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Thanksgiving day guests

November 28th, 2003 · 1 Comment

Still feeling a bit exhausted from yesterday, but what fun it was. I really enjoyed the cooking, and more than that, each dish spoke to me about family and friends.

My mom brought spinach salad and butterflake rolls, both yummy although I was so caught up in making gravy that I burned the rolls in the oven! Salad reminds me of mom who likes her leafy greens (more than I do, probably!). I remember her eating a lot of salads and she always encouraged us to eat lettuce when we were kids.

My sister brought pumpkin pie and whip cream: that’s always a great Thanksgiving day treat. She’s quite a baker, more experienced than me, and so I asked her to bring dessert. I appreciate too that she had the time this year to make something from scratch – wow, can’t remember the last time I played with pie crust dough myself.

It was fun to have some of my family here to share the day with us and to think about those family and friends who weren’t sitting at the table with us. …

I cooked a turkey, a big fresh turkey at that, about 18 pounds. Not sure why I got such a large one. I guess I figure if I’m going to make one, might as well make it right and have lots of leftovers.

Why do I make a turkey? It’s an American tradition, I suppose. Cultural identity consumed in large poultry. But it also reminds me of family.

Thanksgiving dinner reminds me of the holidays I spent growing up with our group of family friends. Also I think of Ted’s family, his parents, his brother, “Uncle Doggie”, and his wife. The first time I came home with Ted was for Thanksgiving. I also cooked the meal for the whole family our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife. I had never cooked a turkey or any bird before. “Practice on a chicken,” advised Ted’s brother, and I did!

Most years, that I can remember, beginning with that first one, I used one of the Reynold’s Oven Bags. It was easy and cooked a tender turkey.

But this year, after reading a Seattle Times article , I was inspired to try the cheesecloth cover and basting method. I basted with a mixture of margarine, lemon juice, broth and water. It seemed to work well, although the thermometer took a while to register, and stayed at 170. I kept waiting for it to rise to 180 but finally took it out after almost 6 hours. The outmost part of the breast was a bit drier than I would have liked, but the rest was moist and juicy.

We also make chestnut stuffing, a tradition we inherited from Ted’s family. I had never met a stuffing I liked anyway when I married Ted so I didn’t mind learning a new recipe, and now I really like the chestnut stuff. The night before, Ted and I roast the chestnuts, sitting at the table, carefully cutting “X”s into the shell The chestnuts go in the oven for a while, and then we sit again, peeling away the shell and skins. It’s a tradition we now have for our marriage, and someday soon maybe for our whole family. Yes, a tradition too that we cut ourselves (how do chestnut lacerations compare to bagel ones?!), although we successfully avoided it this time. This year I didn’t roast them long enough so I also had to boil them afterwards. The chestnuts are riced, and I make a stuffing with bread crumbs, celery, onions, sausage and spices. Ted will talk about his dad sometimes while working on the nuts, how well his dad would prepare them, and as he works and talks, I see his hands moving like his father’s. Chestnut stuffing reminds us of new and old holidays. It also too reminds now of our trip to Europe last year, where we were treated to hot chestnuts for sale on the streets, and our friends there.

Joy of Cooking taught me how to make gravy. This year I decided to add sauteed mushrooms: yummy! A little lumpy but no one noticed.

After reading through some recipezaar.com cranberry ideas (thanks, Gay for the idea!), and looking at a recipe I got as a gift at my wedding shower, I experimented with the bag of cranberries, making a jello salad, my girls helping me. they had been asking me for jello somehow (guess Abigail read the word JELLO while we were shopping one day) and I thought Thanksgiving would be as good a time as any to treat them. We took black cherry jello and added Dr. Pepper soda instead of cold water – that’s what my Dad did when we were kids. I mixed cranberries that had been boiled, and pureed with some grapes, along with crushed pineapple, and mixed that into the jello also. So this dish reminded me of my daughters and of my dad. It also reminded me of new friends via the blogosphere and old friends from my bridal shower and college days.

My brother John, he of Spiral fame, was away traveling this year, so in his honor, I did not even try to make mashed potatoes. That is Uncle John’s dish, one that Michaela requested at her birthday.

At Thanksgiving I think of those relatives who can’t be with us. I think of Ted’s parents, his brother and his wife all miles away from us. “Uncle Doggie”‘s wife’s family took care of us on Thanksgivings too. I know they are with us in spirit, and in the memories of the food. I think too of those friends who shared Thanksgiving days with us, our first holiday in our first home back in San Jose years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child, parents of friends who invited us in, spiritual family who cared for us. Thank you!

I think of a cousin of Ted’s. We were just getting to know him and his bride who had only been married a few months. It was fun to host them for Thanksgiving. Then, suddenly a few weeks later he died in his sleep.

I remember my other brother, Jim. His birthday is within Thanksgiving week so it was Jim’s special time. Often we’d have a birthday party on one of the weekends around the holiday. Thanksgiving was a special time, and he was a special guy, a survivor of childhood cancer that changed who he became as an adult. He died four years ago, and of his 26 Thanksgivings, I was only able to be there for half. I moved away, went to college and stayed out East and then in California but I wish I could have come back more often to spend Thanksgiving and his birthday with him. He died between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making this season even more his. I can’t think of any dish that really reminds me of him. Maybe I should make one that he would like. He loved chicken and rice. Eggs. Pizza. Grapenuts with milk. Ice cream with MnMs. That’s how I remember him: happy, digging into a dish of ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate sauce..

But I know Jim is even happier now up in heaven, happier than he ever was here. He and Ted’s cousin are having a great time up there with Jesus. Hebrews says that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”, referring to those who have gone before us in this “race”, and I believe that it means those in heaven are up in the grandstands, seeing us on the course. I believe this means that Jim and Ted’s cousin may be able to see us. They, along with many others, are watching us on Thanksgiving and at all times, along with Jesus. Jesus is with us. And those who are in heaven with Him are with us, in our hearts and minds, in our memories, in spirit, seeing us with their souls, cheering us onward until we get to spend every day celebrating with them again.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 emily // Dec 1, 2003 at 1:15 pm

    I made a green bean recipe from a cookbook you sent me years ago. Do you remember marking the ones you tried and liked w/ stars for me? This recipe had earned one of y our stars and we loved it (our guests did too) and all the while I thought of you and the years of friendship shared. Giving thanks…