25 November, 2011

Thanksgiving abroad

Five kernels of corn
 My inner (okay, it's not really that well-hidden) history geek almost exploded from excitement when I realized that this year, although far from my loved ones, I was celebrating Thanksgiving in the very part of London from which the Mayflower originally embarked!  Its captain, Christopher Jones, is also buried in an unmarked grave in a churchyard nearby.  It seemed very appropriate to share this American tradition with new English friends as well as fellow expats. 

This is the first time I've been responsible for almost the entire Thanksgiving menu, and I've never been away from my loved ones while preparing it.  But I still felt somewhat connected to them, because I used favorite recipes inherited from my mother, cousin, and friend, and I thought of each one of those women as I prepared the dishes they introduced to me.  There was my cousin Carlie's oyster dressing, which she made for my family the year that my dad suffered a spinal cord injury.  My parents had been in Atlanta for weeks before Thanksgiving, undergoing therapy and preparing for adjusting to life in "the real world" with new limitations.  They were due to fly back home on Thanksgiving Day, arriving just in time for dinner.  Sweet Carlie drove up from Virginia with a magnificent feast and thorough instructions for the items that would need some assembly.  We were all in such an emotionally fragile state that the enormity of her gift can't really be described.  That was the first time I'd even heard of oyster dressing, and I know that it will now only and always ever remind me of Carlie's generosity and that special Thanksgiving.

There were my friend Bonnie's legendary green beans.  Bonnie is an amazing cook.  I think she and Ina Garten would be friends!  Every Sunday for many years Bonnie would put out a veritable smorgasbord of Southern comfort food at its finest, showing rightfully uninhibited delight in each dish and the stories behind them, exhorting each guest to "Please go back, y'all, there's plenty more!"  And there always was plenty, and there always was a great deal of laughter.  After eating we would take a walk around the block to avoid succumbing to a post-feast coma, but upon re-entering the house we'd discover a further bounty of desserts, coffee, and more conversation.  Bonnie's green beans have become a particularly cherished favorite...You just have to forbid yourself from feeling any guilt about the fact that they involve bacon and bacon grease...

Finally, there was my mother's zucchini bread.  When I was a child, my mom would always bake two loaves of "zuke bread" before visiting her parents.  One loaf for us, one for grandpa.  It was grandpa's favorite, and no one in the world could get a crust just like my mom's.  She's bewildered when we ask what her secret is, assuring us that she doesn't do anything special, but I haven't been able to replicate it.  Making it makes me think of her and her father.  I didn't get to know him very well before Alzheimer's disease drew him away from us, so I'm glad to share something he loved.  Zucchini bread has been a staple of holiday meals in the Heidel home for as long as I can remember, and I intend it be a staple in my home, too. 

This year in London there were 8 of us at the table: 6 Americans and 2 Brits, old friends and new.  We introduced the Brits to classics such as candy corn, pumpkin pie, and the ever-classy cranberry sauce from a can.  We told the story of the five kernels of corn and shared things for which we are thankful.  We laughed a lot.  And I gave thanks for God's perpetual faithfulness in surrounding us with fellowship however far from home we go.

Menu:
Easy herb-rubbed turkey (I really just used this as a reference point; I was willfully heavy-handed with Herbs de Provence.  Let me tell you, the flat smelled like heaven.)
Cousin Carlie's oyster dressing
Dead Simple Gravy (Not only was it really dead simple, it was a little nod to the Brits since it calls for Marmite!)
Bonnie's green beans
Mom's zucchini bread
Butternut squash risotto (my friend Jess brought this dish, something she basically made up as she went along!  Super impressive, but also sad because it means there's no written recipe for me to steal...)
Pumpkin pie with whipped cream

1 comment:

CFHeidel said...

Thank you, Ginny. Once again, you have rooted meals in meaning. XO, Dad.