First Cup of Coffee on Thanksgiving is the Best All Year

Thanksgiving morning: hard frost, dazzling sun, vermillion pops of color at the bird feeder, and the fawn who lost its spots has found corn in the trough out back and learned to stand on its hind legs to reach the delicacy. After this accomplishment, she does a dance of joy, running madly in circles.

It is Thanksgiving. Time to make the squash casserole, the wild rice and cherry pilaf, and prep the herb-roasted turkey breast. Coffee’s on. I’m ready to chop, sauté, simmer and roast. I made the Triple Cranberry Sauce (with its secret ingredient) yesterday and packed it into quart-sized Ball jars. Also a pumpkin-cream cheese dip for apple slices, just to prove there’s room for a Mayo Clinic-approved desert side by side with more indulgent treats.

I’m not exactly back to blogging. But Buck and I are on a brief contemplative hiatus in our mad pursuit of novel finishing (me) and agent-finding (him) to walk the woods, gather with family, and savor the holiday.

Best wishes to you and yours. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tough Old Bird

She reminds me of an old four star general, marching reflexively to distant cannon fire and preparing for battle with a ferocity no mere civilian can grasp. Thanksgiving is coming, and there is an eighteen-pound Butterball to be bought, defrosted for three days and reconstituted as a living symbol of perseverance.

I’m only 62, a youngster compared to our venerable guest. She has buried more relatives than I even know, including her husband and several sisters. She has been to the brink, too, peered over the edge and decided she would rather gamble in Biloxi on Saturday, place a different sort of wager in church on Sunday, and hop a cruise ship every chance she gets.

“Take it easy,” is not in her lexicon of acceptable phrases. The first word out of her mouth is “No,” quickly followed by “This is what we’re going to do.” She made a major concession to be our guest Thursday along with seven other family members, but only because I was implacable on this point, and she is busier even than usual, shuttling between visiting another sister in and out of the hospital, applying hot and cold compresses to her own eye following a procedure last week, and planning her next trip.

Come Thursday afternoon, Madam General will load her Lincoln Town Car with the glorious bird, pans of cornbread dressing, pole beans fresh from the farmer’s market, and homemade chocolate layer cake and fudge pie. She’ll drive her 85-year-old self to the woods. She’s one tough old bird and I salute her.

The Comfort of Being Known

I look at the photo I impulsively snapped yesterday of this tender man so essential and dear to me and know that the expression on his face and in his eyes is for me and me alone in the world; that it wells up in him from our more than thirty years together as lovers, dreamers, builders, and best friends who each bring unique gifts to the table of our long marriage. No one has known me, or ever will, like Buck. And we will never have enough time to get it all said. But we try, oh how we try, and therein is great joy.

We wonder about the whether and whither of life after death. Do we want to go if we are not together? Will the wisdom gained in loving be used in some ineffable stream of human consciousness? Will we say goodbye or merely farewell? Will death be silent or a crush of voices from the past or something else entirely beyond our imagination? What holy man can tell us? Perhaps a young one, with the certitude of youth.  I only know the journey together is sweet like ripe berries, deeply nuanced, rich, satisfying, and draws out the best within me. I have been showered with a sky full of lucky stars. My heart feasts on gratitude daily, and its storehouse is full for the duration.

There is an oasis in downtown Pensacola that had gotten lost in the slipstream of our memory. We rediscovered it yesterday, when Buck said, “Let’s go see what’s happening at Seville Quarter. Maybe they’ll feed us lunch.”  Apple Annie’s Courtyard at Seville Quarter was dappled in sunshine and shade on this cool, crisp day. Our server, Anne, let us select just the table we wanted and then tossed a snowy white tablecloth in the air like a master pizza chef so that it came down lightly on the round cast iron and glass table.

Buck ordered a cup of house-made seafood gumbo and the salad bar (laden with lovely artichoke hearts, pickled okra, cherry peppers, and other delights). I ordered a bowl of gumbo with a smidgeon of rice . It came in a traditional shallow, wide, white bowl and was accompanied by sliced French bread.  It was the best of New Orleans’ French Quarter, right here in our own little town.  Anne, a warm and gracious person, hugged us on our way out and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll be seeing her again next week for a repeat of that seafood gumbo and the ambiance of the courtyard.

Wherever you are, whether or not Thanksgiving is a part of your cultural tradition, I know that every day with a grateful heart is happier than any day without one. As to what comes next, I can’t believe that this is all there is, even though on a personal level it’s surely enough. I believe at the very least that our small flickers of energy will pool with others for a brighter light.  I’ll eat a bite of Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce today and wish you the very best of all this astonishing life has to offer and teach.

 

Crumbs

There's a new post up over at Good Light Comfortable Chair. It's been very quiet over there for a while, but the barefoot brunette librarian has deigned to show up again and at least turn on the lights in the place.  The post is The Stacks in My Study.

And by the way, when our friend Harold came in from the woods yesterday morning, he told me he saw ten deer, all does, yearlings and a couple of spikes, but he said the deer were very skittish, either because of a big buck or coyotes nearby. He expressed the thought that it was the presence of a big buck. 

"I knowed he was there, cause I saw them big tracks on the way to the hut." (Deja vu, all over again.)

When Buck came in, he reported seeing no deer at all, but did see four wild turkey hens.

Harold didn't hunt yesterday afternoon. Buck went out with a new paperback book in his pocket, but showed back up before dark. "Too hot to hunt," he said. Mosquitoes had come out in the humid evening air. The lure of air conditioning, feminine companionship, and a Manhattan cocktail, followed by a dish of collard greens, turnip roots, stone ground yellow cornbread and a cup of pot likker was too much.

