Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Giving grace

Three figures on the beach

I spent the weekend mostly not looking at Facebook.

I spent the weekend a stone’s throw from the Atlantic.

I spent the weekend reading a book and going to bed early and listening to the ocean waves crash and recede.

I spent the weekend being thankful for American restaurants that cater to children who don’t eat anything but french fries with no seasoning on them, that provide word searches and mad libs and paper for games of x’s and o’s, and chocolate milk and lemonade and apple juice. And beer.

I spent the weekend adjudicating rows and acceding to demands and telling short people to stop kicking each other, because some things never change.

I spent the weekend sharing a queen-sized bed with an eight-year old.

I spent the weekend buying buckets and spades and ice-cream cones at the end of November.

I spent the weekend with my people, by the sea, and it was good.


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Thanksgiving grinch

There’s one particular Facebook friend I have who I’m always offending. She’s in Ireland, and whenever I say something self-deprecating about the Irish or the country, to endear myself to the Americans, or ingratiate myself, or whatever, she takes it to heart. I suppose I’m gone long enough now that I’m not allowed do that any more. But I can’t criticise America either, because that’s just rude (and it has enough problems right now), which leaves me in a tricky no-woman’s-land of having to be polite about everywhere, and there’s no humour in that.

Anyway, right now is when I humourlessly criticise America and sound like a foreigner, because it’s the night before Thankgsiving and I never feel less American than on Thanksgiving. It just doesn’t have any meaning for me. It feels like fake Christmas. I don’t want turkey, but I certainly don’t want turkey and cranberry sauce and all the trimmings (the wrong trimmings, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and green beans instead of roast potatoes and sage and onion stuffing and plum pudding and brandy butter) at the end of November. All week I’ve been forgetting to wish people a happy thanksgiving or to enquire politely about their travel/hosting plans or to even register that it’s not going to be a regular Thursday. I don’t have a late November holiday spirit. I have no interest in acquiring one. I am a Thanksgiving Grinch.

Which is why this year we’re avoiding the issue entirely and running away. Rather than have a perfectly nice dinner with perfectly nice friends tomorrow, we are driving to the beach and staying in a hotel until it’s all gone away. I suppose we’ll have to eat dinner of some sort tomorrow, and I suppose it’ll be in a fairly traditional establishment so that my kids can eat pizza and/or french fries, since that’s all they eat in restaurants, so I can’t pander to my utmost desires and eat something totally nontrad like Indian or Thai, but it won’t be turkey, and I really hope nobody will even apologise for the fact that it’s not.

In other, more positive news, we have all had flu shots now, which is my major achievement for this winter and puts me well up on last winter. Checkups and dentist visits are scheduled, I have bought Christmas cards, and I’m getting on quite well with the second draft of the second book, thank you very much. Though I don’t think that’ll be out before Christmas. Not this Christmas, at least.

 

Turkey fatigue

Remind me not to cook a turkey next year. Or ever again unless we have fifteen people for dinner. So much leftover turkey. So unattractive to me.

I tried, I really did. The first night I turned the leftover roast potatoes into hash browns and reheated some turkey in the gravy. (The gravy was delicious. I made Nigella’s allspice gravy from Feast and it was really good and very little extra work. And I say that as an affirmed gravy-non-maker.) The second night, I made a curry with coconut milk and lemongrass and ginger and the turkey and some snow peas and rice, and it was okay too.

The third night I rebelled and made sausage and tomato risotto, but I diligently had a turkey sandwich for lunch, and another today. I had an idea about turkey tacos, but I couldn’t find queso fresco, and obviously if you’re putting cooked turkey into a taco the rest of it has to be unimpeachably legit, so I can’t make those right now.

But I fear the end of the turkey-eating is approaching, and it is not contemporaneous with the end of the turkey. I know there are other good things I could do with the turkey, and I know I could freeze some, but the chances of ever using what I freeze are slim; it’s just putting off the inevitable. I should make the stock and be done with it. If it’s not too late already to do that.

