Friday, November 25, 2005
A Day of Thanksgiving
This year we were blessed with a full house of family and friends at Thanksgiving. Several weeks ago we invited our friends Edie, Jeff and their son Ko as well as Judy, Charlie and their daughter Lindsay. Plans soon changed for Edie, who after "taking a year off" was suddenly faced with a pile of relatives from another side of her family. Meanwhile, Judy's other daughter, son-in-law and grandson had returned to Africa so they were feeling a bit lonely in their house (see JUDY'S HOUSE entry to this blog in May 2005). I also invited Margaret, a retired English librarian friend of a deceased writer friend of mine, with whom I became reacquainted in the All Saints' Church knitting group. (Margaret used to be the librarian in Jaffrey and my mother bought my first piano from her years ago--a lovely Art Deco style black Steinway.)
As luck would have it, Edie called the night before Thanksgiving and asked if they could all come after all--including her parents. We were delighted! [One good thing about inclement weather at the holidays is that invited guests who have to drive often decide to 'stay put' as was the case with Edie's relatives this year--a "good thing" for us!] As Temple and I had just set the table we were reluctant to take it apart and add another leaf, so we decided to have a second table in the kitchen where the children could sit with Aunt Cynthia. (That was a moderate success-later on Henry said, "I want to have another Thanksgiving tomorrow and sit in the dining room!" but I'm thinking he was just overtired.) I made the easy call of a buffet meal served from the same china serving dishes that would have graced the table--I just didn't want to have two sets of serving dishes to wash! So everything went out on the granite island (I knew there was a reason we added an extra island workspace in our house--we have used it so many times for serving meals), including the 25 pound free range fresh turkey from which Judy and Jeff artfully sliced after we covered it with fresh herbs from Edie's solarium.
My own family is scattered this year--both brothers got together in Texas, which was wonderful, where they celebrated with my sister-in-law's family. My mother is recovering from an illness and had dinner at her new house for her husband's children. I was glad to be home and share the day with an extended group of friends. We were honored in their presence here and were glad they could christen our new adjoining parlor! (We blasted open two parlors into one on the west side of our house and couldn't be more pleased with the results.)
Our menu was traditional: roast turkey (I slow roast it) with stuffing loaded with hot sausages, green apples and cranberry; mashed potatoes (thanks to Edie & Jeff--a huge vat!); butternut squash; baby peas; creamed onions (thank you, Judy!); gravy. We also had four kinds of cranberry sauce: 2 varieties of "canberry" as we call it; Judy's cranberry orange relish; and "Henry's Jam".
Henry asked me mid-morning if he could make jam for the turkey: "It's really easy, Mumma. You just take fruit and a cup of sugar and water and it's done in ten minutes...we made it at school." I was half listening to him at the time and said, "We'll that's nice Hen, we'll make 'Turkey Jam' some other time..." And then I realized: he was talking about the easy, foolproof, incredibly delicious recipe for cranberry sauce on the side of the fresh cranberry bags. So, we had a quick lull in the morning and within ten minutes Henry had the 'jam' simmering on the stove already beginning to thicken. Here it is:
HENRY's FOOLPROOF "TURKEY JAM"
- 1 bag fresh cranberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- freshly-grated orange rind
Mix sugar and water and stir over heat. Bring to a boil. Add berries and bring to another low boil. Add orange rind and turn down to a simmer for ten minutes until berries pop and mixture thickens. Take off stove. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. Serve cold. Makes about 3 cups and way better, and more colorful, than "canberry" (which, can't be replaced on the holiday table, either--it's just nice to have some homemade alternatives!).
The trick of putting on a foolproof Thanksgiving dinner is to be organized. I finalized the menu on the weekend (which doesn't change much!), did our grocery shopping on Monday (and on route to Shaw's we stopped at Tenney Farms in Antrim and ordered a centerpiece, 4 gallons of their delectable unpasteurized cider AND checked on our pie order with the Black Dog Bakery who sells pies there: pumpkin, apple and cherry), and set our table the night before and organized serving dishes and implements. I am not a good pie crust maker so I left that to the experts. Temple, my husband, knows me too well and suggested we pick up some Parker House rolls at the Kernel Bakery when we dropped by for coffee on Wednesday. That was a good call--my intention was to make homemade rolls as I usually do but I just didn't seem to have time this year. Perhaps it is because I opted to make four loaves of cranberry nut bread and Mrs. Hrone's Pumpkin Bread, a childhood favorite (2 loaves were reserved for the freezer). Another good tip: have house cleaned and organized by Monday--one less thing to do on Wednesday or Thursday! (And, I have to thank Carmen, Paulette and Sue for that--they keep us clean AND sane after they work their magic here every other week--this year I happened to nab them for the Monday of Thanksgiving week.)
With the tables done the night before and the turkey in the oven by 10am (a bit late, I admit), there was time for other things like four loaves of quick bread and Henry's Jam...also, I generally plan dinner for "around 3pm" (depending on the turkey timing) and this makes things less stressful. Having friends bring things like wine, desserts, and side dishes, is also nice.
But here was the best part of the day: it was the spirit, laughter and good fellowship that we shared. It was the happy voices coming from the dining room, the children playing outside in the first snow of the season, the fun and frolic around dish-doing in the kitchen later on. Before the meal we stood around the table and held hands--I started to say something to welcome everyone but I couldn't speak. I could only shed some tears for the joy that was in my heart. Fortunately, Judy had asked earlier if she could do the blessing. I was happy to have her say it. Bringing us altogether in a circle, many of us strangers to each other, many of us friends and relations, it made me realize how many blessings there are in our lives and in our home and in each other.
Of all of the holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. And this is a house that was made for Thanksgiving.