petty potato predicament

discoball-colander
My colander (in which I rinsed my potatoes) looked rather like a disco ball in the bright morning light.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year, which has become a tradition in recent years. In addition to my family of four, plus my mother-in-law (who is in assisted living in a neighboring town), it has also become a tradition to invite a friend of mine and her two boys.  This year, we were happy to have my mother join us from California, bringing our grand total to 9.

I know that many people host big gatherings of 20 or even 40 people, which honestly sounds totally exhausting to this quiet introvert. (I’ll stick to my table for 9, thank you very much.)

While this relatively small and very comfortable gathering tends to be pretty low-key, I do go a bit crazy with the side dishes. For me, the “side” dishes are actually the main event of the meal. (My immediate family doesn’t eat turkey, and I’m not able to eat the Tofurkey that the rest of my family eats.) So we tend to have lots of different things: various roasted vegetables, stuffing (my famous “stuffed pan”), mashed potatoes, veggie gravy, cranberry sauce(s), as well as simple vegetables like corn and green beans. My mother and I spent much of yesterday chopping and prepping veggies. I went to bed feeling like we were in pretty good shape.

However, going through my mental list as I lay in bed, I got stuck on the potatoes. I intentionally hadn’t prepped the potatoes, as I didn’t want them to brown. But I also hadn’t really counted them.

Doing my mental calculations of person-to-potato ratios, I suddenly became convinced that I didn’t have nearly enough potatoes. It was almost midnight, and I knew that stores would be closed in the morning. (This didn’t stop me from searching online for various grocery stores and checking their hours). I mentally reconfigured the quantities of potatoes in the roasted root vegetables (in which they traditionally play a key role) and considered what remaining potatoes could be left to mash. I imagined rationing out the paltry portions of potatoes to family and guests.

I agonized over the potatoes. I seriously lost sleep. It was not so much a potato panic as a ponderous potato pessimism.

In the morning, I counted the potatoes. The situation was less dire than I’d imagined in my late-night ravings. But still, I apparently could not let it drop. While walking the dog, I persisted in pondering about potatoes. I texted my friend who would be joining us for dinner: “Do you have any potatoes?”

This is, of course, a totally normal question to ask a friend out of the blue.

potato-greeting

The story has a happy ending. My friend brought along her potatoes, and I added a few of them to my boiling pot of potatoes. The resulting mashed potatoes were of respectable quantities. No garments were rent over tiny potato allowances.

In the end, the meal and the day were successful and fulfilling. I am feeling full of both gratitude and potatoes.

And I have to laugh at myself for getting so worked up about such small potatoes.

 

Full of thanks (and full of food)

Today we celebrated Thanksgiving, which is a holiday bound in tradition for me. And much of that tradition involves food. Not just the eating of it, but the preparing of it, the serving of it, and the discussing of it. I love that we have this holiday which centers around spending time with family and friends, and about sharing a meal with them.

Thanksgiving always leaves me full of thanks and of food, but also of nostalgia. More than anything, I think of Thanksgivings past at my grandmother’s house. I remember setting the table with the special china, fancy glasses and candlesticks. I remember being shooed out of the kitchen so my grandmother could manage the entire feat of feast-making in her own way. (Also because her kitchen was tiny, and she didn’t want us in the way.) I remember enjoying so much of the feast when it came time to eat, pretty much loving all of it, except for the dreaded liver lumps in the gravy. (My grandmother would cook up and dice up the giblets, and toss them into the otherwise smooth and tasty gravy.) And I remember the extended time in the kitchen after the meal, typically with one or two other family members, hand-washing and hand-drying all of the dishes from the meal. (Because my grandmother’s house did not have a dishwasher. Also, my grandmother was happy to get out of the kitchen at the end of the day.) I usually got the job of drying. I can still remember the feel of the dishtowels in my hand, typically linen and worn rather thin from years of use, and getting more and more damp until finally you had to get out a fresh dry towel.

I spent much of yesterday and most of today preparing food and preparing the space to eat that food. (Our dining room had gotten rather buried over the past 8 months or so, but I was bound and determined to unearth it.)  We had a few guests (my mother-in-law, and a friend and her 2 kids), so there were eight of us. In spite of the moderate numbers, we had an immoderate number of food items on the menu.

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Some of the dishes I prepared: roasted root vegetables, roasted butternut squash with shallots and cranberries, roasted dijon cauliflower, and vegetarian stuffing.
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My plate. The plate itself is from our good set, a pattern that John and picked out when we had our wedding. I love using the good china for special holiday meals, because that is what we always did at my grandmother’s house. As for the food, the plate holds the 4 dishes listed above, plus green beans, mashed potatoes and vegetarian gravy, and cranberry sauce. 
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Pumpkin pie. The dairy-free version that has become a tradition for me. I had delusions that I would have time to also make something like an apple crisp. Ha.

Now that the day is done, and I’ve turned in for the night, I am still feeling full from the feast (which was blissfully free of liver lumps). I am also feeling full of thanks for the bounty of our feast, for our comfort and safety, and for the people in my life who make my life so full.

turkey feast

Our neighborhood flock of wild turkeys has been coming around frequently again lately. Their numbers seem to have increased, as well. About a week ago, I counted 35 turkeys in our back yard.

