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Saturday, November 27, 2010

A New England Thanksgiving in the Inland Northwest

These are my Publix Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers.    

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I had a few colleagues and friends over for Thanksgiving dinner in typical New England style.  We had roasted turkey (organic, free range, minimally processed), mashed potatoes (from Olsen Farms), stuffing (see previous post), homemade apple sauce (yes, those same Braeburns are back a it), homemade bread (local flour), Washington state wine, and cranberry relish and green bean casserole brought by the Sauers, pecan pie, brought by Debby and pumpkin pie brought by Philip.  Even though a lot of the food was local, it was New England through and through, not just because of the cook!  I suppose it is because, having grown up in New England and that's where this American holiday originates, it's really all I know about Thanksgiving.  I have been a guest at others homes and places for Thanksgiving, but really, it is almost always a New England meal.  Americans, for as much as we love technology, also love nostalgia. 

And that love of nostalgia is both a good thing and a bad thing for ethical food.  On the one hand, it makes us want for food grown and raised by farmers not industry.  And that is a good thing.  On the other hand, it makes some people think that that is in fact the way food is grown and raised.  And since that isn't usually so, that is a bad thing.  So making some effort, even on the other side of the country to make an ethical New England Thanksgiving is an act of rebellion and of tradition.  Rebellion in the sense that trying to have a New England meal in the Inland Northwest might seem a little less than local and doing it ethically means changing some things to make it local and more sustainable.  And traditional in the sense that this is what Americans all across the country were eating at about the same time. 

Setting the table for friends and colleagues for Thanksgiving this year was a little different for me.  It was a good fun day even with all the snow and treacherous travel to get to my neighborhood which never seems to get plowed.  But still, it lacked something, as have most of my Thanksgivings in Spokane--family.  To make up for it in some small way, I read a short story to my guests that I absolutely love before we ate, MFK Fisher's "A Thing Shared."  It isn't even three pages long, but it is such a moving tale of how food and family come together and how through those experiences we learn about one another and often treasure the memories in our hearts.  This Thanksgiving is a new memory for me.  The first I hosted without family there and it is a memory I will treasure in a special bittersweet kind of way.

The weather hasn't gotten any better and I don't expect it will for a while.  So I am holed up in my apartment with lots of Thanksgiving leftovers--which is a good thing.  And that does remind me that a day spent with friends, good ethical food, and memories is something to give thanks for.  Gratitude can come in all shapes and sizes is something I am learning once again.  That is, after all, what Thanksgiving is about--giving thanks for the year's blessings, looking forward to the winter and the tough times that winter can bring (for us, in Spokane, it will likely be the weather making for tough times), and hopes for the spring when it finally comes, bringing with it the beginnings of new meals and next year's feast.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Giving Thanks

I live thousands of miles from my family and given my teaching schedule I don't get home for Thanksgiving anymore.  In the years I have been in Spokane I have had Thanksgiving with colleagues and friends most years, graciously invited to their celebrations, even if, sometimes, at the last minute (that seems to be the way the inland northwest does invitations!).

This year, though, I decided to host Thanksgiving at my apartment and invite some folks, who, like me, are away from family.  Everyone is bringing something, but it will be, a more or less, traditional New England Thanksgiving. 

One thing it must have is stuffing.  I'll admit, in my home growing up, it was usually packaged stuffing.  The big issue was whose taste won out -- did we have Stove Top (my sister's favortie) or Bell's (my favorite).  My brother didn't seem to care as long as there were no mushrooms.

Bell's, I have discovered, is a New England thing.  I have looked high and low for other New England favorites in the many non-New England places I have spent my adulthood, but unless I am a guest somewhere, just can't seem to think Thanksgiving should be without Bell's Seasoning in the stuffing.  They make a dry packaged stuffing with bread cubes pre-seasoned, like other kinds of packaged stuffing and that is sometimes what we had growing up.  It was always on sale at the holidays.  But they also sell small little boxes of Bell's Seasoning.

Last year I asked my father to mail me some.  He, of course, did.  And I got in the mail a padded envelope with four boxes of Bell's Seasoning (one ounce each).  I was surprised at getting four boxes, but am surely glad that I did.  I am half way through them and will be using a lot tomorrow in that stuffing.  Bell's is really quite a simple thing -- a blend of sage, rosemary, oregano, ginger, marjoram, pepper and thyme.  Add the salt yourself.

I did panic a little yesterday on what I hoped would be my last trip to the store before tomorrow.  I couldn't find the envelope with the remaining boxes.  Thankfully, it was found before I had to resort to looking for some other kind of poultry seasoning or resorting to a box.  But I did forget a few things that I hope I can figure out how to do with out (it is bitter cold today).

I've started prepping for tomorrow's stuffing--stale homemade bread has been toasted and cubed, celery has been chopped.  Onion will be chopped tomorrow, still considering the mushroom situation.

Thanksgiving table will be set with the traditional fixings of a thanksgiving dinner, including that New England stuffing.  Can't wait to smell the turkey roasting and the sage that will greet my guests for a little bit of New England in the inland northwest.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's a crack-up.

I was looking at recipe sites the other day trying to find some interesting snack foods or things to make with apples.  I ran across a recipe for crackers.  yes, crackers.  You can make them at home.  In fact I remember being a kid and my mother talking about making some crackers and that it was more trouble than it was worth.  Nevertheless, I was intrigued.  I like to cook and bake a lot more than my Mom does, so maybe I wouldn't find it more trouble than it was worth.

So today, I am making crackers.  It's also an excuse to use my new food processor.  (I never had one before and finally just decided to get myself one and a good one at that.)

My first batch was, I think, a little under-cooked.  They weren't very crisp.  I was worried about burning them.  And, some of them puffed up a bit.  Second batch I pricked with a fork so they wouldn't puff up and I baked them longer, to make sure they crisped up.  They are actually pretty good.  And I can control the ingredients--such as local flour and cheese, organic corn meal, milk, vinegar and butter, salt, pepper, paprika and a little baking soda.  Having that kind of control is something I like because it enables me to eat more ethically.

And I am glad I know I can make them.  But I doubt I'll make them all the time.  Maybe Mom was right after all.  They are a little bit more trouble than they are worth!