In other news, it turns out Mabel needs two fillings, and I’m feeling bad about that lollipop I bought her yesterday. B ran his twentieth marathon on Saturday and we’re all so used to that sort of thing that we basically ignored it. (Sorry. Huge achievement, did I mention? Yay, you, honey!)  And tomorrow is December, so I really can’t avoid Christmas any longer.

No turkey, though. I promise.

Turkey, cooked, carved

How to host Thanksgiving dinner

Take turkey out of fridge. Watch children grimace at dead turkey, accuse you of heartlessness, run away.

Note that Child Two seems to be particularly volatile today. Oh good, think to self. Just what we needed.

Find Child Two screaming over some purported unfairness. Save day with craft project for her: making nameplates for the table.

Congratulate self on excellent parenting as Child Two settles down happily with paper and markers and scissors and a list of names of those attending.

Set table. Child Two throws wobbler over seating arrangement, demands to seat people where she wants, against all sensible logic.

Child One arrives, puts in oar, demands further different seating arrangement. Says he won’t sit at table where dead turkey is present anyway.

Threaten to cancel dinner altogether. Children rejoice. Take it back. Children unite in discord but are still fighting. Go and say mean things about them on Twitter.

Ignore screams, consider vegetables. Swear you’ll never cook a turkey again. Contemplate running away and joining the circus before next November.

Cover turkey in bacon. Put turkey in oven. Be pretty confident that this is a good move.

Ask Child One if he’d like to help you peel vegetables. To your surprise, he says yes. Congratulate self on excellent parenting as child one helps you peel potatoes. Child two has decided that a session of Minecraft will resolve all seating-plan problems.

Convince Child Two to help you peel carrots and top and tail green beans. Experience smushy glowy feeling of nostalgia.

Make stuffing. Discover at point of no return that these are the wrong sort of breadcrumbs. Stuffing is ruined. Abandon stuffing. Go put on some dangly earrings.

Put clean towel in downstairs bathroom.

Salvage stuffing with different recipe. Congratulate self on superior culinary skills.

Take turkey out of oven, done an hour ahead of schedule. Cover with foil. Make gravy, roast potatoes, cook vegetables, welcome guests. Open wine. Ignore children.

Give thanks. Look into Thanksgiving weekend breaks for next year.

Mabel at the table

Mabel performs a final check on the seating plan

 

 

Notes on Thanksgiving

That is, notes about Thanksgiving that I wrote on the day of Thanksgiving.

The point of Thanksgiving, I’ve decided, is that it’s one holiday the whole country can get behind.(Except the Native Americans, maybe. I’m not sure how they feel about it.) Instead of trying to smush a bunch of different religious celebrations into one time of year, everyone can just eat turkey and be thankful and watch the Macy’s parade on TV and lapse into a tryptophan coma at the same time. It’s pretty much like SuperBowl Sunday except you don’t have to watch the game. And less finger food; you’ll probably need to use a fork, at least to eat your mashed potatoes.

The other point is to provide a second holiday in the winter season, so that you can spend one with your own family and one with your in-laws. In a country this big, where people often end up far from where their families live, this is a very important consideration. You can’t just do Christmas Day at your house and Stephen’s Day (that’s the day after) at his folks’, and vice versa next year, the way we do in Ireland.

Further, another point of the whole thing is so that everyone can bond on Twitter and Facebook about how much they’re panicking about it, how fabulous they menu they’ve planned is, how they’re simplifying their lives and ordering out this year, how gross Martha Stewart’s Twitter photos of food are, and how they’ve now eaten way too much and cannot possibly move off the sofa for another week.

And don’t forget the way it provides a handy entrance point to Christmas. You can complain about Christmas creep all you like before Thanksgiving, but once that’s done it’s jingle all the way, baby, and no two ways about it. Many people put up their Christmas decorations as part of their Thanksgiving ritual, just to hammer this fact home.

Mostly, the point of Thanksgiving is to give the poor overworked American populace a chance to take a day off, or even three, without depleting their teeny tiny vacation allowance. They will probably spend most of this time stuck in traffic, but dammit, they will have their turkey.

