This year was a very different Thanksgiving for us. We’re in a new home, in a new (to us!) state, and we tried new things. Like a heritage turkey (mixed reviews), and no sweet potatoes (I missed them!). And bubbly for the drinkers instead of eggnog. And a follow-up brunch at my son & daughter-in-law’s the next morning. Big things, right?
It was a wonderful day. Both of them!
The weather has been gorgeous: crisply autumn, w/ blue skies & honeyed light slanting through the wall of windows. We didn’t need the fire until the evening. The kids were beautifully behaved, and the food was almost as great as the conversation!
So, big things that change, yet don’t: family. My niece, her partner (another niece, to me!), and their roommate joined us. So it was smaller than our usual familial cattle call. Which was kind of nice — I got to actually talk to everyone! But kind of sad, as well: I missed my sisters, and my other nieces & nephews. And their beautiful kiddos.
Other big things that we did differently: since it was a smaller group, we all were able to sit down together. Even though it meant a card table added to the length of our small dining table — who cares, right? With 8 instead of 18, that’s not even an option. So I got to use nice china, sterling, crystal. Show off some linens I rarely use, and the napkins rings we bought in Kenya, before my 2nd son was even born.
And there was a mostly familiar menu: turkey, stuffing (but also dressing), potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, & homemade macaroni cheese. The usual (for us!) hummus as an appetizer, w/ tortillas griddled on the stove, and veggies too. Tabbouleh. And pumpkin pie w/ too much whipped cream. And my niece’s totally gorgeous cranberry/orange/walnut cupcakes, topped w/ cream cheese icing & candied cranberries.
Did I mention it was totally sumptuous?!
But it was the little things that made it, as well — those things we tend to take for granted, until we move & see them fresh: the way everyone pitched in to help. The weaving of conversations. The laughter of my older grandson with his baby brother. The three dogs racing around the room playing tag. How the house brimmed w/music & happy voices. Watching my younger grandson take baby bites of his first Thanksgiving dinner.
This is what I’m so very grateful for, this year: my amazing family. Both the ones I was able to spend the holiday with and the ones I miss. I hope your day was equally happy!
Yesterday was a son date. Meaning, I had lunch w/ one of my two amazing sons. Earlier this week I had lunch w/ the other. Interesting detail: each picked the same restaurant, a small Asian café we all three like. They always have the pho (a ViệtNamese soup), minus the tendon & tripe. I have any of a number of things — I’m far less predictable in my tastes.
But each time we shared a green papaya salad (a favourite of ours), and talked. The main course, as it were: conversation. Without work, or two grandsons, or other interruptions. Just me & a son, over food. It doesn’t get a lot better…
Too often, we expect love to flourish w/out any nurturing. Or, more likely, we consider the daily things we do for each other to be enough. But really? You can’t have quality time w/out a fair amount of quantity.
Neither son revealed anything earth-shattering. I see them both, in this golden period, frequently. But rarely, as I noted, without the hubbub of daily life as a backdrop. And often — to be fair! — the hubbub takes precedence.
Here’s to time spent with loved ones: friends, family, colleagues. Folks you’d like to know better. Because sharing food, as M.F.K. Fisher said, is about more than just the meal:
It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.
Try it. A date with whomever — I happen to be lucky to have my sons nearby! — over shared food. I promise it’s worth the effort.
The art today is sooo appropriate for someone who’s several poems behind! Breathe, right?? So: Today’s poem is a bit of a riff on the NaPoWriMo prompt, which follows:
Today, I’d like you to write a poem inspired by, or in the form of, a recipe! It can be a recipe for something real, like your grandmother’s lemon chiffon cake, or for something imaginary, like a love potion or a spell.
I thought of a recipe I don’t have — one I’ve looked for a long time — and the poem flowed from there. Enjoy.
Aunt Bonnie’s Apricot Fried Pies
She left me only hunger
No recipes for fried pies
Crisped in the cast-iron skillet
I do have.
For years I searched
Leafing through the musty pages
Of church cookbooks
Women’s auxiliary cookbooks
The recipe cards of family
Looking for what might feed me.
Once I found the key to crust.
Or so I thought: it melted under heat.
Another time I found stewed apricots
Fragrant with their hot sweetness
But what would hold them?
All we have is memory & hunger
And the knowledge that once
Loving hands fed us.
When we moved from our home in Oklahoma last month, we found several boxes tucked away under the eaves. Literally: 6 boxes of stuff. Including five cast-iron skillets, ranging from 5 inches to 10.
True confession: I adore cast-iron. I already have more cast-iron skillets (and a griddle…and a Dutch oven…) than I should admit to. Several were my legacy from my grandmother & great-aunt: what I asked for of their belongings, when Grandma was leaving her own home of decades.
Is there anything of mine you’d like, honey? she asked me. Has anyone asked for your cast-iron pans? I responded. She laughed, and said No, no one’s asked for those. I told her I didn’t want to be greedy, so if someone did, split them up. Otherwise? I wanted them ALL.
And I got them! (Aside: why DIDN’T anyone else want them??)
Then, when my beloved mother-in-law moved out of her home, following my wonderful father-in-law’s death, my sister-in-law asked if there was anything I really wanted. May I have their cast-iron pans? I asked. And I got those too!
Soooo many memories: Grandma frying chicken; Aunt Bonnie making cornbread. Mom cooking bacon, or pancakes, or potato pancakes with the leftover mashed potatoes from the holiday feasts she put together. Every time I use a pan — to scramble eggs, to cook a roast, to make cornbread — I’m visited by those happy ghosts.
So imagine my delight when my beloved hand-carried five HEAVY cast-iron skillets from Oklahoma to Virginia! The catch? They were a MESS. Sticky with gross old seasoning, rusty in spots, scaling on the bottom from decades of baked-on food & grease. YUK! I washed them well, scrubbing as best I could with steel wool. Then dried them on the stove top, as I was taught, and oiled them so they wouldn’t rust any more. At this point my elder son ran off with one, leaving me four.
Enter the Internet. There are a zillion websites discussing the reclamation of cast-iron. The one I ended up using also has a link to seasoning the newly bare cast-iron skillet, following cleaning.
My beloved covered the skillets with heavy-duty Easy Off, as directed. Then stuck them in a black garbage bag overnight. Then scrubbed them HARD. It took another round of Easy Off (that should give you an idea how yukky the skillets were!) to lay bare the lead-grey metal.
We followed the rest of the directions (a vinegar soak for rust, rinse, wash, dry, and a LOT of flax oil), and I put them in the oven to season. Took them out, put on another coat of oil, and back in the oven to polymerise. They are GORGEOUS!!!
Now, you have to be wondering (if not before): what in the name of Julia Child does this have to do with Buddhism??
Everything. But mostly? Love, that’s what. And not giving up on things. And reclaiming what might otherwise be thrown out. And working to make something useful again. And honouring family history. Cooking for people you love with love.
I’m so serious: go rescue a cast-iron pan. See if it doesn’t make you feel incredibly virtuous. Reconnect you with cultures from around the globe, and throughout history. Really — it’s as Buddhist as everyday life gets. Honest.