?)
Dave Waite (dwaite) Thu 25 Nov 10 09:42
It is not Thanksgiving without at least one can of jellied Cranberry sauce - preferably with the rings from the can still visible when served.
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Thu 25 Nov 10 19:56
Oh man, you are definitely channeling my late stepmother. I once served only homemade cranberry sauce on T-Day, a mistake I made only once. The favorite stuffing around our house is Chinese sticky rice, mushrooms, lop chong sausages, and smoky chestnuts, all cooked together and stuffed in the bird, which is basted with soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Nov 10 20:37
Cranberry sauce: from a can with the rings still showing Stuffing: outside, sausage, bread, two eggs, turkey stock, and this wonderful package of stuff from the produce department in some of our grocery stories that includes celery and onions, all evenly chopped, and herbs, in the perfect size to mix with the bag of 'stuffing bread' that the grocery stores' bakeries sell.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 25 Nov 10 21:49
My wife and I participated in a glorious feast wiht good friends. Rita contributed green beans with Ginger and cashews - delightful! The rest of the meal was of similarly spectacular character, except for that cylinder of canned cranberry sauce that the man of the house splurched onto a plate in the middle of all that goodness. I noticed it when I went in for seconds, and thought, "That is just obscene." I didn't say anything, but later it came up for derision from others in the party.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 25 Nov 10 21:52
My wife just reminded me that I had no problem at all digging in to the sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows on top. I told her I ate them ironically, but she wasn't buying it.
Chef Boy RG (sudsy) Thu 25 Nov 10 22:34
As a very young child I recall my mother making her simple bread-sausage stuffing with stale Bunny Bread that she'd buy at the Bunny Bread Thrift Shop. (It had a very cool and very non-PC neon sign of a skinny Bunny in Scottish kilt.) She'd buy several loaves of day-old bread, deal out the slices on cookie pans, and allow the bread to dry out. We'd then tear the slices apart and she'd mix them with pork sausage, a little onion and celery and a sprinkling of raisins, all moistened with stock made from the turkey neck and giblets. It was delicious. A child of the Great Depression, for her the idea of buying a box of dried bread cubes to make stuffing was an extravagance.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Nov 10 22:38
yeah, I know, my mom saved the crusts of bread all year long to make stuffing with at Thanksgiving.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Fri 26 Nov 10 08:14
sudsy's memory of The Drying of the Stale Bread matches the one I have from my own childhood household. I had Thanksgiving at the home of a friend who invited about a dozen maybe 15 pals to share the table. Everybody contributed something, from appetizers to pies, we were exceedingly well fed. I brought a salad of nappa cabbage with chunks of fuyu persimmon and a couple handfuls of pomegranite arils, plus chives, minced preserved lemon, and toasted sliced almonds. A delightful young woman whose name I now forget made a killer "mile high" cheesecake -- each slice stood about five inches high -- topped with a from-scratch mulled-raspberry sauce. Everything on the table was wonderful, I went home very full and very very happy.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 26 Nov 10 09:21
Either Sharon's family didn't eat much bread or they had a Turkeysaurus for Thanksgiving. A *year's* worth of crusts? Ai yi yi!
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 26 Nov 10 13:10
I didn't mean we ate the entire year's worth in one shot. She saved bread all year. It was used in Thanksgiving stuffing, bread pudding, etc.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Fri 26 Nov 10 14:51
My childhood thanksgivings were typical family affairs. When I moved to Florida, I began to celebrate with my dad and step mother. Sheila doesn't cook, so we went out for the holiday. It was very strange. The first few years she chose traditional food restaurants. But then there was the year dad and Sheila were fighting and she decided that we should go to the Spanish restaurant at the Holiday Unn fir Thanksgiving dinner. It's hard to be festive when the host and hostess aren't speaking AND the food isn't even good Spanish fare Suffice it to say that that was the year I swore that as soon as I had a house (we lived in a small apartment then) I would only have turkey day at home.
Laura MacEachen (laura-mac) Sat 27 Nov 10 16:49
with age comes wisdom? I finally caved on the cranberry sauce - years of fresh cranberry relish with oranges and nuts and other savory stuff, whirred around in the Cusinart or cooked berries with additions - gone, Daddy, gone. The canned-with-lines stuff disappeared every year and I'd take all my relish home. Now I buy whole berry Ocean Spray sauce in cans, break it up and serve it up in a bowl - it really tastes good and NO LINES. My family: culinary Philistines.