And pie. Pie is very important at Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading, wherever you are.

Feast report

Today we went to the zoo. Surprisingly, quite a lot of people seemed to think Black Friday would be a good zoo day, but the weather was perfect as it so rarely is for the zoo, and we did well. We saw a cheetah and the lions, some distant gorillas and a sad orang-utan (do they ever look otherwise), the reptiles and some indolent sea lions. The absolute highlight, however, was the naked mole rats.

Thanks to this book, which we have from the library, the children had heard of naked mole rats. But when I told Dash we could see them at the zoo, he reacted as if I’d just told him the unicorns would be coming up on the left.

“Ha ha.”
“No, really. They’re in the small mammal house.”
“You’re just being silly.”
“I promise. They exist.”
“Really?”
etc.

When we finally got to the small mammals we had to charge past all the (many and various) tamarins, pausing briefly at the two-toed sloth (who looked like nothing so much as a black labrador poking his nose out from under a comatose afghan hound), to get to the perspex tubes (to simulate tunnels) of naked mole rats. They weren’t all that exciting in person, but the children were thrilled by their mere existence.

That’s a lion in the distance. Left of the tree. See?
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But that’s not why I’m here, and that’s not why you’re here either. You came for the food, didn’t you? Well, the food is what you’re getting. A report on yesterday, that is.

As we had no company for Thanksgiving, and we don’t particularly like turkey, and we don’t feel any weight of tradition on this culturally-not-ours day, I usually try to do something different. This year I saw a recipe for ribs, and the photo was so enticing that I decided to pull the slow-cooker out of the enforced retirement it’s been in since its disastrous maiden voyage in 2004.

I’m here to tell you that it was a roaring success, and I might have to use the crockpot more often than once every eight years now that I’ve discovered this.

To accompany, we had baked potatoes and lemony green beans, and a nice shiraz which is probably the wrong thing to go with ribs, but we’re not fussy.

Of course, I had to make a pie, even if I am anti-tradition. Apple, if you please. It was delish.

Pastry hearts. Because hearts symbolise Thanksgiving, right?

Then I was left with half an hour to spare and some extra pastry, so I took the half-can of pumpkin that was sitting in the fridge, looked up some recipes, and made mini pumpkin pies too. Mostly because Mabel had announced at her school feast on Tuesday that she loved pumpkin pie. She didn’t like mine, of course.

Splats of pumpkin
The jury’s still out on these, I admit.

The little things

My aim, as I sit here on Thanksgiving afternoon, is to get the children out of the house with their father so that I can read a book, or write something, or just veg out, under the guise of doing Very Important Cooking That Will Affect Their Dinner. Since it’s 2.20pm and Dash is only now, finally getting dressed – at least, I think that’s what he’s doing upstairs, and the Superman and Spider-Man costumes he was sporting before don’t count – it’s taken a while to get to this point. But I’m still aiming for it, and at least B is outside supervising Mabel now, as she climbs trees barefoot in a tutu.

The tutu, if I may digress, has become ubiquitous lately. She has one that’s almost legitimately skirt-like, and two that came from parties and are really just a lot of tulle on an elastic waistband. I don’t really care so long as she has underpants on. She wears different tops and tights or leggings underneath every day, and she will countenance a dress in between times; but no trousers have been worn for months, and jeans are totally verboten.

Personally, I can’t imagine life without my jeans. Pry them from my cold dead hands (legs) if you can, but until then I’ll be happily denim-clad. Despite all my overthinking, and all the plans I may have for honing the perfect capsule wardrobe for our three weeks of festivities in Dublin, and whatever I end up buying – or planning to buy, or thinking maybe I can buy when we get there – I know that I’ll end up packing a selection of jeans (bootleg, flare, skinny), a bunch of tops that all more or less go with the bottoms, a few cosy cardigans, and a dress or two just in case I get the opportunity to wear them. And then I’ll end up in the same old jeans and the same comfy shoes 90% of the time anyway, and nobody will notice.

