When the book, Eat, Pray, Love came out a few years ago, there was much controversy on the authenticity of the author's experience. Some people loved it, some people hated it. Some found it phony. I read it and I saw the movie. I don't think I loved it or hated it. It was just one person's experience and it had something to teach. It resonated with me for reasons I can't remember now. But I think it may have been because I could identify with her suffering, her searching.
Why is it that with love comes suffering? We love someone, we paint a picture of a future together where every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every summer that person is part of the picture. We build hopes and dreams of a future. We invest in a life together, a relationship that is strong and steady, supportive and nurturing, or at least can sustain the winds of turmoil that creep into all our lives. Then something happens and that picture is no longer complete. We try and try to color in the space where they once were. We look for things that will take their place but it is impossible. And so, without, we suffer.
I am trying to let go. Trying to find a new picture that will include just what it needs and still be a good picture. But letting go is a suffering in itself. Grace is the only thing that can fill that space.
So, we pray. We are praying for grace to face a future that seems hazy. We pray for peace in our hearts and our lives.
And then we Eat. In the times when we can do nothing else, we eat. I am so torn about Thanksgiving this year - a holiday I remember spending always with my brother. But I also remember how he frequently left the table, not able to eat, unable to indulge like the rest of us in the feast. But this year I need that indulgent feast - that homey, loving table surrounded by those I love, filled with platters of mounds of delicious food. I have pulled out all my cookbooks and collected recipes. Apparently I've been planning Thanksgiving meals since 1995, never sure where we were going or who was coming, but knowing that we would have our own Thanksgiving feast at least on Friday if not Thursday. I have lists and scribblings and scraps of recipes from Williams-Sonoma, Yankee Magazine, a teacher named Dori who I worked with back in Kenilworth, Martha Stewart, Cooking Light, Country Living, Southern Living, and The Bergen Record, which suggested cocktails called the Gobble-tini and Autumn Toast, and a website called pumkinnook.com. I could make about 4 different versions of turkey and about ten different versions of stuffing if I followed all the recipes I clipped.
This year though I'm keeping it simple. I was tempted last night at BJ's to buy the smoked turkey, but when I saw the sodium was 27% of RDA, I went for the traditional one that I will roast on Thursday morning. I will use herbs and oranges to stuff it and baste it. I will make a winter salad with grapefuit, sweet potato pie, and butternut squash ravioli. I guess I need another green vegetable in there. I will make applesauce from Eldress Bertha Lindsay, one of the last surviving residents at Canterbury Shaker Village. I will make caramel pears and oyster corn bread stuffing, both of which I found on pinterest. I will make homemade whipped cream to top the store-bought pumpkin pie that I couldn't resist buying - it was just too good a deal. We will drink hot maple apple cider and we will sit by the candle light and talk and enjoy.
I don't know why I do this really. My mother cooked frozen vegetables from a bag, about four different kinds. She made Stove Top stuffing. She made Pillsbury crescent rolls, which my brothers fought over, and served jarred olives and jarred gravy. She tried to candy the sweet potatoes, but they never quite got to that point. It didn't matter. There was always so much love in her baking efforts and I guess she planned to sit with us and talk instead of being tied to the oven cooking. The point was that we prayed, ate, and loved. And she did always make her own pies. I think she was more the baker and I'm a little more cook.
On Friday we'll drive to Maryland to see my brother's family. I'm making Sausage-cheese balls, Ham biscuits, and mini pumpkin cheesecakes. A little southern savory luncheon. Anyway, we will find our way through the holiday where the food becomes nourishment and feeds our deepest needs for love and comfort. We will talk and listen and cry and we will celebrate and find joy in the simplest things. We will love.
On the back of all the old notes I have from old Thanksgivings, I wrote out lists for Christmas. I don't remember doing this but maybe while the Turkey was roasting and the pie was baking I had a glass of wine and started thinking about the next thing, Christmas gifts. It all comes back to love. So we suffer, we pray for grace, we pray in thanksgiving, we eat, and we love. Maybe Elizabeth Gilbert had it right all along.
1 1/2 ounce vodka
1 ounce Nocello walnut liquer
1/4 ounce dark creme de cacao
Chill in shaker and strain. Serve with a cinnamon stick garnish.
Sweet Potato Pie
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1 3/4 c. milk
1 T. butter, melted
1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell
Measure out 1 1/2 c. potatoes. Combine with sugar, cinnamon and salt. Beat eggs lightly and stir into potato mixture along with milk and butter. Spoon into pastry shell. Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. *variation this year: sprinkle chopped walnuts mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon on top!
2 blood oranges
1 small head chicory
2 heads Belgian endive
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
2 t. olive oil
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. fresh pepper
Using a sharp knife, cut away peel and pith from oranges. Remove sections by sliding knife down one side of a section, cutting it away from the membrane. Set aside any juice.
Add chicory, endive, onion, and olives to oranges. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour reserved orange juice over salad, toss well, and serve.
Eldress Bertha's Applesauce
5 1/2 c. chopped peeled Pink Lady apples
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
dash of almond extract
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce, heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until soft. Discard cinnamon stick. Mask with a potato masher to desired consistency. Stir in salt and extract.
*Maybe I'll try to make persimmon-cranberry pudding!