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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

I’m still a wee bit under the weather.  Actually, it’s more like a wee-wee bit under the weather, which occurs each time I cough, which is most of the time right now. So, enough of my lack of bladder control, my coughing and sneezing and general malaise. This, too, will pass.  Until then, I thought I might share an older post as we here in the States prepare for Thanksgiving.

Turkey Lurkey and Henny Penny, first posted here.

412926_betterhomes19711I have a fear of turkeys. Frozen turkeys.

It started when I was 26 years old. It was my maiden voyage in the fine American culinary tradition of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey. I come from a long line of extraordinary cooks and married into a family of equal expertise. Big shoes to fill – and I only wore a size 5½ myself. The pressure to roast a good turkey was on.

On a crisp November day, on my way home from a day of teaching first graders, I stopped at the grocery store, which was a newly opened Jewel Grand Bazaar. A precursor to the big box stores of today. At four in the afternoon, it was already crowded, and parking my 1972 green Ford Pinto hatchback took a few passes down the rows to find a parking spot.

Once inside, I grabbed a cart and selected produce, then dairy, bakery, then canned goods, saving a space in the cart for Turkey Lurkey. What a pair we were that afternoon. Henny Penny and Turkey Lurkey. My mom and Tom’s, as well as his sister, Maura, were all bringing accompaniments, but, this bird and his stuffing were my responsibility. All mine.

I’d never bought a turkey before. This was long before Mr. Google could answer any question asked. With my 1972 red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens spiral bound cookbook as my guide, I picked out a frozen turkey, the biggest one I could find, loaded it onto the cart, and headed to the checkout, confident that the twenty-two pound gobbler would feed our guests and yield plenty of leftovers.

Bill paid, groceries bagged, I loaded up the hatchback of my Pinto and headed home as dusk settled in. Rush hour traffic was in full throttle, but, I only had a few miles to go and was thinking about all I still had to do to prepare for our first Thanksgiving hosting.

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving, from when I was a child, but, never more so than when I was young. Do you remember a time when we only had turkey for Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas dinner? We had our Thanksgiving meal, maybe turkey sandwiches later, leftovers a day or so more, and that was it. The scents and tastes were put in abeyance until the next year.

I was thinking about these things, I am certain, as I drove home. Anticipation and great expectations as I listened to the news on the tinny car radio (I was a news junkie even then).

Suddenly, the car in front of me stopped. I slammed on my brakes, just in time, and checked my rearview mirror to see if I was about to be hit. In an instant, I saw it, hurling at me at 35 miles per hour with me at a dead stop. My life actually flashed before my eyes, as did all my Thanksgivings and a few misgivings as well. It was two or three seconds of pure terror as 22 pounds of frozen turkey hurled, straight from the hatchback, over the back seat, and straight toward my Farah Fawcett coiffed hairdo!

Turkey Lurkey catapulting like a shot out of a cannon toward Henny Penny. I truly thought the sky was falling!

The back of my car seat stopped that frozen fowl. Stopped him mid-flight. There I was, saved, in a backhanded sort of way by foul play in the last second of the ’72 turkey tourney. The car in front stalled, the driver behind me staring, mouth agape. I can only imagine his view from his steering wheel as he witnessed a turkey on the loose in, of all cars, a Ford Pinto.

I managed to get this year’s turkey, all twenty pounds of frozen poultry promise, into the cart, into the car, out of the car, and into the freezer. It is now in a slow swoon in the refrigerator.

I thought about the turkey of yore each and every step of the way.

I still have the 1972 red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

The 1972 Ford Pinto hatchback , dubbed “the horsey car” by Jennifer in her toddling days, eventually went on to greener pastures.

 

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Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold . . . 

from The Pumpkin by John Greenleaf Whittier

Pumpkin lattes.

Pumpkin pancakes with maple syrup.

Always – pumpkin pie.

Jack-o-Lanterns. and Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf (aka pumpkin bread).

Pumpkin scarecrows atop pumpkin towers in pumpkin patches.

Fields and fields, acres and acres of wilting vines with ripe orange gourds of goodness.

Robert Newton Peck’s hilarious children’s story, Havoc on Halloween,  from the book “Soup and Me.” 

It’s pumpkin season in the middle of fall, here in Illinois:  the biggest pumpkin producer in the country.

