Something to be Thankful for...

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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!

10 comments from you:

Tanna said...

That is very thoughtful and beautifully written.
It seems that the most consistent lesson we are all always learning over and over is letting go.
Thank you for being out there.

Sean Carter said...

A happy Thanksgiving to you too!! Thanx a lot for the lovely recipe.If you are planning for Christmas and checking out new ideas you can jus peep into my Holiday Blog for some more cool and innovative stuff.

clare eats said...

Hey girl
That was a fantantastic heart wrenching post. Christmas and Thanksgiving with your family sounds great!

I know what you mean about the first holiday without your grandmother... I couldn't handle christmas at my Oma's for a few years after my Opa died. Luckily I had Caseys parents place to escape to.

The pumpkin pie looks yummy!

Tina T-P said...

Hello from Bellingham, WA - & Belated Happy Thanksgiving! Did the paper towel trick work on the pie (which is quite beautiful by the way)

I found your blog from your notes to Vicki on The Moveable Feast - hope she is OK - (sounds like she took quite a spill.)

My husband & I love Eugene - we come down every June to go to The Blacksheep Festival (we have sheep & I'm learning how to spin) - and we have a good friend that we always try to catch up with when we're in town. It is a lot like Bellingham - friendly college town.

I like what you've said in your blog - hope you don't mind if I stop by once in a while. :-) Tina

mrs d said...

Happy belated Thanksgiving, Michelle! I would have stopped by yesterday, but I was still pouting about LB not being renamed Captain Tricycle. :-P

PS: one of these days I am determined to invent a dairy-free pumpkin pie. It's the holiday dish I miss more than anything. Meantime, I just look and salivate.

Tanna said...

Can pumpkin pie be plain!? It looks deep and rich and I imagine smells beautifully spicy!
When I studied child development and the toddler's separation anxiety, I was struck by how we are always relearning letting go through out our lives.
Hope you had a glorious Thanksgiving! I know the pie was good.

Julie said...

A very nice post and very good news about your stepfather.

Your childhood Thanksgivings sound wonderful. 35 people! What a celebration.

michelle said...

Hi Tanna,
Thanks! I'm glad you're out there too, and I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful (I haven't made the rounds yet to find out!). I think your statement about letting go is so true - we do have to relearn it over and over again. And the pie was good! Very spicy and delicious!

Hi Sean, thanks for stopping by and for sharing your blog - it looks like yours is full of ideas for all the holidays! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well.

Hi Clare, the holidays certainly are different without someone you love - Christmas is when it's going to be a lot harder. Thanks for coming by, dear!

Hi Tina, thanks for coming by! Vickie started her food blog at the same time as I began mine, so we've become friends over the last year or so...I think she's doing okay, but she did take a nasty spill. Next time you're down my way, let me know! I didn't even know we had a black sheep festival! I've updated the post about the paper towel and the flavor, and please, stop by again!

Miz D, and to you too - I haven't even been able to make the rounds yet since the holiday ended! It shouldn't be too hard to fix a pumpkin pie for the lactose intolerant...I bet you're just the woman to do it too with your new job!!

Julie, Thank you! It's always a celebration when you get my family together and drinking!!

vlb5757 said...

Michelle, I am sorry that I have not been posting comments about your posts. I have been reading them but it's always with a load of dirty clothes at my feet, unfinished knitting on the arm of the chair and three TVs in three different rooms blarring away; and that's a slow day. lol! Your pie looks perfect. I am a professional chef and still hate how my pie crusts turn out. So I fixed that problem. Hubby makes all the pies. I have enough to do with the rest of meal, so he does the pies. We had pecan and pumpkin. They were good and the bathroom scales say so...3 more pounds...ugh.

I am glad to hear about your stepfather. I will continue to think positive thoughts for him. Happy Belated Thanksgiving. I swear I will get better about keeping in touch!

Pomiane said...

Re. your pie filling pulling away from the pastry, if you paint the cooked shell with a thin layer of something like Apricot Paste or Quince Jelly, you need have no worries in the future about this. This will also act as a barrier to pastry getting soggy if the pie is made significantly in advance....