Traditions play a big part in my life, and when they are broken, it can cause a chasm which becomes hard to fill. However, I am well aware that this is nothing more than a 'state of mind', which is fortunate as several 'traditions' have been 'broken' this year, the most recent being the one that has become the 'Thanksgiving tradition'. When we moved to Texas, Samantha and I embraced the culture, and our first Thanksgiving was a wonderful experience. We met with our friends, Vijay and Githa, and their two beautiful daughters, Rachel and Rebecca, for breakfast. We then returned to our respective homes and we ate an enormous lunch! Time marched on, and our Thanksgiving lunch for three became lunch for four, as Edward joined our family, originally as 'boyfriend', and then as son-in-law. Vijay and Githa moved to the Dallas area, to be near their now married daughters. Rachel is herself a mum, and Rebecca, a mum to be. During the years that Samantha was unable to travel to England for Christmas, our Thanksgiving dinner became not only a 'traditional' celebration of historical remembrance for the nation, but a substitute for the 'traditional' family meal that my extended family enjoy on 25th December.
However, this year Samantha and Edward were not going to be around on Thanksgiving Day. They had headed out to North Carolina last weekend, and the sequence of events that has become 'tradition', to wit, eating lunch, then walking the dog, while Samantha and Edward sleep for a couple of hours before heading out to do their 'midnight' shopping, was not to be! Before the chasm had a chance to form, I pulled myself together and decided that lunch was going to take place, in my house, as normal! After all, one 'tradition' would still be in place, that of dog sitting!
Monday morning was not particularly busy, and Dana suggested that I take some time away from the office to do my 'shopping'. It had become a 'tradition' to purchase my turkey from a specific store
downtown, as they offer a very good price per pound for a rather scrumptious turkey. The excellent price does not come without specifications. A minimum of $25 has to be spent on other items in order to qualify. The store in question has long been a favourite haunt as its produce includes a variety of 'English' goodies, at favourable prices, so the natural conclusion was to stock up on essentials to qualify for the bargain! As the store in question also has very competitive prices, I was in a 'win-win' scenario! Being the eternal bargain hunter, this appealed to my frugal nature!
I drove myself to the store and parked very easily. I spent a short amount of time around the bakery department, and scooped up a handful of donuts for the troops back at base, before entering the vast area that housed the fresh produce. I had decided, yet again, to break with 'tradition' and depart from the usual array of side dishes that I tend to serve on the fourth Thursday in November! After claiming my tins of baked beans, and custard powder, both of which are larder essentials, I scanned the aisles for the 'let's make life easier', lane, and eventually espied the items for which I had been searching. Tin foil pans! Whomever invented the disposable tin foil pan deserves, in my opinion, the highest accolade possible. Perhaps an extravagance, to which thankfully (appropriate for this time of year) my budget can stretch, they have become a most welcome 'traditional' part of my Thanksgiving! I stood, mentally calculating how many ingenious items would be needed, stacked, unstacked and re stacked my cart, before charging off for the main dish! The turkeys were huddled together in the freezer, and I attempted to find a smaller bird, but in order to qualify for the excellent price per pound, the sizes stipulated are between ten and sixteen pounds. Thirteen pounds seemed not to be an excessive weight, especially for two people, with the possibility of feeding 'left overs' to the returning travellers on Saturday, and I promptly added the frozen creature to my trolley before heading off to find the final items on my list. "Do you know where I can find the cranberry sauce", caused a great deal of laughter between two store associates. I smiled and waited for the answer, but they continued to giggle. My assumption that they did not understand me was correct, as one finally stopped laughing and told me, "No English". However, she was not deterred and beckoned me to follow her to the front of the store, where she pointed to a fellow employee and said, "English". I was not sure whether she was explaining to me that he spoke the language, or whether she was implying to him that I was not American, but he did not find the matter as amusing as she! He failed to smile, as she ran off to the back of the store, 'laughing all the way'. Perhaps she was just in the wrong holiday season! The young man definitely was not in the 'seasonal' frame of mind, but then we were still in November, and 'jolly' may be traditionally restricted to December in his mind! The cranberry sauce, for which I asked, was at the front of the store. After all, where else would the cranberry sauce be, the week leading up to Thanksgiving Day! I thanked him for his patience, and kindness. Leaving the store with all my items, I headed back to the office, and laid out the donuts for the workers!
I had been under the impression that our friend Joe would be alone for Thanksgiving Day, and as is 'traditional', asked Dana to extend an invitation to lunch. He accepted gratefully, and we agreed that luncheon would be served at 2:30pm. It was after I had bought the turkey, half the trimmings, and received an acceptance to my invitation, that Dana received a call from his brother to invite us to spend the holiday at his house, as Dana's mum and sister were going to be driving across from Arkansas for the weekend. In a most 'untraditional' turn of events, we had gone from being alone, to having a guest, to having an invitation! It is amazing how deep that chasm runs!
Although Monday had become busier during the day, Tuesday once again started quietly. As I was going to be feeding three people, rather than two, the need to acquire a few more groceries was abundantly obvious, despite the men in my office not understanding my reasoning! After all, I now had to make dessert! It would be inappropriate, and very 'untraditional' to serve a meal to guests without 'afters'! A trip to the post office was vital, and as there is a supermarket just around the corner to the postal facility, I took myself off just before midday, and after depositing an 'if it fits, it ships' box, with the desk clerk, I headed off into the direction of more food. Still unsure as to my accompanying 'sides', I surveyed the vegetable area and finally decided. If I was going to be breaking with 'tradition', it was going to be big! No cauliflower cheese, no macaroni cheese (a favourite of Edward) and definitely no pumpkin pie! Pecan pie was also off the menu! We were going for all out rebellion! Perhaps I, too, was getting my holidays mixed up, as Independence Day would have been more appropriate for a
coup, but as I said, 'tradition' was taking a beating!
No doubt I pronounced "Quark" incorrectly. I wanted to make a cheesecake, and I asked the man at the cheese counter if he had the ingredients required. He pointed to a display of crackers that were opposite his stand. I shook my head and tried to make myself understood. "It is a Mexican soft cheese", I explained. His face lit up as if he finally knew to what I was referring and explained that they no longer carried the 'chips' that I wanted, but there were some very nice 'crispy things' on the adjacent aisle. Third time was a charm. Although he now knew what I wanted, he had never heard of the item and was sure he did not have any. As I left the area, I heard him tell one of his confused colleagues, "she said it was for cheesecake", and I looked back to see them both shrug their shoulders. If I had known Monday what I knew Tuesday, the giggling lady in the previous store would have known instantly what I required! Ho hum!
Saving dollars on the purchase of the turkey was a bonus. However, the excess on all the trimmings by far outweighed the savings. The only justification that I could find was that we would be eating the 'left overs' for a few days, and feeding the travellers!
Thursday morning arrived, and we rose early as the dog needed to be watered! I had prepared my vegetables the previous evening, and my 'post-it' notes were in place. Timings were listed, and I was ready to go! My turkey, which had been bathing in the 'traditional' mixture of coke and apple juice, was drained, and then stuffed with the 'traditional' apples, oranges and cranberries. It sat waiting like a 'lamb to the slaughter', (although it was obviously already slaughtered!) and the preparation of desserts was underway. Dana made me a cup of coffee and I set about making pastry. I had a plan! After a while, Dana, the dog, and the dough all went to 'relax', although only the latter did so in the fridge! I continued to chop fruit, butter bread and whip up custard (home made, not powder!) The kitchen manifested into the 'traditional' disaster area, and all was well! All was well until Dana appeared and the edge of the chasm started to crumble! Joe was unwell. He had been suffering in silence until now, but would not be able to join us for lunch. He gratefully accepted the offer of an afternoon visit with a food parcel, but suggested that we did not stay too long, as he was unsure as to how contagious was his affliction. Taking this in my stride, I proposed that lunch be brought forward and my husband agreed. Thus came my downfall! Putting the turkey into the oven ninety minutes earlier than anticipated, meant everything else had to be cooked ninety minutes earlier, and the period of time that I had set aside to reiterate the performance of the dough, and possibly relax for half an hour, was now not going to happen.
Traditionally, before I settled down into a manic tempo, I panicked. However, the self imposed terror dissipated and I continued with the task in hand. Pastry was rolled, made into 'cases' and cooked. Custard was thickened and cooled. Stuffing was mixed and set aside. The turkey went silently into the oven, and the timer was set!
Bread sauce is a 'traditional' accompaniment to turkey in England, and something I have never fooled with. However, as 'traditions' were being broken, left, right and centre, I became bold enough to try! The recipe calls for half an onion to be 'studded' with cloves and a bay leaf, then added to milk and butter. The liquid is then heated and brought to the boil, with the addition of a stock cube (in my particular recipe). As Dana is opposed to all things 'onion', I simply boiled the liquid, with cube, and left the cloves and bay leaf to swim unrestricted. My recipe then said to leave to 'infuse'. The recipe then calls for the onion to be removed, and for the breadcrumbs to be added, and voila! a sauce is made. Of course, without the onion harness, I had to drain the liquid to remove the cloves. I only drained a small amount down the sink before realising that it would be appropriate to save the liquid and not the cloves, and managed to salvage the remainder by sieving it over a bowl! I could not believe my own stupidity, but then some 'traditions' remain forever!
Thanksgiving dinner was finally served after the turkey, who obviously had a very tiring time being cooked, was left to rest, while the vegetables continued to bake. The table was set. Traditional was the turkey, gravy and green bean casserole (with fresh beans, of course!) The 'untraditional' (at least I believe for Thanksgiving) were the turkey sausages wrapped in turkey bacon, bread sauce, vegetable skewers and turkey sausage stuffing (recipe below should anyone be interested). Dessert was bread and butter pudding and individual Belgian tarts. Dinner was served at 2pm. This was early, as although the invitation was for 2:30pm, I knew we would not sit down before 3!
The stuffing was my favourite. (Turkey breakfast sausage meat, chopped apricots, an egg, half a grated apple, fresh breadcrumbs - one slice of bread, bound together and baked in a ovenproof dish or disposable foil tin - optional, for about 45 minutes, moderate heat.) The bread sauce came in a close second. We did not over indulge, and left for Joe's before eating dessert. Joe was feeling a little bit better, and we sat in his garden for about half an hour before leaving him to collapse into a short relapse. Before we arrived home, I received a text to say that he was again up and about, and enjoying the food from the parcel!
Dessert was a big hit with Dana, and we spent the afternoon walking the dog, and watching the football. The clearing up process was not particularly traumatic mainly due to the disposal tin foil trays, and the kitchen had been brought back to normality before the initial 'dishing up'.
Midnight madness had given way to 'Open 5pm on Thanksgiving Day', and so that 'tradition' would have been taken from us whether the kids had been at home, or not! As is our 'tradition', we did not leave the house to peruse the bargains that are on offer, and fell into a tryptophan induced sleep for an hour or two before watching some more nonsensical television and taking the dog for one final walk before bedtime.
Friday was another day. As it was not a 'working' day, Dana and I headed out for coffee. Joe was feeling a little better, and we spent an hour or two chatting and doing the pastry thing! He had enjoyed lunch, and the fact that everything was in disposable trays. (Yay!) After a while Dana dropped me back home, and headed to the office for a 'just in case' look at business.
The rest of our Thanksgiving holiday settled down into the 'traditional' trends, all of which can be seen, on the 'traditional' day, at more or less the 'traditional' time, in what will be, I hope, 'traditionally'......... another story.