Thanksgiving

I spent about four hours cooking various treats this afternoon. I make a mean loaf of challah (that braided Jewish egg bread), and I promised I’d bring some with me to one of the two Thanksgiving dinners I’m going to this weekend. I cheated and let the breadmaker mix it for me, but I did the final punch-down myself, then braided it, let it rise, and baked it in the oven. Usually I move it to the baking sheet as soon as it’s braided – the dough is denser and easier to handle before it rises – but the baking sheet was busy with the tarts I was also making, so I wasn’t able to move it until just before it went into the oven. It lost a significant portion of its beautiful braided shape as I wrestled it off the wax paper, and it came out kind of lumpy boomerang shaped. So much for presentation. It should still taste good, though, and that’s all that really matters.

The tarts I made were from a recipe I found on one of my dad’s calendars. They’re pumpkin with a ground almond ‘crust’. For most of the last two years I believed I was allergic to almonds, so I’ve had to avoid them. And I love all almond-y baked goods. I finally had my allergies properly tested, though, and it turns out that all nuts are just fine, so these tarts are kind of a celebration. Also, I love pumpkin pie. Love it. I still remember the first time I ever tried it, at the house of my grade school best friend. I was probably ten years old. I assumed I would hate it – I was a very picky eater – but for some reason I couldn’t get away with not trying it at all. Or maybe it just smelled nice? Either way, I took a little nibble and it was the best thing ever. It was one of the foods I missed most when I lived in Europe in my twenties (the others were bagels and ceasar salad). Especially at this time of year.

One year, when I was living in London, I decided I was going to bake a pumpkin pie myself. Tracking down a tin of pureed pumpkin was more complicated than I expected. Only one grocery chain carried it at all, and then only in October. As a specialty item. I brought the pie in to share with my colleagues and the Brits looked at me like I had sprouted a new head.

“You made a pie out of a squash?”

“Well, pumpkin. But yes, essentially.”

“And it’s not savoury, it’s sweet?”

“Yup. And yummy.”

“Suuure….”

Only one of them would even consent to try it. He acknowledged it was tasty, but Brits are, on the whole, not fans of cinnamon either, so it was an uphill battle on several fronts.

The tarts are coming with my to dinner at my mother’s. I’ll be at her house for most of the day tomorrow, to help her cook. I love Thanksgiving. I love the time of year, I love the weather, I love getting the whole family together. And I love the cooking and the eating. I often joke that our family celebrates Christmas like it’s a second Thanksgiving, just with presents and as many tacky decorations as I can convince my family to let me put up. There’s less pressure about Thanksgiving, though. And with Halloween to look forward to, the stores haven’t latched on to this holiday as an excuse for rampant capitalism. Unlike the American Thanksgiving which falls, inconveniently, in the gap between commercialised holidays.

So tonight my family is getting together with my cousin and his family. I’ve only seen him once since I was five years old – my father’s side of the family is not close – and I’ve never met his wife or children.

Tomorrow, my mom and I will cook and the whole family will gather to spend time together and eat absurd amounts of food. And then I’ll jump in the car with a friend of mine and drive out to Picton to spend Monday with my acquired family and eat another huge meal. The challah and a huge pot of homemade traditional English custard go to that meal.

It’s going to be a wonderful weekend.

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