Reliving Thanksgiving Traditions

Feeling guilty that I neglected to write a crafty tidbit to post this past Sunday (how do people blog every day??), I thought I’d share a story and a few recipes for you to make instead!

Thanksgiving is hands-down my family’s favorite holiday. Steeped in tradition, as I think most American families would agree, we come together for a beautiful purpose. And that in and of itself creates a happy mood for days.

 

My dad and me at last year’s Thanksgiving bonfire breakfast.

 

Here is my idyllic Thanksgiving tradition.

We pack up on Wednesday morning and drive to my parents house which is about 1 1/2 hours away in a smallish town in rural Ohio. In the summer the kids know we’re getting close because the road transforms into a tunnel of corn and the smell of manure from the dairy farms on the outskirts of town becomes overwhelming. But at this time of year, giant bales of hay that look like sleeping elephants dot the landscape, the corn stalks are dry and weathered and the cow paddys are frozen. The cows huddle outside their barns, hot breath rising, but we can no longer smell them from the road…though one still has to moo when passing. I can’t help it. Not to be left out of the story are the alpacas, the beautiful Arabian horses sporting stylish jackets, and the flock of sheep who live with a lone donkey.

Finally we arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s with lots of hugs. The kids make a bee line for the cookie drawer or the freezer  (where my dad keeps the Oreos) and the fun begins. Aunts, uncles, cousins and dogs make G&G’s the hub of activity for the next 48 hours.

Thursday morning dawns with the smell of coffee, the sounds of dishes being unloaded from the dishwasher and a dog or two asking to use the outdoor facilities.

We have made a few modifications to the day over the last few years. My dad, who is a fabulous cook, always prepared the turkey and stuffing; he is now 91 and would still do it all, but seems content making only the stuffing now. He gets up early and tackles his chore before my brother stops over to take the foil-wrapped bundle back to his house where he and my sister-in-law stuff and bake the turkey. Sometimes with that morning pick up comes a drop-off too. If we’re lucky, my sister-in-law sends over a loaf of homemade English muffin bread for us to eat for breakfast.

The kids and I watch parts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, of course. Then, after a bit, when it starts to get boring, we suit up, grab the dogs and a sister or two, and head out for the annual Thanksgiving Day hike in the massive field and woods at the end of the road. And yes, we have seen wild turkeys on our jaunt!

By the time we get home, my brother has brought over turkey noodle soup made from the giblets. And we have lunch followed by watching football, reading and/or taking a nap. It’s lovely!

By now it’s time to head to my brother’s house – a hotbed of sports enthusiasts – for more football and, needless to say, more food! Most notably my sister-in-law’s delicious artichoke dip and Triscuits.

The rest of us – there are five kids in my family – each make our contributions to the meal: replete with green beans, a leafy salad, my cranberry relish and my sister’s delicious pies.

 

Fresh French baguettes at On the Rise

 

No respectable meal would be complete without crusty bread, and it had better be good. To accomplish this, you must be either be a gifted baker or you must order ahead from the best artisan baker in town. In Cleveland Heights that title is held by On The Rise bakery. It’s a tiny neighborhood sort of place that emanates an intoxicating aroma and  always has a nice crowd darting in to grab a baguette or croissant and a coffee. Moms with small children usually sit and share a sticky bun or a “Jennifer” cookie. But on the day before Thanksgiving, the windows are so steamed you can’t see in, and there is a line stretching 20+ people deep out the door and down the sidewalk waiting patiently in the cold for their wonderful bread.

Thanksgiving evening is spent eating, drinking, laughing and sharing stories. We tease my 88-year-old mom when she’s had a sip too much wine. And by the time the port is served after dessert, we are well into relishing my dad’s World War II stories: enduring sandstorms at a French Foreign Legion post in Algiers; dropping paratroopers over Normandy on D-day; flying from England to a newly-liberated Paris to pick up champagne and silk stockings for the nurses; and night formation flying in dense fog over the cliffs of Dover. It tells like a romantic movie, but we know he must be leaving a lot out.