Addendum to today’s post – I just saw a notification from WordPress that today is my 5th anniversary in blogging. :)  Wow! Thanks to each and every one of you for traveling along the Cutoff with me; reading, commenting, encouraging, laughing, crying . . . You make it fun and meaningful for me.    Penny

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DSCN4480I was standing in line at the grocery store, a middle aged woman before me, chatting with the checker as her order was tallied. A younger woman, college aged, stood juggling items behind me as I put my own selections down to be scanned.

It was that bewitching hour of half past four. The time of day when shoppers are on their way home from work, going to work on a later shift, picking up forgotten ingredients to make treats for the park district baseball game, or in need a medication at the in-store pharmacy that was finally filled.

I was placing my items on the belt, mentally tallying  the damage to my wallet, when the younger woman quietly queried when Mother’s Day was.

“This coming Sunday.”

A relieved look came to her face.  I could see several greeting cards in her hand. “You still have time”  I promptedas she audibly sighed. “Are you doing something with your mother this weekend?”.

She shook her head and said “No, my mother is in Italy“. She then proceeded to tell me her mom was on a vacation with friends, having a very good time in Italy. My items rolled closer to purchase.

“The problem is, I don’t know what to get her.” 

Hmmm? While she could conceivably go online and send her mom something that would arrive by Sunday, I imagined a rather exorbitant price to pay in delivery, especially for someone who looked to be on a Ramen noodle diet.

“Does your mom have access to the internet?”

“Yes.”

Why don’t you have a friend take a picture and send it to her, wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day?”

A hug followed, right there in the line of the grocery story. The middle-aged woman ahead of me and the cashier smiled, kindred spirits, it seemed, as someone’s daughter, behind me in line,  told me her siblings would be with her at their grandmother’s house on Mother’s Day and she would send them all, via the internet, to her mom, in Italy just as I made my purchase.

Amazing the conversations that occur while standing in line. Have you had any interesting ones lately? What would you have told the young woman?

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One of the funniest, and saddest, family scenes is from a movie I adore, Avalon, which premiered in 1990.

Avalon opens with Sam Krichinsky, a Polish-Jewish immigrant,  recalling the sights and sounds as he first walked on American soil, on what seems to be the Fourth of July. To Sam it was as if all the lights of the city had turned on for him alone, with sounds of firecrackers exclaiming his presence, the future before him in the promised land.  Can you imagine such a welcome?

I came to America in 1914 – by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn’t know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome!  Sam Krichinsky, Opening of Avalon

We follow the Krichinsky family through their years in Avalon, with Sam and his older brother Gabriel, Sam’s son Jules, the cousins, wives who are not of their family heritage, the younger generation changing their surnames to sound more “American“.

Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar? Sam upon hearing son Jules’ choice of names.

We watch the family change and grow, become educated, pay for and sponsor other family members on their journey to the USA, and as the family prospers, changes come, including members of the family moving from Avalon to the suburbs, where the television replaces conversation around the table and relatives no longer live together.

It is the scene of carving the turkey before Gabriel and his wife arrive that is one of the more poignant ones in the movie. The long chain of tables from one room to the next so that everyone can sit. The children’s table. The chatter and comments – and the one relative who is always late for family meals. I can identify with this. Can you?

In this scene, for the first time, in a new home in the suburbs, the turkey is carved before Gabriel arrives. Gabriel is furious and vows to never come for Thanksgiving again. Of course, it is more than the turkey that has him so angry; it is the changes in his life, his culture, his family – and all that progress can bring, both the good and the bad.

I’m sure many of us have had, or still do have, a Gabriel in their family. Do you? Have you seen this movie?


 

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There is only one kind of love, but there are a thousand different versions.  

La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

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1621013_saI found another memory in a box.  A big box. Actually, a big box store. Funny, isn’t it, where memories emerge?

There we were, on a snow filled New Year’s Day, shopping for a new stove at Best Buy. Among the many items that go on sale in the new year are appliances. In this newly minted year, we find we need to replace our oven, so, off we pottered, research having been done online and through a few well-placed phone calls, looking for a range.

Trudging into the store after making our way through a parking lot that had not yet been plowed from the first 24 hours of a 48 hour snowfall, we stomped slush from our feet and were greeted with a rush of welcome fit for a duke and duchess. We were so welcomed, of course, because we were just about the only patrons in the store!

Off we went, the Duke of Deer and his Duchess, down aisles of all things electronic, toward the big appliances. Once we found our bearings, we inspected a fine row of stoves and rounded a corner of stainless steel, when I exclaimed “oh, this is just like the stove we had when I was growing up!”; and it was. White enamel in look and as pure as the white driven snow, it had coal, black burner grates and (WAIT FOR IT) and an analog clock with a chubby, round face and arrowed hands, right smack dab in the middle of the range.