Speaking of which. I was inordinately pleased with myself the other day simply because I employed some shoe polish for its intended purpose and it did what it says on the tin. (Maybe I need to get out more.) But shoe polish is the sort of thing I tend to feel is only necessary for men of a certain age, or people who are a little too fussy. Tim Gunn, for instance, or my father, who has shined his shoes weekly – or perhaps morningly – for his entire life. At home we had a little basket containing polish (black and brown), brushes (one hard and one soft for each colour) and a cloth for final buffing. My dad showed me how to use them many moons ago, and every now and then I’d give my black-or-brown lace-up school shoes or mary-janes with brass buckles a bit of a swipe.

So last Spring I got a pair of blue mary-jane flats that were obscenely comfortable. As soon as sandal weather was over, in about October, I re-embraced them – but was sad to see that all the blue had been scuffed off the tips of the toes. They looked pretty shabby, and I feared that I’d have to abandon them. I wore them anyway, but felt less than – aha! – polished. What to do, I wondered. Was this the untimely end of obscene pedal comfort? And then inspiration struck – polish! I needed shoe polish!

A mere three weeks later, I finally remembered to look for navy shoe polish when we were somewhere that might sell it. And lo, I bought it and used it (because luckily my husband also owns some little shoe brushes and a rag for buffing), and my shoes are like new again. Hooray!

It really is the little things that can make you happy, if you’ll let them. So today I’m thankful for shoe polish.

I’m also thankful for my beautiful crazy family, and all the luckiness I have in my life. And the Internet, which has made things much better in many ways than they would otherwise be.

And now Dash is dressed, Mabel is probably ready to come in again, and I have to legitimately busy myself with something to do with pie.

Happy thanksgiving, everyone, whether you celebrate it or not. Thanks for being here.

I don’t think we’re having a turkey on Thursday

I spend a few days thinking about jeans and shoes and suddenly it’s Thanksgiving week and there’s no food in the house.

Ah well. Food comes and goes, you know, but boots are good for at least two years, I’d say. I have a pair of boots upstairs that I bought in 1999, actually. I wore them at least once last year. (I’d wear them more often if I had any call for 2.5-inch heels on a regular basis. But somehow I never feel that first-grade pickup is the right time. Or daylight, for that matter.)

The reason I’m suddenly getting all twitchy about how untrendy I am is, of course, that we’ll be going home to Dublin for three weeks at Christmas, and while not exactly the fashion capital of the western world, the stakes are a tiny bit higher than they are here. The season that’s in it gives rise to opportunities to dress up, for one thing, and people there do tend to dress up a bit more. I just want to look like I’m not totally submersed by my soccermom lifestyle, that’s all.

[And then I thought: submersed isn’t a word, you idiot. It’s submerged, or immersed. But I looked it up and it is a word and it means just what I meant it to, so that’s nice.]

And when you only see people once a year, or there’s the chance you’ll be meeting up with people you haven’t seen for ten years, or meeting people you’ve only interacted with on the Internet, not to mention the fact that the tiny statistical probability of bumping into an ex-boyfriend is raised by at least 75% if I’m walking down Grafton Street rather than to first-grade pickup, you want to look at least reasonably not awful.

[Yes, I know I just changed from second person to first and back again in the same paragraph-long sentence. I did it on purpose. So I did.]

Anyway. Back to food. It is slowly dawning on me – these things take time to percolate through, as my friend Thrift Store Mama was just talking about today – that my fruit and vegetable intake is not really up to recommended standards. I always thought, if I thought anything about it, that I wasn’t great on fruits but my vegetables made up for it. It’s true that I do like vegetables, but it’s also true that breakfast and lunch are often quite vegetable-free meals for me. Breakfast is basically a free pass: I see it as an opportunity for guilt-free carbing. Lunch would have a vegetable if a vegetable happened along, but all too often it’s some riff on a ham and cheese sandwich, with maybe a crescent or two of apple that Mabel didn’t eat. So that leaves dinner, when I probably get in two servings of vegetables easily enough, but that’s still three away from even the most basic daily requirement.