The next day we have the annual Thanksgiving breakfast bonfire in the way back of my brother’s huge back yard. He piles branches for months in preparation, and it’s big. We have coffee and hot chocolate and, after the fire dies down a bit, enjoy eggs and bacon cooked open flame on cast iron skillets. The cousins toss the football and the dogs chase the frisbee. All is well.

And so, if I’m late opening the store the day after Thanksgiving, you will know where I am. Finishing out the best 48 hours of my year.

I am blessed and I am truly thankful.

Bacon and eggs on the bonfire

Thanksgiving bonfire at the Webb’s

 

 

Now to the recipes in order of their appearance…

The English muffin bread and the hot artichoke dip both come from a cookbook called Angels and Friends: Favorite Recipes II, which was published by the Angels of Easter Seals of Youngstown, OH.

English Muffin Loaves

Preheat oven to 400°
5 1/2 – 6 cups flour
2 packages of dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
cornmeal for dusting

Measure flour by spooning lightly into a cup. Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and soda. Heat liquids until very warm (120°-130°). Add to dry mixture and beat well. Stir in enough flour to make a stiff batter. Spoon into two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans that have been greased and sprinkled with cornmeal. Sprinkle tops with cornmeal. Cover; let rise in warm place for 45 minutes. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes (or so). Remove from pans immediately and cool. Best served sliced and toasted with lots of butter!

Hot Artichoke Spread

Preheat oven to 350°
1 13-ounce can artichoke hearts, packed in water
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I usually use less)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
8 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of Tabasco
Drain and finely chop artichoke hearts. Combine all ingredients. Place in an attractive oven-safe serving dish. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until 45 minutes before serving. Let stand 15 minutes and then bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Serve warm with Triscuits (the triangle shaped ones are our favorite).

Jack’s Stuffing

Hmmm….this is tough, because we have no exact measure of what goes in. I’ll tell you what and you can adjust to your taste buds. Start with a loaf of fresh bread. Spread the slices out on trays a couple of days before Thanksgiving to dry them out. On Thanksgiving morning, take the slices and cut the crusts off (or leave them on if you want) and chop into tidy cubes. Put the cubes in a big yellow bowl (actually any color would probably work – but ours has always been yellow) and stir the cubes as you pour on melted butter. Then stir in the following: celery salt, rubbed sage and ground thyme. Adjust the flavors to your liking.

And finally…

This is for the absolutely best cranberry sauce/spread you will ever try. Seriously! I’ve been making it for my family for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 20 years, and my 8-year-old son begs me to make it in July or whenever as well…it’s that good.

The recipe comes from one of the most beautiful cookbooks I own called American Food, A Celebration, published by Collins Publishers San Francisco. It’s more of a coffee table book with beautiful photography and an incredible history of the origin of the food we eat as Americans. It brings together in picture and word all of the wonderful flavors of the world that our ancestors brought with them on their journey to freedom. The flavors of their childhood that comforted them when they were homesick and now comfort us because, with perhaps only slight modifications, they became the foods of our childhood as well.

Cranberry and Apple Cider Relish

The native Americans had a particular liking for meats served with fruit sauces. The ripening of cranberries and the Thanksgiving holiday coincide, which is one reason why cranberry relish is traditionally served with roast turkey. This is just one of the many variations served today.

3 cups apple cider
3/4 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
three 4-inch pieces orange peel, pith removed
12 cloves
12-ounces cranberries

Combine cider, sugar, cinnamon sticks, orange peel and cloves in a saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes  until sugar dissolves. (The recipe then says to strain the mixture, but I leave it in the whole time and fish out the sticks and orange peel at the end. I use a tea ball to put the cloves in while cooking, then you don’t have to count them out at the end.) Add cranberries, increase heat and cook for about 10 minutes until berries pop. Simmer for 30 minutes until relish thickens slightly. Remove orange peel and cinnamon. Place in a bowl and cool. Makes 2 cups.

 


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Tagged: Books, Holidays, Inspiration, Recipes

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