Monday, November 19, 2007

Food Weekend

Last year I begged that we not ignore the all important holiday of Thanksgiving in the madness that is Christmas preparations and focus on this beautiful holiday we have approaching in just a few short days. I cannot think of a better holiday. The entire purpose of this day is to once a year gather with family and friends to eat and express our gratitude for our many blessings. No gifts are exchanged, most mass marketers by-pass it in favor of hitting consumers over the head with Christmas. The beauty of Thanksgiving is its simplicity.

There is something unifying about gathering around a table to break bread together. Especially given the fact that I live alone, eating a home made meal with loved ones is an indulgent luxury. I love the rich heritage of Thanksgiving traditions and the passing of recipes from one generation to the next. Two years ago when I made my first Thanksgiving I called my mom for my grandmother's stuffing recipe and she informed me that each year she has to call her mother for it. What a blessing for me to be able to call my grandmother and listen to her walk through her a bit of this, a few cups of that description of a perennial favorite signature dish. I love the frenetic pace of Thursday morning as the air grows thick with the smell of turkey and stuffing and the sweetness of yams to the point that windows and doors are cracked open to compensate for the heat of the oven. I love that each family has their own favorites, specialities and variations to make the holiday uniquely their own. I love standing around in my grandmother's kitchen trying to lend a hand at the last minute to help hurry the process along to the table and watching one of my uncle's carve the turkey and dole out samples to kids of all ages milling about looking for scraps. I love when everyone finally comes to the table and after some shifting about, we all settle into our seats, bow our heads and give thanks together as a prayer is given. I love lingering at the table and continuing to piece at favorite dishes as conversations bounce to and fro covering whatever topic falls from the sky. I love the post-meal lull after the table has been cleared and everyone gathers around the tv for football or around the kitchen table for card games. I love the moment when someone suggests they might be ready for some pie (we are never ready directly after the gluttonous meal) and plates are distributed with small slivers and large wedges of pie topped with ice cream or whipped cream. I love the familial bonds that are tightened by this annual coming together around a table of plenty.

I am not alone in my love for Thanksgiving. It must run in my family because this morning my sister sent the below email to our family (right after some trash talk about the BIG GAME this weekend, GO UTES!):

And who else doesn't feel like working with Food Weekend right around the corner. Yes, this is my favorite holiday. A, an entire weekend dedicated to can it possibly go wrong? I would like to take this moment to recognize some of my personal favorite Thanksgivings in no particular order. Feel free to add on your own favorites [my comments are tacked on in brackets].

1. First Thanksgiving in college. [1997] I had a week off from school. I didn't go home to family, they came to me. Of course it was to see me, not grandparents and other family members visiting. I was working late at the Smith's in St G and Alyssa showed up to greet me in her brand new 97 [98] Suburu. [This was the first NEW car I ever purchased and I remember how hard it was to not tell her about my momentous purchase. It was so much fun clicking the unlock button and telling her the sleek black car was MINE!]

2. Thanksgiving in Chico[, California, we lived there briefly]. [1987] It started with a giant potluck dinner with the ward and ended in a game of dodge ball in the cultural hall and Erin with a bloody nose. Who would've thought Thanksgiving with no snow or extended family could be so great? [not that we always have snow in Utah at Thanksgiving, especially since we usually head south where it never snows. What I remember most about this Thanksgiving was the novelty of going to the church gym with all the long folding tables set up and filled to the edges with yummy food with a bunch of people who were not related to us! Each family brought their entire meal and just shared. I believe this was the momentous occassion when I first learned how to play spoons]

3. Thanksgiving in NYC. [2005] Thanksgiving in NYC was fabulous. An entire meal created by Alyssa and yours truly, and I must say it was delicious! And enough leftover to repeat the meal for the next three days. The arctic walk through Times Square was also delightful. [umm, I remember the arctic walk through Times Square being FREEZING. We spent well over an hour lingering in Virgin Records (that was somehow open) just so we could de-thaw and delay heading back out into the frozen tundra. I also loved having my first turkey experience with my sis]

