Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Observed or When My Heart Beats Hard

I don't even know where to start. And yet, I must, given that I'm 2 weeks from the last post and the masses are clamoring "more! more!" You know, all 7 of you...

My Thanksgiving was just as it was for many food bloggers out there: a delight, an indulgence, a downright Bacchanalian fury fest of harvest homemade-this and local hand-grown that.  I myself fell into flights of fancy: because I was traveling to family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I INVENTED a holiday as an excuse to get to cook the big gala meal.  Seriously, who DOES this? This slightly-too-pleased-with-herself-for-her-own-good renegade domestic, that's who.

And so the big not-actually-a-holiday commenced. The Friday the week before Real Thanksgiving, we had Thanksgiving Observed. I observed my own personal Thanksgiving rituals, which include homemade pies, brined turkey, and chestnut stuffing, and a very important midday meal of a wheel of baked brie and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. You know, to keep up one's energy.

First off: stuffing. Jeebus, let's talk about stuffing.  In honor of my dear friend Laura, with whom I've shared no fewer than 4 Friends-givings and Lonely Orphan's Thanksgivings, I knew there had to be homemade stuffing. Trouble is, Laura was usually in charge of the stuffing.  She knew how to score and roast chestnuts, tear the bread and all the rest. And people: her stuffing is for real. Like, she generally made 3 pans of the stuff because we knew we wanted AT LEAST as many leftovers as for the actual dinner.  So I emailed her:
"I am making stuffing by hand. for the first time. by myself.
will you please share your ridiculously yummy recipe?
also: what do I do with the chestnuts?!?!"
Laura responded promptly (she's very responsible; she's a librarian, don't you know?) with her "recipe", that included the following:
"I don't have a recipe, so much as some guidelines. Use more bread than you think you'll need - either left out to get stale or toasted crisp. Use an enormous amount of butter...."
Oh Lordy, one of those recipes. I asked what exactly she meant by "enormous amount".  A stick? A pound? A gallon-tub? Her response was culinary poetry:
"I would probably go with the half a pound. Without the butter, you're just eating stale bread."
Thanksgiving Observed, aerial shot
Hell yes.  Kitchen wisdom, from a bad-*ss librarian. The stuffing was delicious, despite the shards of chestnuts under my thumbnail. (Funny, as I was screaming in pain while peeling those suckers, I remembered years ago Laura hollering from the next room, and never really knew what the big fuss was about.)  That stuffing? Totally. Worth it.

Then, there was the finest pumpkin pie I've ever made, (or rather, my variation on this recipe) so absurdly scrumptious that I'm making another one next week just for kicks, (to be shared on the blog as soon as we get a new camera, since our current geriatric point-and-shoot is declining so rapidly that I can only take 4 pictures on newly charged batteries before it starts flashing low-battery warnings at me, which prompts NSFW language from my mouth at 10am over cooling pies - nobody wants bad mojo over their breakfast baked goods, its a bad scene), homemade cranberry sauce which is so stupidly easy to make, I can't comprehend the canned phenomenon (other than the lines' handy serving size suggestion), and bacon mashed potatoes (which is a personal invention, but pretty much means mashed potatoes, replacing 1/3 of the butter with bacon grease and crumbled bacon).  All in all, a ridiculously wonderful night.

Oh and all that food: for 4 people. 'Cause that's how we roll. So, copious leftovers were had, and the next morning it was stuffing (oh glorious!) for breakfast and stuffing (oh divine!) for lunch. And I had it on the docket for dinner, but went on a quick outing to the local Target, and saw a gent sitting 6 blocks from my house. He looked like my grandfather.  He was holding a small sign, just a sliver of cardboard, and it had one word on it: hungry. I saw him on my way to the store, and again on my way back. And I got home and looked in my fridge.

I looked at the handmade stuffing, hours of labor, with homemade bread and sage from my backyard.  I looked at the bacon mashed potatoes, potatoes grown in the Shenandoah Valley, organic, from Horse & Buggy, and apple-cider gravy, homemade too.  I looked at the roast chicken, pasture raised and fed, slaughtered just a few weeks ago by a small farmer in Amelia.  And I looked at the nearly 2 bushels of apples in my fridge, from Vintage Virginia Apples, Winesaps and Staymans, Black Twigs & Albemarle Pippins.  And I put as much of all this locavore-loving, foodie-feeling, privileged-to-have-the-best-of-the-best eats food as I could fit into a large tupperware container,  and grabbed the biggest Sun Gold apple I could lay my hands on, and drove down to meet the man with the sign. My heart was beating hard in its chest.  Why was I so afraid? Its beating hard now, just remembering it.

I said, "Hi! Hey, I don't have any money, but I do have lunch!" as I handed him the container. He protested "Oh, but I don't want to take your container!" I told him to not worry about it.  He thanked me, and I said that I hoped things would get better. He was cheery, bright-eyed, as he assured me "Oh, they are! They will!"  I reached into the pocket of my warm down vest, and pulled out the Sun Gold, big as a softball.  His eyes lit up, and I put it in his hand.  He looked at it, a smile growing on his face, and said "Now, that... that I like," gesturing to the glowing orb of fruit in his palm.  I smiled back. I walked back to my car, and looked over my shoulder. He waved, and then gathered his things. He put on his coat, his hat, and crossed the street to the bus stop, still looking at that apple. He had been hungry. And now, he wasn't.

I drove home in tears. They came in spurts, but they didn't stop for an hour.

I don't know what came over me. I still feel overwhelmed thinking about it. I know that when I came home, I felt so full of ... gratitude? Despair? Luck? Confusion? I felt like I'd gotten carried away, that I'd almost missed the whole damn point.  There was all that local flavor bursting out of my kitchen, we're all swept up in the trend of the handmade and homemade, the local and organic, freshness and quality, and how food can make us feel good.... I love all that. I love the resurgence of food culture and of domestic traditions, of our appreciation and enjoyment of food, of knowing food's story and it becoming a part of my own experience, and the pleasure of telling story while doing the eating.

But this is not a Thanksgiving morality tale. I didn't do it to be virtuous. I did it because I was compelled. Because I was shaken at my core, where my heart beat so hard at the sight of a man whose only identity was simple: hungry. This man who looked like my grandfather, the same heavy hands with broken nails, a white slick of hair, he didn't need the story of where the chicken came from, or who grew the potatoes, or the origin of my sourdough in the bread in the stuffing. He just saw an apple, a big, golden apple, and he looked at it, and it looked like it was good to eat.  "That I like!" he said. Simple as that.


  1. Beautiful story, which reminds me of this quote from new UU minister in Cville: "Gratitude without generosity begets pride; generosity without gratitude begets paternalism." Without gratitude, that stuffing is just greasy stale bread.

  2. Love this and have shared it on my FB page. Your readership has increased to eight. ;)