Ari Davidow (ari) Sat 27 Nov 10 19:40
The year before her death, my grandmother was at Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle in New Jersey. She was the cook of the family, so normally this was a busy day for her, but this time she wasn't feeling well. She came down for the meal and exclaimed, "Boy, how smart I am. If I hadn't been feeling ill, =I= would have had to do all this." In recent years, Thanksgiving has become the meal that our in-laws allow us to host at our host. My wife's brothers are religious and her mother keeps kosher. On Jewish holidays, nobody can drive, so Judy and I shlep to their side of town. On Thanksgiving, them that care cook the kosher food and we serve it on paper plates using Judy's great grandmother's silver. Judy has many of her mother's kitchen things, along with the dining room display case of fancy dish things and chachkes from her mother, and said mother gets a kick out of seeing them in their new home. Foodwise, we do ourselves proud--lots of roasted and steamed vegies, along with a really nice cranberry relish, roast turkey breast, amazing vegie stuffing, salads, Judy's apple pie, plus one of her nieces is about to graduate Johnson and Wales cooking school, with a specialty in desserts. This year I added some tofu and vegies for the vegetarian contingent so they'd have some protein.
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Mon 29 Nov 10 11:57
Sounds lovely! When thinking back on the best, worst, or funniest winter holiday I ever had, one of the first that comes to mind happened in my second year of college. I was living on my own, far away from home, and no invitations had found their way to me for a T-Day dinner. I was living in a totally ramshackle bunch of buildings my neighbor Barry called Sun Moon Acres because it was run by a tiny old despot called Woo Huck Sun. Mr. Sun was a wee bit gone by the time I arrived on the scene, and though my Honolulu apartment had been furnished by him with gorgeous 1940s rattan furniture and pillows (how I wish I could have brought those home with me), somewhere along the line he had got himself a really good deal on light yellow paint. So everything was painted. You name it. Fridge, sink, toilet (why scrub when you can paint?), stove, all the fixtures. He didn't want any flowers in the yard, either, so it was just hardpan and weeds. I grew some sunflowers by my front door, thinking yellow flowers would meet with his approval. He tore them out. I finally went so buggy with the yellow that I took down the venetian blinds, disassembled them, and spray-painted them a shocking pink. He toddled over in a froth, red with rage. "No pink!" he yelled, "only yellow!" So I yelled back, "No more yellow! Pink!" And then when my Korean neighbors moved, they gave me their wall-to-wall orange shag carpeting, so my itsy cottage looked like an acid dream even if you were as straight as a Quaker. But anyway, because it was a little community of people who generally were all alone, I hunted around to see who else was without stuffing and found my Pakistani neighbor, Leila, also wondering what to do with her evening. We found we had enough cash to go out for dinner together, so we hit Waikiki Beach and had one of those meals meant for the tourists. It was bland but okay, as those dinners usually are, but what was totally great about that Thanksgiving Dinner so long ago was that I finally felt like a real adult, cocktail in hand (Hawaii's drinking age was 18), toasting the setting sun on a tropical beach.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 29 Nov 10 13:00
Nice. I like how the family gathering memories and the getaway vacation memories can be equally memorable. Some of my Thanksgiving and Christmas week holiday memories fade together now. When was that camping trip near Death Valley when it improbably rained on us and we had to seek shelter only to find a free holiday buffet at a little desert cafe...? When did we carry a ceremonial can of cranberry sauce (with the ridges) with us on a drive up the coast to stay at a decommissioned lighthouse? This year I baked a store bought pie shell with a ricotta/sour cream/cherry jam/frozen cherries filling. Good when warm and fresh out of the oven! Just OK later, served cold for the whole family. Darn it. For some reason I am drawn to experiment with holiday recipes. Win some, lose some. (Anything less than awesome is a loss in the family ceremonial context, in my estimation, which doesn't help.) Still, I keep risking new food ideas, playing off the old standards.