4. Any Thanksgiving in St G. [basically every other year for most of my life] Always with a long table to fill the entire living room and entry way. Everyone was invited. I recall Alyssa's friends from Law School joining us one year, another year where the table was set up in the car port outside, and another year where despite my living with G&G, Alyssa and I stayed at the motel where I worked. And the pies....mmmmm. [I get my overly ambitious pie making penchant from my grandma. I remember as a child longingly eyeing the shelves in the pantry filled with pie crusts that would soon be filled with various cream pies, pumpkin pie, apple pie and so much more . . . YUM!]

5. The great rubber band war. [1993, I think maybe 1994] Grandma E started it, and it made history. Luckily there was no living room furniture to break. I bet she still has good aim. [The story is this. One Thanksgiving at my parent's house we were sitting around in the at-the-time sparsely furnished living room enjoying the post-turkey laze when my grandma picked up a stray rubber band and flicked it at someone. The rubber band was shot around for a while until my dad brought a whole box of rubber bands out from his den and an all-out war erupted. Good times, good times.]

my brother added this one:

6. Red Hill Rescuse. [1988ish?] How could you forget Jason's harrowing rescue from the Red Hill? [my youngest brother was about 7] Personally a memobrable St. George Thanksgiving for me as I got sick the next day (Sunday) and missed two days of school. The next week, Mr. Chisolm resigned as my biology teacher ending any hope of racial diversity within the teaching ranks at Union Middle School. [To which my mom added:] I will never forget the terror of having him sitting on a cliff though and praying that he didn't try to get down on his own. [And my sister added:] I remember Uncle Garth [great uncle, mind you] watching Jason through the scope on his rifle. Proof that there is redneck blood running through our veins. To all my East coast homies, remember your roots. [I remember that part as well. And the part where the search and rescue team had to go up and save my brother. I guess there were some cons to us having free reign to roam the Red Hill without limitations]

I am also accepting her challenge and adding a few more of my own - which are more along the lines of "memorable" rather than "favorites":

7. Married Thanksgiving. 1995. Okay, this may surprise some of you but I do have some fond memories of that Thanksgiving - none of which are exactly about my ex-husband. As is my family's preference, we were dining in St. George. I was living about 45 minutes away in Cedar City in a small 1 bedroom apartment and volunteered to have my siblings stay with me, I had been married all of two months. They arrived late Wednesday night but the best part was the next morning when my youngest brother (age 14) decided he needed to go to the bathroom but rather than knocking on my bedroom door to gain access to the one bathroom, he just went outside to pee in the bushes or the parking lot or on the car or wherever it was . . . that still makes me laugh.

8. Canned Cranberries. For most of my life I did not think I liked cranberry sauce. I can trace this distaste to Thanksgivings with my paternal grandparents in Idaho. Thanksgivings there were a toned-down, mostly store-bought version of what we experienced with my mom's extended family. The pies were purchased from Marie Callendar's but I always got lemon meringue which I LOVED as a child so this was good. We usually had smoked turkey because all you have to do is re-heat it. This is actually quite good and my dad usually insists on having two turkeys so we can have a smoked turkey and a regular one. Plus, there was always that can of cranberry sauce sitting on a plate in the shape of the can with rings around the middle. This can shaped concoction was never on the table in St. George so it kind of grossed me out and I don't think I ever tried it. Also, anytime we were in Idaho for Thanksgiving (or any other time of year) my grandma would tell us to go play "at the track" when we got restless. The track was literally just that, a track up the street at the high school. Needless to say, this is not an enticing option with the bitter temperatures of Idaho in November. We would usually walk up there, kick the dirt a bit and wait until we couldn't feel our noses before we turned around and walked back more bored than when we left. Of course the exception was when my dad would go with us and throw a football around. We loved that.

