"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giving Thanks: Not As Simple As It Seems

I am hosting Thanksgiving this year, for the first time in about six years. In my family, there is always a tussle for the right to host major holidays. My mom, although it is beginning to be a bit of a strain for her, would still like to host Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas every year, and sees it as her matriarchal right to do so.

My sister and I each want to have Christmas morning at home with our own kids, though we are happy to travel the hundred miles (over the river and through the woods) to Grandma's house for Christmas dinner. We go to Mom's for Easter because she hides money in the eggs and puts on a hell of a spread, so that just leaves Thanksgiving for the three of us to arm-wrestle over every year.

My sis hosted last year, and even managed to convince our brother and our dad to fly in from the far-away places they reside. It's my turn, though I will have to be satisfied without Dad or Gene, since they can't fly out every year. I haven't hosted any holiday since we moved to this house, so I'm particularly thrilled to do it. I called Thanksgiving back in August.

Due to either misunderstanding, forgetfulness, or downright orneriness, however, it appears that Mom will be hosting her own Thanksgiving and won't be coming up here. It's the first time we haven't shared this holiday in years. I'm sorry about it, but not sorry enough to cancel my own plans, which would mean dis-iniviting several people who are coming from out of town. Apparently we are each too stubborn to give in. But in all fairness, I must point out that she was stubborn long before I was even born, and I got it from her.

Well, all of that is one type of Thanksgiving consideration. The next type is all about the food. Every single person who will be at the table has some kind of strong opinion, religious conviction, allergy, health consideration, or just plain prejudice about the food. Without naming any names or passing any judgement (seriously: I know these restrictions are all either health necessities or deeply held beliefs) , here is a list of the foods which one or more people on the guest list must avoid:

Artificial colors

Additionally, to satisfy my own idiosyncratic views, we will not be serving any industrially raised meat, and we will be trying to procure as many foods as possible locally. At first glance, this may seem like some serious restrictions. I thought so at first. However, none of my guests are extreme enough to insist that the foods they cannot eat be entirely excluded from the feast; only that they be clearly labeled (actually it just occurred to me, I am the most extreme person by this measure, as I intend to entirely exclude industrial foods from my feast.). In actual fact, the options are wide open.

Here is my provisional menu:

- A pasture raised, organic, heritage breed turkey which I bought from my neighbor down the street.

- A beef roast (Sister's family is bringing it) made from free range, pasture raised beef from another neighbor.

- Wild Rice dressing - not local but yes organic, gluten and dairy (hereafter, G&D) free

- baked yams, ditto

- mashed local, organic potatoes - will have dairy, but clearly labeled.

- Hard cider from apples we pressed ourselves (Thanks, homebrewin' boys!)

- local organic braised greens (G&D free)

- sourdough rolls from my 75 year old starter (has gluten, obviously)

- local pumpkin pie (has D&G)

- tossed green salad

I have invited everyone to bring a dish, and I'm sure they will, so I have no doubt there will be plenty of acceptable food for everyone. There are two things I think I should figure out: a G&D free dessert (maybe baked apples with raisins and maple syrup?) and a G&D free gravy, which is tough. I could use arrowroot, corn starch, or tapioca as a thickener. I could use wine, water, or stock as the liquid. I can google it, I'm sure.

There's one more consideration. It's hard for me, as the hostess and just as myself, Aimee Day, Modern American Woman, not to put all the emphasis on laying out a massive spread. There's a part of me that feels I will have failed unless everyone rolls away from the table groaning. That's always been the measure of success at my mom's (and most American's) Thanksgivings. Is everyone sated nigh to sickness? Are all the belts in the house loosened? Okay then.

But surely there is more to this Holiday than that. We call it a Holiday - a Holy Day - don't we? Why is this day Holy? What are we giving thanks for?

Certainly, this day is a day consecrated to giving thanks for all that we have to give thanks for, and that will be personal and private. Perhaps a loved one has recovered from a serious illness. Perhaps our marriage has survived a crisis or our job has been saved. Surely we will all have our individual thanks to give. But also, we have our communal thanks to give.

It is not an accident that Thanksgiving happens in November. It is, at base, a harvest festival. We give thanks for the fruitful Earth, that brought forth this bounty - enough to feast upon, and enough to carry us through 'til spring. We will not forget the animals on the tables, and we give thanks for them, for their death, for our life. We give thanks to the men and women who worked the earth to raise our food, whether those men and women are farmers far away or are us, ourselves. We salute their sweat and their strong arms. We rejoice in our own hard work. We give thanks for the gift of foresight, that led us to plan and to plant way back in March or April, and that allows us to put away for the winter or for hard times. We pray for the foresight and the wisdom and the strength to be better stewards of the Earth, that she might continue to provide for us and for our children.

We give our thanks that we are here, together, alive. That we have food to eat. That though the darkest time is upon us, yet we have hope for the future - spring, yes, and all the springs to come. We have faith. We give thanks for faith.


Donna said...


Last year I had to have wheat and dairy free desserts for Thanksgiving. I found this pie crust recipe:

nut crust recipe with the marshmallows

I wish I had a recipe for you, but that one we just do by eye. Basically we put in a food processor roasted or raw nuts around 2 to 2.5 cups, often a blend of almonds, pecans and cashews, DH adds olive oil to it, say a tablespoon to a batch. Then add a handful of mini marshmallows, a good dash of salt (I like the salty sweet crust). You can add cinnamon if you would like, and we often add unsweetened flaked coconut. Process well, so the marshmallows are entirely incorporated. Then press the mixture into a pyrex pie pan. bake at 350 or so until marshmallows start to bubble and lightly browned. Watch it carefully because it can burn.

WCchopper Sep 04, 2007 11:49PM

And I made a pecan pie with it. It was quite good. I order pecans every year from Sunnyland Farm in Georgia. (I know it's not local but we can't grow pecans here) And they are SO good!

Penelope said...

you forgot cashews. And who's gluten and dairy free? And don't avoid food coloring on our behalf.

Aimee said...

Donna, thanks, I may try that, minus the cashews!

Sis, today my friend Deb called. She may come with her family, and her boys are gluten, dairy, and coloring free. Remember, you met her, but I don't remember if you met her kids or not. Call me, I'll fill you in.

But all in all, am I right that nobody cares if foods they don't eat are present, as long as they are labeled? I know, you don't like to eat anything that was cooked in then oven with pork, so I'm thinking pork of all kinds will be verboten. But other than that...?

Olive said...

Aimee, I was moved by your story. Beautifully written by a thoughtful woman.

Aimee said...

thank you Olive. Best wishes to you and your family this holiday season!

Susie said...

Sounds like a delicious feast to me! You'll manage to keep everyone happy and groaning it looks like. Happy Thanksgiving!

TheMartianChick said...

Our family get togethers have lots of dietary restrictions.No pork, no dairy, low sugar,vegetable prejudices, etc... We just make a lot of different things and then everyone can pick and choose. Happy Thanksgiving, Aimee!

Christy said...

We're doing Grandma Eva's traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. A few small variations but basically the same as she always did.

Garden Lily said...

Amen! Happy Thanksgiving! (In Canada, we've already celebrated ours, so we'll just be working tomorrow.)

Lydia said...

thank you, Aimee, for this beautiful reflection on why we give thanks. amen and amen.