Keryl McCord (kaimac62) Mon 29 Nov 10 19:45
This Thanksgiving was a learning experience. What did I learn? I will never do this one again; an empty nest with two boomers in a townhouse, and our little sweetie Snowphie, a white mini-Schnauzer, became Thanksgiving central to more than 10 people for five days. (My now three year old granddaughter couldn't say Sophie, it came out Snowphie and as our pet is a white Schnauzer, it has stuck.) Between daughter-in-law and three grandsons (8-6-4), another grandson (age 10) with us for the duration as his mom had to work leading up to the holiday, my sister, niece, and sister's 18 year old 6'2 185 pound grandson who is a perpetual eating machine, and me and my husband, that was ten people. My nephew and his wife joined us on Turkey Day, and stayed until Saturday. Twelve people, plus five more for dinner. We had an amazing feast and I put everyone to work slicing, dicing, wrapping, cooking and baking, setting up, and cleaning up after, putting stuff away. Eight sweet potato pies sent folks off with a memento, and lots of food for leftovers. What wiped me out however was that everyone didn't go home after dinner. (No, I did not cook any other meals, they were on their own for that.) That is what was different than any year before, normally everyone goes home. We'd never had so many people from out of town. And that is what will not be repeated next year. If you can't go home that night, then the limit is one night only. :) But seeing our grandchildren bonding and having a wonderful time was almost worth the price of admission. Hopefully my more sentimental side won't take over next year and lead me to even contemplate trying to find a way to repeat this less painfully. We'll see.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Tue 30 Nov 10 07:00
<cjp> -- your "no pink, only yellow!" landlord story is wonderful! Thanks, it sooooooo reminds me of my two years of living in Hawaii back in the early '70s. I can see and hear the whole thing in my mind's eye vividly! And <kaimac62> -- that sounds like a fabulous Thanksgiving, except for the fact that it stretched out into five days. Also, I'm impressed that amidst all that chaos y'all somehow managed to put together EIGHT sweet potato pies. Given your obvious interest in the culinary arts, I hope you'll come on by the <cooking.> conference when you get a chance. We're all about delicious excess. I think my most memorable Thanksgiving -- or at least one of them -- was when I was in the 7th grade, taking the required Home Economics course at school. Back then, girls took home ec, boys took shop, so we could all grow up with the necessary skills for our gender-role positions in the world, you see. Anyway, in Home Ec we were taught cooking and sewing. I'd already been given a chance to learn both of these skills at home, through my mother. I'd taken to cooking right away and had assumed the role of household chef for the family, making everything from meatloafs and casseroles to homemade whole wheat bread and from-scratch apple pies. OTOH, I loathed sewing and never got any good at it. In Home Ec we had two homework assignments: make an apron, and cook a meal for your family. I made an apron, but it looked like it'd been done by a blind, one-handed monkey. However, I figured I'd make up for it by doing Thanksgiving dinner for the family and nearby relatives, for a total of 16 at the table. I plotted out the menu. I made lists of ingredients and compiled a shopping list. My mom drove me to the store but I handled all the shopping. I made from-scratch stuffing (no pre-cut bread, no seasoning packages, I sliced and diced and toasted and sauteed everything myself). I stuffed and roasted an enormous turkey. I made mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green salad, steamed peas with pearl onions, fresh home-made bread rolls, a pumpkin pie, a mince pie (no pre-bought crusts, either, all made from scratch). And yes, whole-berry cranberry sauce. I set up the end-to-end tables, laid out a decorative centerpiece of autumn leaves and berry-laden pyrocantha collected from our yard. I took photos, I made charts, I documented everything from the shopping list to the guest list. So there I am, making T-day dinner for 16 while my classmates are burning breakfast oatmeal for their families. And my teacher decides that all of my documentation, photos, and my descriptive essay about the dinner I've done are lies. I mean, clearly my sewing skills are crap, so why would I be able to cook, huh? She figured my mother had done all the work and I was just trying to take credit for it. I get a D- for the semester grade. My mom went down to the school and talked to the teacher. We got it sorted out, and my grade got bumped up to a solid B, and I was mollified, if not totally satisfied. I'm still offended the teacher thought I was lying. More than 40 years later, my interest in cooking abides and I continue to love the culinary arts. I still can't sew any better than a blind, one-handed monkey, though.
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