There's something infinitely soothing about knowing you're about to spend the whole day cooking. Well, infinitely soothing for those of us who really love to cook anyway. I know that I, for one, am looking forward to the act of preparing for the big Thanksgiving feast - even though I'm not the one who will be roasting the turkey, making the stuffing or the mashed potatoes nor many of the other wonderful, traditional dishes that grace Thanksgiving tables every year. But that's okay.
As much as I love being the one in charge (heck, I'd cook the whole thing and have all my friends over for it if I could, but I guess that wouldn't be proper, eh?), it's also liberating to not be the one calling the shots. Instead, I can focus on the few dishes I am in charge of - this year, it's the ubiquitous green bean casserole (only a homemade version this time) and a delicious-looking take on Brussels sprouts from Nicole Stich, the author of the beautiful blog (and now book!), Delicious Days. Later on, I'll make my own versions of the stuffing and cranberry sauce, turkey and other trimmings that I didn't make for this first meal. Who says you can only eat Thanksgiving foods on Thanksgiving? Why not enjoy them other times? They're still seasonal in December! Most of them would be fabulous by themselves, alongside roasted chicken or fish (miso green beans anyone?) and would even make perfect winter meals for tucking in with a bottle of wine and good friends (or even a good book).
Besides, I love stuffing and cranberry sauce - it seems a shame to only enjoy them once a year, and yet that's the only time I make or have them. For the stuffing, I want to try this recipe. And the cranberry sauce? I'm thinking of incorporating a few local ingredients - like ginger and lilikoi (passionfruit). Besides, many of the bloggers I love will be posting what they've made for Thanksgiving on or after the big day (at least if they are "slackers" like me) - why not try and enjoy them now? I'll have the freedom of playing around with cranberry sauce, stuffing and all the other classic dishes to my heart's content - and they don't even all have to go together! Plus, then I get all the leftovers I want, which everyone knows is the best part.
But something happened this year while I was out fighting the masses at the grocery store, buying all of the ingredients I needed. Something that really made me think about Thanksgiving itself. I had picked up one of those tin, disposable pie plates for LB. LB always makes his mother's apple pie for Thanksgiving - it's become one of our own traditions for the holiday, and he does a great job at it. But we only own one pie plate and there will be 12 or more people at the feast this afternoon, so he wanted to make two. The pie plates were in my small basket, along with a myriad of other things I had forgotten or couldn't find my first trip to the store (because, of course, this was my 3rd trip). As I was grabbing a plastic bag to place the collection of small, compact Brussels sprouts I had chosen in, an older woman reached out to pick one up at the same time. We both had our hands out, and she insisted that I go first - "youth before age," was how she put it. I thanked her and pulled my bag from the roll.
And then she said something that took me by surprise:
I told her that yes, I do, and that I loved to cook. But also that the tins were actually for my husband, who was making an apple pie for the Thanksgiving table. She told me she thought too many young people didn't know how to cook anything from scratch anymore, and she was glad that some were still out there that did. That statement saddened me. Are there really so many people out there that don't know how that this elderly woman believes that young people will only go to the grocery store to buy a pie as opposed to buying the simple ingredients needed to actually make one? I guess so. I forget sometimes, in my world of food-love that not everyone avoids fast food restaurants or likes to cook from scratch...nor even believes that they have the time to do such a thing.
I didn't really learn to cook from my grandmother or my mother per se, as I've mostly taught myself over the last few years (and there have certainly been ups and downs) when I first had both the opportunity and the desire to learn. But they gave me advice along the way, shared their recipes with me, and more importantly, instilled an appreciation for simple food...crisp radishes and baby green onions in ice-water, canned pears and homemade jams and jellies, and the age-old family secrets for amazing fried okra. Even more than that, they helped me to not be afraid of the kitchen - as a child, I was enlisted to collect fresh eggs from our chickens, help snap peas from the garden, shuck corn, peel peaches and pears for canning, roll fresh egg noodles for stroganoff, and of course, prepare for the many Thanksgivings we had at both their houses over the years. They're the reason I yearn to go back to farm life in some ways - a big garden, fruit trees, fresh eggs - and they're the reason I want to learn to cook from scratch. Because that's the kind of food I grew up with and that's the kind of food I want to eat. It's also the kind of food I want my kids to eat too - when or if I have them.
Standing there in the grocery store, I suddenly wanted to ask the woman to share all of her wisdom with me - did she have any recipes that she loved? Any kitchen tips or home remedies she swore by? What did she love to make from scratch? What was she making for Thanksgiving and how many times had she made it before? Was there someone in her family who would be carrying it on for her when she could no longer? Not wishing to seem like some nosy grocery store freak, I wished her a happy Thanksgiving and hoped silently that she did. And I said a quiet thank you for the people in my life that have passed things along to me.
Many of us cannot be home with the rest of our family for this holiday, but we can carry our family with us and the traditions we have made with them to our tables no matter the far corners of the globe where we are today. Even if we're not making the same dishes that aunt Dottie or Grandpa Joe made when we were children, and we're now making our own traditions, we carry their stories and the memories with us no matter where we are today. I have been fortunate in that my grandmother gave me many of her own and her mother's recipes, and my mother now loves to cook as much as I do - but I'm also learning from the wisdom of friends and friend's families - people who are willing to impart a bit of their history, their recipes, and their experience with a novice cook such as myself. And then there are you, dear bloggers, who share so much of your thoughts, recipes and yourselves on the internet with me and with so many others. I hope this dissemination of information never ceases - may we all someday know how to make a pie from scratch and learn something from someone we love so that we can carry on for them.
I hope you all have a wonderfully delicious Thanksgiving, no matter where you are.