Oh, Thanksgiving, how I love thee… your day of cooking and turkey trotting and gathering with many friends and family with nary a hint of religious assignment or gift exchanging. I know, I know, it’s 2020 and everything is whack. Do we punt? Do we, gasp(!), zoom? Do we blindly go forth in the name of the Pilgrims? Do we pull a Snoopy and Woodstock and host the whole shebang outside complete with popcorn and blankets to warm our freezing limbs?
Nothing seems just right, because, well, it isn’t. Enter Pollyanna: let’s think of all we are grateful for! It is true. This may be the year to reduce that gravy all the way down to its simplest form. The reduction that exposes our most basic gratitude. For our health (I hope) and the security of our family and friends.
Since I am already in this emotional loop, I will share that I have become a little tearful lately. I’m sure it’s anxiety induced from the news… the highs and lows of our election, the rising covid numbers, hell, even a tornado blew through town the other night. But I don’t cry about those things. I was at the big super market gathering the usuals, and made a point to shop for our local homeless shelter because they put out a call of need. I cried as I loaded cans of alphabet soup into my cart thinking of what someone else’s child would like to eat. Then, later that week, James and I went to the shelter to do a distanced drop off. Thank God for masks and sunglasses to hide behind because he asked if next time he could come shopping because I forgot the macaroni and cheese. “Everyone at Gillespie [the shelter] would like that!” Cue more tears, but of the grateful kind. It felt so good to think about someone else and share that experience with a six year old.
Don’t worry, I am not about to encourage you to pull out your gratitude journal at the dinner table or anything annoying like that. But maybe try a little act of humanity and see what that does for your stress level. It felt great to get out of my own way even for a little while.
Meanwhile, back in my kitchen I have pored over all of my favorite cookbooks and food magazines trying to get inspired to cook Thanksgiving for our pared down crew. This year will certainly be a simpler affair, but important in that it is something for which to look forward. So there will be sweet potato casserole, dressing, homemade cranberry sauce, a small roasted bird for those who need that, angel biscuits (I’ll get to this), and cake. And I will needle everyone at the table to declare something for which they are thankful. At this point my French mother in law and South African father in law will be wondering why their son married this vexing American girl.
My Gan’s Dressing
Adapted from Southern Sideboards, Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi cookbook, circa 1978.Southerners do not make stuffing, we make dressing, and of course we find this cornbread based goodness superior.
5 cups crumbled corn bread (pro tip: I use 3 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix and make a tray of cornbread the day before assembling dressing. Takes 20 minutes start to finish).
4 cups toasted bread pieces (Gan used Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread), torn into pieces
2-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups chopped onion, (about 2 medium yellow onions)
1 1/2 cups chopped celery, (about 3-4 stalks)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 stick of butter, divided
1/2 cup of parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon sage, chopped (I love sage, so I add more)
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1 pint shucked oysters, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Soak corn bread and torn bread pieces in the chicken/vegetable stock, if it seems dry add more stock. (Start with 2 cups and work your way up as needed). Cook onion, celery, and green pepper in 2 Tablespoons of butter in large skillet until tender. In a large bowl, mix together the bread mixture, cooked vegetables, remaining butter, melted, and the rest of the ingredients including the oysters if you are using. Grease a 9×12 baking dish, and pour in your dressing mixture and smooth out. Bake uncovered for about an hour. Check about halfway through and pour more stock over the top if it seems to be drying out. Serves 8-10.
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
This is the easiest thing in the world to make, and it makes your house smell divine.
Combine in a medium saucepan:
1 pound of cranberries, picked over
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cloves
pinch of salt
Cook uncovered, over medium heat until most of the cranberries pop open and the mixture is somewhat thickened 7-10 minutes. Let cool and serve. This refrigerates well if you want to make it a day or two ahead.
My Aunt Blanche deemed these “angel biscuits” because they are like little clouds. She is a genius with little children. She makes this easy dough and rolls it out on the kitchen counter and lets the kids use a tiny sterling silver jigger that was a groomsman’s gift from her wedding to cut out the tiny biscuits. The key here is to use a small biscuit cutter as these should be bite sized.
1 package dry yeast
2 Tablespoons lukewarm water
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water and let stand for 5 minutes.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. Cut the vegetable shortening into these dry ingredients with 2 knives or a pastry cutter to get pea sized pieces. Combine the dissolved yeast with buttermilk, and stirring with a fork, gradually add the flour-shortening mixture. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead just until the the ingredients are combined. Do not overhandle. Roll the dough out to 3/8- 1/2 inch thick, adding a little flour if necessary to prevent sticking, and cut with a 1-inch round cutter. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 minutes until browned on the top.
These biscuits may be frozen before baking. They do not need to be thawed before baking.
Ready or not, holiday shopping is upon us. This year, more than ever, we need to shop small! As the
co-owner of a small business, I can assure you every order counts. That one incremental order can make the difference between making payroll or not. Heaven knows Jeff Bezos has enough green to line his pockets, so let’s spread the wealth!
In case you are itching to shop over Thanksgiving weekend, here are a few bookish ideas…
I look forward every year to receiving a new cookbook from my cousin, Julia, and a work of fiction from her erudite husband, Sam.
Here are my top five favorite book shops…. and they all ship:
1. Books are Magic, Brooklyn
2. Brazos Bookstore , Houston
3. Books on the Common, Ridgefield, CT
4. Oblong Books, Millerton and Rhinebeck, NY
5. Sundog Books, Seaside, FL
Julia, in case you are reading, this new cookbook is high on my gift list!
The Strategist cooked up this great list of 19 Gifts Under $50 from Black Owned Businesses. This also seems like a great place to start.
Wishing you all a cozy Thanksgiving with yours. And if you are on your own, know you are doing something brave, and for that we should all be thankful.
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