Thursday, November 17, 2016

Serve With Joy

In five days, almost the entire extended family will gather chez moi for Thanksgiving!

Naturally, I thought I was in charge--until daughter number four called and told me with authority, "You're in charge of making two cottage cheese pies."

I gulped, felt a little stunned, like I'd been relegated to the cheap seats in the auditorium, but pleased that I'd raised strong women who could handle Thanksgiving dinner just fine without their mother's input. Thank you very much.

Bartering over who would make the turkey took place at the beginning of the week. I imagine heavy negotiations behind my back that may have spurred my relegation to only making two simple pies. As a vegetarian, I'd threatened to make a cauliflower turkey. They justly feared I wouldn't care if it was dry...or perhaps they remember the stuffing I made three years ago that was absolutely delicious, but wasn't traditional. I'd made a gourmet wild rice, water chestnut, pecan dressing and even laced it with sausage. It didn't even need the turkey. The truth that marched forward is that my daughters love tradition, and I love spirited, new, adventures---even in the Thanksgiving meal. It was a major faux pas for which I haven't been forgiven and for which I have been banned from making stuffing--forever!

The NYTimes has a beautiful collection of 15 Thanksgiving stories.** Each story focuses on the family eating traditions in a one minute video, followed by a write-up, photographs, and the recipe for the featured dish. A Vietnamese family stuffs their turkey with egg roll filling; an Italian family splits the turkey and uses a traditional stuffing and a mushroom-spinach version. The family of Irish ancestry makes Sweeney potatoes instead of mashed; the woman with ancestors from Jamaica, makes a jerk-spiced turkey.

It's a lovely reminder of the things we gather and bring to the table from the four corners of the earth.

Our meal will include:

A turkey. But not just any turkey. My Swiss grandmother made a thick paste of butter and flour which she coated the turkey (its entire body) and basted it throughout its time in the oven. I see my mother rising early, packing on the mixture and covering it with a tent of foil. By the time I arose, the house was filled with buttery smells of turkey. I see my father standing at the kitchen counter slicing that turkey. Mom scraped away the paste and mixed it into a rich gravy with mushrooms.

The pomegranate salad. Rich red tendrils mixed with apples, pecans, sour cream and marshmallows that dissolve during the night.

Mashed potatoes with a decadent amount of cream cheese and butter. Two bars each, dumped into the middle of the well, beat until creamy, then sprinkled with nutmeg. Tony prefers to make a lighter, less fat-laden version--for this he too has been banned from making the mashed potatoes.

Cottage cheese pies. If one hasn't been raised on these pies, one cannot appreciate the value. After raving for years, I saved a piece for my sister-in-law, who wasn't impressed. These pies are part of my grandmother's legacy. They are Swiss, or her Americanized version from her youth in the motherland. They too have generous amounts of butter and cream, in addition to the staple cottage cheese and beaten egg whites. I become a child when I think of these pies and honestly coud eat a whole one myself.

Rolls. Doesn't matter who makes them as long as they are fluffy, fresh, and smothered in homemade strawberry jam.

The sweet potato/yam souffle. Easily my favorite go-to for seconds; it takes the place of pie, as it is so sweet, so velvety and crunchy at the same time. However, somehow, the recipe has been misplaced and the family is in a panic!

Something green, always, at the table. I may inherit this at the last minute too.

And....we've never had a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.

Ahhh...the children may adhere strictly to the traditions, but I do give them credit for allowing an outside dish to invade the table once in a while--the two years ago invasion came with the company of a future husband. The man came from the south, and his future wife, my daughter, wanted to honor one of his traditions. Macaroni and cheese was allowed and ended up as the honored guest. Like the new husband, the dish will always be a part of our family.

Oh! I will also be in charge of setting the table...and it will be grand! I even ordered four new chairs.

As the flurry begins, I find myself longing for last year's Thanksgiving. The weather and water temperature was mid 80s. A white sand beach lay before us, and all our meals were prepared by a lovely staff of women who could cook like nobody else. I remember my delight when the main meal for Thanksgiving was fresh seafood.

In truth, my duties as the host, as the goddess of the harvest, may have been eliminated because my children sense the real problem: my angst at the crowd, the food preparation, the overwhelming responsibility of preparing not only a perfect, traditional meal, but creating a lovely, loving, non begrudging atmosphere.

Fortunately, I was saved from slumping into pre-Thanksgiving worry and hassle, through the words and wisdom of the yoga teacher, Lisa. "If your service isn't given with joy, then you might as well serve poison." My Thanksgiving mini-dread made an immediate U-turn. I now look towards the joy of the gathering and the preparation, the joy in sharing a traditional day with loved ones, and the opportunity to consciously give thanks in an abundant world.

**NYTimes article: