Thanksgiving – A Time of Plenty

(Warning: Today I’m long-winded, combining several cooking and eating days)

Now is the season when we approach the winter holiday season and the winter solstice. Days are getting shorter. We’re immersed in darkness in the early morning and early evening. What better time for cooking and crafts. I’ll share the crafts I’ve been occupied with on another day.

This time of thanksgiving has been codified in the United States as the harvest festival called Thanksgiving. Rightly so, Native Americans are correcting the celebration’s story or myth, as it also marks the start of too many centuries of genocide.

Thankfulness – From time to time, I remember that I am grateful for so much. Our parents guided my two brothers and me on routes to our unique individuality. My husband (otherwise known as Constant Companion) has supported me through job changes, cancer treatment, and more craziness. Our daughter, now a young woman, continues to sit on my shoulder, in spirit, to frequently remind me to smile and to look at life positively. My wealth resides in the number of people whose paths I’ve crossed. I’ve learned from many of them. With some I’ve forged lifelong friendships – many over the expanse of miles and many, many cultural backgrounds.

Some of those long-time friends!

This year on Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for an immensely thoughtful neighbor . She is a giver who shares, always thinking of those who have less and may be in need.

For the past four or five years, she’s invited me on food adventures. An organization with which she’s been involved used to receive weekly donations of food, sometimes out-dated. I joined the harvesting often to help her distinguish what was good, what was not. Many times, I advised her in ways to cook some new and unusual ingredients. I also helped sort the treasures that she later shared with other fortunate recipients. Then, the deliveries stopped.

Recently she learned of another source and now brings home huge boxes filled with food surprises. Because her husband is not supportive of this weekly activity, I join her at the house to help sort through and divide the shares. And also participate in the bounty.

Usually, I cook our Thanksgiving meal. This year, however, friends whom I invited to join us (you cannot let people be alone for festive meals like this) turned the tables on us and we were invited to join them at a restaurant. We graciously accepted their generous invitation, and frankly, were looking forward more to the wonderful company than to restaurant food. I was thrilled that both were superb!

In the meantime, yesterday I cooked a holiday meal. It’s Thanksgiving, I had to! The house is just not the same unless it’s filled with amazing aromas. I worked with the latest batch of surplus food – huge white onions, beets, tomatoes, lemons, way too many cucumbers, and potatoes, pears, and apples from last week – both for our dinner and for the rest of the weekend.

Beets – what else can you cook but borsht, beet soup. I remember my best high school friend’s mother made tasty, hearty borsht overfilled with vegetables and beef reflective of her Polish, Cuban, Jewish heritage. A search through Jewish cookbooks and my Ottolenghi library in lieu of Google, revealed a recipe that included much of what I had on hand. The result is a very hearty soup made with onions, beets, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and parsnip instead of carrot. All were stewed together with a quart of water and some chopped stew beef. So good on a winter day, even in our climate.

Beets, cabbage, tomatoes in the pot to cook

Cucumbers – A goodly number of cucumbers were transformed into a tasty Asian style smashed cucumber salad. It’s an easy recipe for English cucumbers, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Don’t believe the recipe, it’s still good the next day.

Sliced, unsmashed, undressed cucumbers

Pears and Apples – The apples were cored, sliced, and put in a pan with just a little water to cook down like a compote. I added blackberries harvested from the freezer to the apples. Constant Companion enjoys this.

A recent on-line newsletter included a new recipe for poached pears. I had pears in need of transformation. Often I poach pears with red wine and rosemary – nice and herbacious. This recipe, from Epicurious, calls from a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, and 2 star anise added to a simple syrup (1 cup of sugar cooked down with 2 cups of water). Such a delightful and light finish to a heavy Thanksgiving dinner.

In poaching liquid
A selection of pears

All of this was done the day before our Thanksgiving meal. On the day after the holiday, I turned to the turkey. I bake it at 350 degrees F using the formula of 20 minutes per pound. Tip: Use a roasting pan with a rack. The juices drain away from the cooking bird and can be used for gravy, on the stuffing, and more.

In the oven

First, insert loads of sliced garlic into slits cut all around the bird. Next, squeeze generous amounts of lemon everywhere, throw the squeezed lemons into the cavity. Oregano, basel, and rosemary are crumbled after the lemon juice. My mom taught be to bake the turkey (any bird for that matter) with the breast down so all the juices work their way down for a moist bird. I don’t baste, I don’t tent (that steams your meat), I don’t do anything until about 15-30 minutes before the bird is done. Then. I carefully turn the bird over to ensure a wonderfully browned breast skin.

Ready to eat, not too brown

Stuffing, or is it dressing? This is one seasonal favorite that I do not care for and neither cook nor eat. But, as our daughter reminded us, this was the first time after ten years that she’s home for the holiday and she loves stuffing. Very finely chopped challah rolls I’d made a few weeks ago, and sautéed onion, celery, and sliced mushrooms were mixed with oil (limited dairy use in our home) and a good amount of broth and then baked. Cover with aluminum for 45 minutes (350 degrees). Then add some oil or drippings from the turkey and return to the oven uncovered for another 15-20 minutes.

Stuffing or dressing?

Cranberry sauce, a requisite and I forgot how to make it! This is a make-ahead dish, so I prepared it before going to the restaurant. I tasted their cranberry and surprise, surprise, I really liked it. It tasted just right. What had I done wrong?

My overused brain confused what I usually do with cranberries once a year – boil with grated orange and very little sugar – and instructions to make Passover haroset. I put the berries in the food processor, added a chopped orange, peel and all, and a cored apple. It tasted good. The next morning, I added some water and cooked for about fifteen minutes, enough time to scorch my pan! I had recently advised the same neighbor to clean one of her pans with baking soda and water. It did the trick on my damaged pan and saved it for another use. My cranberry sauce was Thanksgiving haroset. I still can’t stop laughing at my dead brain. It’s really good, too!

A nice plate of Thanksgiving dinner

Am I thankful that Thanksgiving is over? Never. I enjoy the feel in the house after all the cooking and the satisfaction of a satiated family. And … tonight we’ll have a nice leftover turkey hash (improvised recipe). The carcass is in the freezer to be transformed into some variety of soup on another day. And we still have borsht when we’re tired of turkey.

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