This train of thought began when I read Jamie at Light and Momentary mention that she was aiming for nine servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Nine? How could anyone eat that much food, I wondered. Well, hey, apparently that’s my recommended daily intake. And here I was thinking I was failing at just five, when in fact I’m failing miserably at nine instead.

Oh well, I thought, I’ll just eat nine servings a day and I’ll be slender and full of energy in no time. And yet, thinking did not make it so. I think I had one and a half extra servings yesterday, and one today, and they all involved baby carrots and hummus, which are quite nice but not nine servings nice. (Also, I don’t think I’m meant to eat eight servings of carrots every day. I’d turn orange.)

The difficulty is that vegetables, and fruit for that matter, just don’t have that fluffy or crunchy or dough-like baked consistency that goes as well with a nice cup of tea as, say, muffins do. Or cookies. Or a piece of cake or a scone or a brownie. Nobody sits down for a cuppa and some broccoli florets. Or coffee and a carrot. (Stick of celery? Brr.) Even a quarter cup of raisins just don’t cut it with a hot beverage, unless they’re liberally surrounded by oatmeal and sugar and baked into some sort of, let’s say, cookie-type vehicle.

So far I’m batting about 50/50 on whether I think “Now I’ll have a cup of tea and something chocolate” or “Now I’ll eat a healthy snack,” but even if I add one serving a day for this week, it’s a start.

I think this is one for the “Best intentions” tag, don’t you? I probably need to start a “Went awry” tag too.

Placemats

This morning I went into Dash’s first-grade classroom to help them weave placemats.

I wasn’t really sure what weaving placemats was going to entail, but the teacher had asked and I had agreed; and when I got there, I was already mentioned in their morning message: the whiteboard said “Dash’s mom is going to help us.” Immortalized in dry-erase marker.

The first-graders are just as sweet as the kindergarteners were last year, and almost equally bad at following direction and good at asking repeatedly for help. The girls still open procedings by telling me they like my hair, which I think is something we could all learn from.

The placemats were made from strips of coloured paper woven through the “bars” of another piece of paper. (I found an instruction here which shows more or less exactly what we did, if you’re interested.) Some of the kids got the idea straight away, while others struggled with the notion that if you go over and then under with the first strip, you go under and then over with the next, or with the physical execution of same.

Some of them had done it before so they had a better idea of what was going on, and Dash had learned to “weave” with yarn on cardboard at a craft thing, so I was gratified that his went along pretty well. The teacher pointed out (to me, not to the whole class or anything) that a lot of the boys did very well at it, because it’s a mechanical, spacial-relation-y thing. It’s nice to see that boys are better at some things, since they’re often still lagging behind developmentally when it comes to fine-motor skills and communication.

(Then again, do boys ever catch up with communication? Oops, sorry. My fingers slipped and fell on the snark key for a minute there.)

It was also nice just to get a feel for the class and meet a few more of them. There are four first-grade classes at his school and the kids were randomly reassigned after kindergarten, so I only knew a few of them from last year. Dash hasn’t really bonded with anyone in this class yet and still meets up with his friends from last year at recess; but he’s a pretty cheerful kid who’s happy to try to be friends with everyone, so I’m not worried. You don’t find a bestie in every class.

*********

Meanwhile, Mabel and a marauding horde of four-year-olds (and some adults, I’m sure) were ransacking the neighbourhood supermarket for Thanksgiving feast ingredients. I sort of wish I’d seen it, but I’m mostly glad I wasn’t helping at nursery school today. Her friends never say they like my hair.

Tofurkey or not tofurkey

I love the days when I have a legitimate reason to make B take the kids out for a couple of hours, turn on some music, and potter happily around the kitchen all afternoon. Even though I always say that Thanksgiving isn’t our holiday, and so we feel no compulsion to celebrate with anything special, the general widespread culinary busy-ness always infects me and it turns into one of those days after all.