This morning, a few of them stopped by the bird feeders for their Thanksgiving Day feast. It’s fun to see them jumping to reach the bird feeders.

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My family’s Thanksgiving feast is also finished, and included fewer seeds, and much less jumping. We had family visiting from California, and a few local friends joined us as well for a total of 12 for dinner. It was another long day of cooking and such. Tomorrow morning, I have to drive my sister and nephews to the airport at around 4, so I am once more short on time to write.

turkey haven

In this part of Massachusetts, its not unusual to see flocks of wild turkeys here and there, and now and then. In our new house, we see them rather more frequently. More here and now, than there and then. A family of them lives nearby, somewhere in the woods around our neighborhood. We started noticing them especially over the summer. There was a group of a few adults, and quite a few chicks. I don’t actually know how many of each there were, but I do know that now we have a group of 8 adults that regularly visit our yard. Especially now that we have put up bird feeders in the back yard. They can’t reach most of the feeders, but the little birds that can are messy enough eaters that there’s usually something to be found pecking at the ground below.

Our family, especially the younger generation, has been enamored with birds in general. So, we tend to enjoy these visitors. The one exception to this was when we had our lawn re-seeded. Then I was rather displeased to see the flock of turkeys out on the front lawn, enjoying the grass seed buffet. There were more than a few times when neighbors may possibly have seen me running across the lawn, waving my fist and shouting, “get off my lawn, you whippersnappers!” Or something like that. I did also enjoy a strategic use of the newly repaired sprinkler system, turning on the sprinklers right where the gang was pecking at the lawn.

Anyhow, here are some photos I took back in July. I know I’ve taken more recent photos of these guys (or gals, really), but it’s fun to look back and see the little chicks. Or the not-so-little chicks. They were cute, in any case.

The turkeys didn’t visit us today, which is Thanksgiving in the United States. Also known as Turkey Day. We figured that they were laying low. But these guys don’t have anything to fear from us: the only turkey on our table was a ceramic salt shaker.

Harvest Home

With the big changes that have happened in our family this past year have come smaller changes. For as long as I can remember, we have spent Thanksgiving down at my in-laws’ in New York.¹ It seems quite likely that we have never before had Thanksgiving here in our own house.

This year, as I said, things changed. Since she is no longer taking care of my father-in-law full-time, my mother-in-law is now free to travel. John’s siblings, who all 3 live in Texas for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, invited their mom to spend Thanksgiving in Texas. This meant that, amazingly, we had no plans to travel ourselves for Thanksgiving. We would have the holiday at home.

While I have enjoyed the times visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving, I was quite happy about the idea of staying home. I usually do all the cooking for our subset of the family for Thanksgiving anyhow, so that part was not a change. I was particularly happy about the idea of using our own dining room, and using our good china.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of holiday meals at my grandmother’s house. She had an extensive collection of china and serving ware, from a variety of family sources. The china cabinet covered one whole wall of the dining room in her house, with floor-to ceiling shelves hidden away by 3 wooden sliding doors. Setting the table with the fancy dishes was something of a cross between a ceremony and a reunion with much loved friends.

My children will never get to visit my grandmother’s house, but I am quite taken with the idea of starting the tradition of the holiday table here at home with them. (Holiday meals at my in-laws’ had become increasingly simplified and informal in recent years, with dinners typically eaten up in my in-laws’ bedroom at a card table.)

Today, we spent time clearing the dining room of the detritus of various projects, and we set the table in earnest: heirloom linen table cloth, cloth table runner and napkins, glass goblets, special silver, and candles. And, of course, the good china. We donned our fancy clothes and celebrated our bounty and our thankfulness for our family and our home.


The spread. Phoebe is here wearing a dress that had been my sister’s in the late 70s, and then my cousin’s.


Our turkey-less turkey day feast: Tofurkey with roasted root vegetables, stuffing, green beans. Not shown in this photo: fresh baked bread, cranberry sauce that Phoebe made, and mashed potatoes. Everyone participated in the preparation of the meal.


Our feast wasn’t entirely turkey-free: Phoebe made this little guy to grace our table.


Ready to dig in.


My pie. (With a rather sad frozen gluten-free crust, but the pumpkin part was very tasty.)

Hours later, I am still feeling full. And also rather fulfilled.²

¹ There may have been a few years when my work schedule interfered. I vaguely remember working Thanksgiving the one year I worked as a waitress, and then it’s possible that it was sometimes hard to travel on the day before Black Friday in the years I worked in retail. But even that was a long time ago, as I quit my retail job almost 14 years ago.
² But also somewhat daunted by the thought of all the hand-washing of fragile and heirloom dishes that is yet to be done.

Happy Turkey Day

Here are some happy turkeys.

Here in New England, it is not uncommon to come across roving flocks of wild turkeys. I came across these guys a couple years ago while heading to a nearby farm to buy some eggs. (Chicken eggs, mind you.) They were in the long winding driveway, and as I drove up, they just kept running ahead, seemingly reluctant to spend the extra energy to get over the towering snowbanks. (That was the winter of Too Much Winter.) All the way at the top of the hill, they figured I was in it for the long chase, and took flight.