My girlish glee immediately aroused a clerk, smelling the prospect of a sale, maybe the only sale on that very first day of 2014. A rather young chap, he slid around an LG, or was it a Samsung, and, swift as a lord-a-leaping, opened the  white oven door. “This is GE’s new retro model, and it is only $….“. We weren’t interested in buying this smart new model. Though it would have fit into our budget, it would not have worked in our kitchen.

Even so, the Duke of Deer, whose childhood also held such a white cooking wonder, and his Duchess spent several sweet moments DSCN3980warmly recalling the features of their childhood ovens. How very wondrous it seemed.

Now, dear reader, there is more to this New Year’s day story, which I will soon share with you, for one thing, you know,  always leads to another when memories are stirred on the Cutoff – and they even involves Hershey’s Cocoa.

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Calla lilies and greens in vaseChristmastide flowed gently here on the Cutoff, and we now find ourselves at Epiphany. I’m sure the three “wiseguys” would not have travelled through so many feet of snow and double digit, negative, temperatures to bring their honorable gifts. I started this post nearly a week ago, and here I am, revising it yet again before it goes out on the virtual waves of blogdom.

Our Christmastide activities were somewhat restricted as Tom recovered from surgery, however, we were gifted with more time to enjoy our decorations, holiday music,  movies and the gentle solitude for much of the season.

Personally, I have had more time to read mid-afternoon, teacup in hand, a Christmas cookie swiftly disintegrating into crumbs down my sweater. Somehow, the trappings about me seemed softer, my angel collection sweeter, and the smallest moments crisper.

I had time to peruse my collection of Christmas books at a more leisurely length, enjoying lush volumes with holiday decorations and traditions, reading the treasures of children’s books accrued, and revisiting longtime favorites, such as “One Christmas”, Truman Capote’s memoirs of a childhood Christmas and Philip Van Doren Stern’s “The Greatest Gift”, upon which my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”,  was based.  If you haven’t discovered either of these gems, you must put them wherever all good book lists go, perhaps in abeyance for next December.

M. C. Beaton kept me entertained, as only she can, with a light Hamish MacBeth Christmas mystery, “A Highland Christmas”,  and I managed to rip through Alan Bennett’s delicious novella, “The Uncommon Reader”, which was a Christmas gift. Have you read this charming and funny story about how the Queen upsets the well-ordered royal apple cart when she starts spending all her time reading? Not known for literary pursuits, her staff, the prime minister, and the Bishop of Canterbury don’t know what to make of her and measures are, um, taken.

I’ve also enjoyed Bess Streeter Aldrich’s collection of short stories, “Journey Into Christmas”, which I first discovered through Nan’s blog, Letters from a Hill Farm. You can find her post about it here. Do wander around her blog where she writes about books, poetry, life on their farm, and often posts the best recipes.

Journey into Christmas

“Journey Into Christmas” was a present one Christmas. I enjoyed some of the stories then, but this year I delved deeper into this collection of homespun stories of simpler times and the soul of Christmas. I was so moved by one of Bess Aldrich’s stories about a family’s hard times at Christmas on the prairie and how the characters made “the best of it” that off to the library I went on New Year’s Eve day to check out her novel, “A Lantern in her Hand”. I ended up returning home with four of Aldrich’s books, which include two volumes of her short stories and essays.

The novel, “A Lantern in her Hand” is based on Aldrich’s own family stories of homesteading on the Nebraska prairie. It $(KGrHqQOKosFG-BUOBtpBR4)r(3JIw~~60_35brings to mind the Little House books, which you know how much I love. As I sit here, finishing up a post that has taken a pilgrimage of time to publish, I am warm and safe in our home amid this deep freeze we, and much of the United States, are in. Our shelves and freezer are full. We have any number of ways of communication at our fingertips, one of which I am employing right now. These are factual stories of a time that seems simpler, but, of course, really were not. I can only imagine the loneliness that must have hung over so many during the devastating winters of the early 1870′s, and truly admire the determination and pure grit that came to be known as the pioneering spirit.

I’ve not minded this gentle flowing Christmastide, with my Tom and my books and my comfort. I’ll hang on to it for a few more days.

Have you read any stories by Bess Streeter Aldrich?

Do you have a favorite or new Christmastide read?

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