A few weeks ago, as I may have mentioned, I saw a recipe for carnitas on Smitten Kitchen, and decided that maybe we should have traditional Thansksgiving tacos, just as the pilgrims did.

On Tuesday I garnered the ingredients I needed, except for the meat, which I couldn’t find in Safeway. Never mind, I thought. Fate will provide. Indeed, in spite of a day sandwiched by a dental appointment for one child in the morning and a doctor’s appointment for the other in the afternoon, fate, in the shape of the local co-op supermarket did provide: there was a large pre-packaged piece of pork shoulder in the meat fridge, and when I asked at the counter they said that the butcher would happily let me have just the three pounds of it I needed, and even cube it for me as per the recipe.

Then there was the question of dessert. Dash has been pestering me lately to make caramel, ever since he tasted some caramel dip for apple slices at a halloween party. He didn’t eat any of the apple, but he very much enjoyed licking off the caramel. I keep telling him that I’ve never made caramel, and it’s very tricky, and I don’t have any cream so I just can’t; but evidently the notion took root because as I wandered around the co-op waiting for the butcher to do his thing, I vaguely remembered that there was a recipe somewhere for caramel apple cheesecake. That sounded nice, and I had ricotta in the fridge to use up. So I bought some apples.

When I got home I found the recipe, in Nigella’s Feast, but it turned out to need apple schnapps and no actual apples at all. As well as cream and other things I still didn’t have. So that idea was shelved. This morning I made chocolate ricotta muffins with the ricotta, which was only about a cupful and not nearly enough for cheesecake anyway. But I still had all those apples.

This afternoon I looked at the clock, asked B when he wanted to eat dinner, and then informed him that they’d better scarper quickish so I could put the meat on right now – carnitas take almost as long as a small turkey after all. Once the meat was aromatically braising in its margarita bath (as Deb calls it), I thought some more about dessert and vaguely searched the Smitten Kitchen website for “apples”. Bingo. A last-minute tarte tatin.

I’ve never made tarte tatin before, and didn’t realise that the apples were actually cooked in caramel before being pastried, but once that became apparent, it was the obvious solution. I ended up using the pastry from the first recipe I found and the apple/caramel method from the second, because Deb said it was more foolproof. And I used my stainless steel pan with a plastic handle for the caramel part, transferring to a glass pie dish for the baking. As the arrangement of my apples was more rustic, shall we say, than artistically exact, it didn’t destroy anything. And the whole thing turned out most satisfactorily in the end.

The carnitas worked miraculously – one moment I was looking at all the brining liquid still in the pan and wondering whether I should cheat and take a scoopful out to help it reduce; then I did a spot of washing up to clear the decks and when I looked again, there was only a tiny puddle left in the bottom and the chunks of meat were starting to brown up amazingly and fall apart just as predicted. (So much so that I took a photo, even though Deb’s is much more appetizing, just to show you that even mere mortals can achieve this.)

We* had our carnitas on warmed corn tortillas, with jicama slaw (about two-thirds of a jicama and one carrot, grated, with three finely sliced spring onions and this dressing), queso fresco, avocado, and fresh limes for squeezing. It was just like being back in southmost Texas in the hallowed booths of Mister Taco. (And believe me, for all I malign Texas, that’s one of the things we miss.)

And now I’m just waiting, with an extra glass of wine, for B to put Dash to bed before we break out the vanilla icecream and dig in to the tarte. With great forethought, I didn’t try too hard to give Mabel a nap this afternoon, so it’s 7.15 and she’s fast asleep. For now, at least.

*The children, lest I need to comment, did not have any. Dash has had his usual peanut butter sandwiches today, and Mabel, despite being presented with various other foodstuffs, has eaten half an apple for breakfast, three cheesesticks for lunch, and no dinner all all. Oh, and two chocolate ricotta muffins for snacks. Maybe that was an error.

** Mmmm. I have a mouthful of chewy sugary appley goodness as I type. I am a total tarte-tatin convert. A tart for tarte, if you like.  I don’t think I’ll ever make a plain old apple pie again.