I have always loved the holidays. The period of time surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas are so steeped in tradition for my family that it things never feel quite right unless I am home with my family. As I have grown older, and things have changed, I have learned to make my own traditions, to let go of the comforts of what I'm used to, and now, even to let go of some of the people I have loved and the traditions they carried with them.
The Thanksgivings of my youth consisted of the women spending the day cooking in the kitchen and then men spending the morning out hunting in the surrounding fields for pheasants. It sounds very cliche, or at the very least Norman Rockwell-ish, but we loved it. My immediate family would be there, as well as the ever-consistent grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that any holiday is incomplete without. As more of the cousins and children got married or had their own children, the number of people increased and usually ran close to a tally of about 35. My mom and my aunt Nancy would coordinate things and I don't remember a single Thanksgiving where there were any disasters or chaos - or if there were, they certainly hid it quite well (something I hope they'll pass on to me). Everything always seemed to run smoothly and beautifully.
We always started the afternoon watching football and grazing on artichoke dip and crackers, waiting to be called to the dining room and the den to eat the enormous potluck feast that had been arranged on the tables. I remember when I was moved up from the kid's table to the grown-up table to sit next to aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa. And now, sadly, I've grown up so much that I am no longer able to go home for both Christmas and Thanksgiving. I've had to begin my own traditions, make my own turkeys and my own stuffing, spending time with close friends who are also not able to make it home or with other families here, and just making a phone call home to let my own family know that I am thinking of them and missing the traditions I knew so well. These are the harder things about growing older - letting go; even as independence, new adventures, and new friendships come into being.
This will be the first Thanksgiving that my grandmother's chair will sit empty for as many Thanksgivings as I can remember. This will be the first Thanksgiving that my baby sister is a married woman. This will be the first Thanksgiving that my family sits down and celebrates that my step-father's pathology report came back saying that his cancer was contained and that he might just be free of it now (YAY!!). And this will be the first Thanksgiving that I only make a pumpkin pie; my very first. Even though the sadness of losing my grandmother this year still permeates through everything I do (as the first year of doing everything without her), and I miss her terribly, there is still so much to be thankful for.
I am thankful, mostly, for my family. I am thankful for my step-dad's health and my sister's happiness. For the time I have with my grandparents that are still here and the weekly conversations I have with them where I am continually learning lovely tidbits about their past, the wisdom they have gained, the stories of the people they have known and the people they are. For the closeness that tragedies and celebrations have brought between my siblings and myself. I am thankful for LB and our "family" of dogs and close friends and families here that have taken us in as their own. And I am thankful I have a whole world of other food bloggers out there that can offer me advice on a hundred different pumpkin pies and other Thanksgiving desserts and dishes that I can, and will, form my own traditions with...
This year, I'm simply making a plain pumpkin pie, with maple whipped cream. Someday I'll make variations on this and be adventurous in the flavors that it contains, but this year, since it's my first, I'm going traditional. I can't tell you whether or not it's like mom used to make, because I can't dig into it until tomorrow. I also can't tell you if the paper towel trick (below) works, but I'll update this post after the holiday.
No matter what you're doing for the holiday - making a big meal, spending time with family or just relaxing and enjoying a quite weekend to yourself, I hope that it's wonderful (and for those not celebrating this holiday - I hope the rest of your week and weekend are similarily wonderful)...I'm already looking forward to seeing what ideas you have in store for Christmas.
Pumpkin Pie, adapted slightly from Everyday Food
For The Pie:
1 disk Basic Pie Dough, rolled out and fitted into a 9-inch pie plate
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp. pumpkin-pie spice
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin (1 3/4 cups)
1 cup half-and-half
For Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Using kitchen shears or a paring knife, trim dough to a 1-inch overhang. With floured fingers, fold overhang under itself to form a rim; pinch between thumb and forefinger to form a uniform edge around rim of plate. Crimp with fingertips. Refrigerate pie shell until chilled, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line dough with aluminum foil, folding foil over rim of pie plate. Fill with dried beans or pie weights; bake until crust is firm, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and beans. Cool crust completely before filling.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, pumpkin-pie spice, and pumpkin. Whisk in half-and-half. Pour mixture into cooled pie crust. Bake until set, about 1 hour. Cool on rack at room temperature, 1 hour, then refrigerate to cool completely. If making in advance, cover cooled pie in plastic, and refrigerate up to 2 days.
Make whipped cream: In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat cream, maple syrup, and granulated sugar until soft peaks form.
Note: When refrigerating pie, cover first with a paper towel, then plastic wrap. The towel absorbs moisture and keeps the surface free of droplets.
Update: The pie got rave reviews, although I was disappointed that it pulled away from the crust when the pieces were cut. I upped the amount of maple syrup in the whipped cream (you couldn't taste the maple flavor at first) and upped the amount of pumpkin pie spice in the pie and everyone kept saying how much they liked the spicy-ness of it. The paper towel trick worked - although I had dampened it a bit because I was worried it would stick to the top. I subsequently spent the next two days worrying the crust would get soggy because of the damp paper towel, but that didn't seem to be the case!