9. Region Dance. I am pretty sure that one Thanksgiving Michele and I tried to go to a church dance. I don't know if it was actually Thanksgiving day or the Wednesday before or possibly it was Christmas but it was just the two of us driving around and arriving at an empty church parking lot. Apparently we were the only college age-ish kids looking to get away from our families. I'm quite certain that whenever it was we ultimately ended up eating somewhere to drown our disappointment. Seriously, Michele, do you remember this or am I making it up?

10. Boston. I believe it was 2002 when I decided to forego the trip home and opted instead to take the train to Boston to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle's family. My grandma was there too. I remember my grandma conspiring with me to add more than the measley tablespoon of butter and sprinkle of brown sugar to the yams my aunt suggested. I also remember nearly missing my train that morning and having to squeeze into the one open seat I managed to find after trudging through car after car. When I returned to NYC Friday night, I received a call from a friend who I thought was in DC but he surprised me with a knock on my door.

11. Oregon. 2003. When my brother was in law school in Eugene, Oregon, I flew to Portland Thursday morning and we drove down the coast and wandered into a fabulous buffet where we had our first Thanksgiving salmon experience. We had a great time - other than the fact that I may have been cold the entire time since he never turned his heat on and then burned my tongue on the hot chocolate he made. We also hit a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant in Portland, had some really, really bad Baskin Robbins ice cream and stayed at a strange motel where I think we felt obligated to insist we were not "together" but in fact siblings and I think despite the cheap price we had our own rooms in the suite.

12. Home Again. 2004. My sister and I were living together in Salt Lake in a roomy 3 bedroom duplex. My brother was home for the week and stayed in our spare room. My other newly wed brother and his wife lived in Provo but Wednesday night they came to stay at our place along with my cousin who lived in Ogden. It was a party. I made 9 or 10 pies and put everyone to work peeling and coring apples until they one by one dropped off and staggered off to the living room to watch who-knows-what because I was left alone in the kitchen. Except we did get my cousin addicted to The OC that weekend so maybe it was that. It was quite a balancing act driving to my parent's house 20 minutes away - everyone holding a pie or two on their lap.

And now I am extremely anxious for Wednesday to arrive so I don't have to put up this facade of feigning work . . . I don't think I will manage to accomplish anything other than cooking this week.


erin said...

I have to add to the "Married Thanksgiving" that the apartment was, in fact, a hotel and that was the Thanksgiving spent in the car port at Grandma's. Was that also when you and Mitch found and brought home the stinky dog who eventually ran away first chance she had?

Soul-Fusion said...

sorry erin, in only my second month of marriage we were already in our second apartment. The Village Inn was our first apartment and yes, it was actually a hotel. And yes, that is probably about the time I found Mika and dragged her home . . . I bet all the dogs I acquired during my short 10-month marriage have deep psychological meaning. And yes, Mika ran away the first time she saw the door. Sad. I was going to say Mika wasn't stinky but then I remembered. . . she was very gassy.

erin said...

The Village Inn. The name alone kind of defines and era, doesn't it?

michele said...

i remember the region dance thanksgiving, or christmas. it must have been christmas, or christmas eve since the dances were on weekends. we were hard core region dance attendees. no family holidays stopping us from meeting gross boys wearing velour or gloves!

alison said...

thank you for sharing your thoughts about thanksgiving. i too share many of the same sentiments as you do. i think thanksgiving is so great and simple. i always remember it fondly during the craziness of the christmas holidays.

autumn said...

Fun blog! Thanksgiving really is nice because of its simplicity.

Robert said...

the great rubber band war was one of the few times that you were all able to see Grandma Englund's playful side. She could be lots of fun when she would let go, which did not happen often, although the conspiracy to make actual candied yams is another good example. i just read that post to her and she laughed that Mary Anne does not like to use sugar (although her family sneak it every chance that they get).

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