Today is the first Friday of Lent. Catholics and other religions mark the 40 days before Easter (actually 46, but Sundays aren’t included) with various forms of atonement and self-denial. The rules have relaxed considerably with time. When my parents were children the devout were still into some serious fasting, whereas during my childhood, things centered mostly on not eating meat on Fridays. Thankfully, children are no longer terrified that they’ll spend eternity in hell for a beef jerky.
I was raised Catholic, but I no longer practice. Some things, however, have remained etched in my psyche. If I were to pop into a Catholic mass, muscle memory would take over and I could recite my lines perfectly. And, to this day, I feel guilty if I eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Continue reading →
I have some very caring and kind reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You can read about them here. Now on to the reason we can all agree upon: A holiday that’s all about eating and not buying gifts? Yes, please!
I have memories of being awoken before dawn by the smell of onions being sautéed in butter coming from the kitchen. That meant that Mom was starting the stuffing that would fill the bird. Once the turkey was stuffed and in the oven, she’d go back to bed until breakfast time. The aromas would continue throughout the morning as she prepared the rest of the meal.
I never realized what a good cook my Mom was until I ate at other people’s houses. She was a master at roasting and our turkeys were always so juicy with the skin brown and crackly. She’d pull out her electric knife and carve it in the kitchen rather than at the dining room table. We couldn’t wait and would steal bits of meat while she threatened to amputate a finger or two.
It might just be me, but I swear that an electric knife’s motor actually has a faint, distinctive smell. Ok. I might be a weirdo – but that smell, coupled with the sound makes my mouth water. Kind of like the smell of our old plastic Christmas tree is more nostalgic for me than the smell of pine. Yes, I’m warped. It must be a result of being raised in the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s.
Anyway, back to the food! The turkey was just the beginning. A few of Mom’s side dishes will be forever be my favorites. Her stuffing was very simple and she didn’t use a recipe: day-old bread, cubed and tossed with egg, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and those sautéed onions and melted butter. No celery, no chestnuts, no oysters. She’d take her wedding ring off and place it by the sink and smoosh it all together with her hands. It was so basic, but so flavorful. It was so good that my sister and I would fight over it – especially the leftovers which we loved to eat cold. I’ve come close to recreating it a few times, but it’s never quite the same.
A am not a fan of sweet potatoes or yams, but I would eat the ones my mother made. I know most of America goes with marshmallows on top, but not us. Mom went with canned yams but then added pats of butter and huge scoops of brown sugar on top. They’d cook in the oven until the sugar and butter formed a gooey, caramelized mush that was absolutely divine. I’d mostly just put a spoonful of goo on my plate, but occasionally I’d end up eating part of an actual yam.
And last but not least, desert. I’ve never been much of a sweet eater, so the pecan or pumpkin pie didn’t interest me. No holiday meal would be complete at our house without Mom’s wine jello. The ingredients included these huge, juicy black cherries – canned, I think, and Mogen David wine. When she died last year, I took a box of her cookbooks and recipes. I need to find the recipe for this stuff.
Along with all of these goodies we’d have rolls, a relish tray of olives, pickles, and carrot sticks, cranberry sauce – both canned and “real,” and some vegetables. I actually remember the first time she tried out a new recipe for something called green bean casserole. It quickly became a fixture as it did in millions of other households, eventually referred to as simply “GBC” at our house.
My Mom was a great cook, but she liked to work alone. We were usually shooed out of the kitchen so we rarely saw the magic happen. We were only called upon when it was time to help plate things and put them on the table. And do the dishes of course.
Dinner would be at 1 or 2:00. We’d come out of our food comas at about 6 or 7:00 just long enough for cold turkey and Miracle Whip sandwiches on white bread for supper – with a lump of cold stuffing on the side. The best!
In the years before she died, my Mom developed dementia. Making some of those dishes was a muscle memory for her. We’d all pitch in to get them cooked and on the table. , it was still very much her meal.
Last year, less than a month before she died, my sister, brother, and I, along with our spouses, had dinner with my Mom and our Aunt Ruth at the assisted living center where they lived. This year, we’ll do the same thing again with our aunt. We’ll reminisce about our childhood holidays. There will even be a new traditions – Aunt Ruth will no doubt complain, as she and Mom did last year, that at least one dish isn’t cooked “right.”
It won’t be the same as the Thanksgivings of our childhoods, but we’ll be together. My sister and I will be sure to argue about leftover stuffing – and that’s something to be thankful for.
The song says “Over the river and though the woods – to grandmother’s house we go!” but when I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday where we stayed put. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we spent the holiday at anyone else’s table. Occasionally Grandma and Grandpa would be in town, or an aunt and uncle would join us, but sometimes it was just the five of us. It didn’t matter to us, as long as Mom was cooking.
My birthday is on Halloween Eve, so I always loved that holiday for purely selfish reasons. Aside from that, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Here are a three reasons why:
While the idea of gratitude is often tied to a person’s spirituality, it is not pigeonholed by any single belief. It doesn’t matter if you are devoutly religious or just go through the motions at church a few times a year. You can be of the “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual” ilk, or agnostic, or an atheist. At Thanksgiving it doesn’t matter. No one is left out. All you have to be is grateful – and no matter what your circumstances, you can always find something to be grateful for. It’s one of the few times a year that is only about being together with family and friends. Well, and turkey. But that’s another post.
And in case you weren’t aware it’s not strictly American either. Several other countries celebrate some sort of day of thanks and gratitude.
As I reached adulthood, I became really thankful that this holiday did not include shopping for a billion people, wrapping gifts, and loading up my car with those gifts. I was allowed to show up (maybe with a food item, maybe without), enjoy time with my family, eat way too much delicious food, and leave – with leftover delicious food!
The non-commercialism of the holiday is one of its greatest advantages. It’s only in recent years that people have ramped up the decorations with giant inflatable turkeys and pilgrims on their lawns, but for the most part it remains low key.
Black Friday shopping is another story. I do not partake in those shenanigans! The idea that some stores are open on Thanksgiving itself really bothers me. The workers should be home with their families.
Carrying on Traditions
On TV and in movies, Thanksgiving almost always includes the entire turkey being brought in on a platter and carved at the table, and an impossibly adorable football game on the front lawn. Does anybody really do this?! My family never did. Traditions are what make our family units what they are. Whether they involve Aunt Edna’s awful creamed corn recipe, or Uncle Roger’s belching the alphabet after dinner, it’s all good! The funny thing about some of these traditions is that they’re rarely appreciated until they begin to fade away. It’s why my sister and I still fight over which one of us will get to eat the cold, leftover stuffing, even if there is none. It’s a ritual that brings back cherished memories.
I am lucky to come from a drama-free family, so my memories are good. Since my Mom and Dad both passed away last year, they’re bittersweet. But I know the holidays can bring up not-so-cherished memories for some. There are a lot of dysfunctional families out there with angst and discord aplenty. The good news is that you can always create new traditions. Friendsgiving dinners are becoming popular. Do what makes you happy – but whatever you do, don’t forget to be thankful.
A black cat crossing your path is supposed to be bad luck. You shouldn’t walk under a ladder. Breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck. These and other superstitions are well known in American culture. With Halloween just around the corner, those that predict a frightening fate are on our minds.
But not all of them forecast gloom and doom. Four leaf clovers and rabbits’ feet are supposed to bring good luck. I find it really interesting how this type of folklore is passed down from generation to generation. Continue reading →