This morning, early, while Buck was still dreaming, a gunshot so loud I think it came from the side yard causes me to spill the coffee beans I was about to grind. "What the hell is that?" I say, and unlock and open the door nearest to the sound. About 15 seconds later, my fillings are rattled again. I do not like it. I do not like it, at all.

The wind will fool you with distances. I know that sometimes a rifle shot two miles away will sound like it was from a gun fired right out in the clearing in front of the house. I mutter to myself, pick up the beans and brew coffee. About twenty minutes later, from the study, I hear two more loud shots, each about 20 seconds apart. I go out the front door and stand there in the damp, coolish breeze for about 5 minutes. No more shots. I don't see anything, not even a bird or a squirrel.

There are other property owners on one side. And there are poachers. Poaches are usually meat hunters. Some of them need food for their families. Others are near-criminal brutes who kill for fun and don't consider the ethics of size, age, quantity or method. The hunting season has just begun, and while I don't begrudge Harold and Buck their time in the woods,  I won't be sorry when the season ends.

Darkthirty

When my Droid cell phone woke me up at 4:40 this morning with flashing lights and go-go music, I didn't know where I was, at first. The days of business meetings with their attendant dreaded hotel wake-up calls are long gone, but I had a brief post-traumatic stress moment.

Buck was already up. Already up. That man, to whom early rising is a strange and unnatural custom, was at the bathroom sink, toothbrush stuck in his mouth, buttoning up a light flannel shirt.

Thanksgiving is the opening day of the regular gun deer season.

Harold arrives at 5:10, talking quietly at the front door as if he thinks that big buck he hopes to see this morning is out in the front yard and might hear him. "You cookin' up somethin' good fer us, Miss Beth?" Harold peers into the dimly lit kitchen where he can see steam rising from a pot of boiling water.

"Of course I am, Harold. I'm cooking the yellow squash for the Hopkins Boarding House casserole right now. And I've got pecan pie and pumpkin ice cream."

"Punkin ice cream! You're kiddin' me."

"No I'm not. Want some?"

Harold chuckles. "No, I don't believe I want no punkin ice cream, but I might have some of that pecan pie when I come in from the woods."

They head out, two boys on an adventure. They'll be back to the house between 8:30 and 9, full of stories of what they saw, how many does, how many yearlings or spikes were on the plot and whether a big buck, a "shooter," showed himself. "I knowed he was there, cause I saw them big tracks on the way to the hut." I don't have fingers and toes enough to count the number of times I have heard Harold say that over the years.

Earlier this year, Harold didn't think he would get another hunting season. When the doctors found that malignant kidney tumor, he figured that was it.

Buck knows that the county and the state have about come to an agreement on the master plan that will bisect these woods and bring a new urban town this way. He knows a way of life for these two Southern boys is drawing to a close.

I wave them off into the dark morning, guns on their shoulders and an Indian River navel orange in one pocket and a few pecans in another. I turn to the kitchen to snap beans, puree squash, saute onions, and get the turkey ready for the oven.

But first, I savor my own ritual: hot coffee and a slice of pecan pie so sweet it will make my teeth hurt.

 

Preparations

It seems to me that Thanksgiving is all about preparations.

This morning I went to the farmer's market and the grocery store. I have tried to prepare for the entire weekend, so that an enhanced array of leftovers will carry us through to Monday and beyond.

But this is all a ruse, a distraction to delay the inevitable reflection, longing and regret that interlineate the pages of our Thanksgiving script.

There will be seven of us at the table tomorrow: daughter Adele, son-in-law Richard, grandchildren Andie, Alex and Julia, Buck and me. Son Richard has taken a job as a GS-15 with the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.  It started a few weeks ago. He won't be home until Christmas. His wife and at least one daughter will be helping her Mom with a family gathering across town.  We plan to call Richard at Noon on speaker phone so we can exchange Thanksgiving greetings.

Adele and Richard's late brother, my step-son Darryl, hasn't shared a Thanksgiving meal with us since November of 2004. The pain of loss from the heat attack that took his life in October of 2005 is still acute. My mother has been returned to the dust from which she was presumably created for more than twenty years. I just typed that, and it is true, and yet shocking. And my Daddy, oh that sweet man, gone since 1962 with no way for a little pig-tailed girl, me, to take a ride in his old pick up truck ever again. Mother and Daddy both died in November of the year.

November is the memory month for me, the time of delving into old picture albums, and taking slow walks with hands jammed into my pockets, head down, kicking at the gravel.

Thanksgiving Day is a time for rising before dawn as my Mother did. I will saute onion, celery and green pepper in butter for the sizzle sound and the rich evocative smell even though I no longer make cornbread dressing. When I cut two large onions for the saute mix, I will cry. I know I will. I always do. Onions are a marvelous foil for a person's tears.

I made cranberry sauce late this afternoon. It's from an Epicurious.com recipe I found some years ago, called Triple Cranberry Sauce, so named because it's made with fresh cranberries, dried cranberries and cranberry juice. It also has orange juice, orange marmalade and a Secret Ingredient that was not in the original recipe. The Secret Ingredient is Grand Marnier. It is the best cranberry sauce I ever ate in my life, by a mile.

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I love watching the plump cranberries pop.

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The finished product — dark, and vaguely mysterious; a very grown-up cranberry sauce, thanks to the Secret Ingredient.

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Buck and I wanted a light supper tonight, in front of tomorrow's feast. We ate baked oysters, with an herbal spinach topping. I meant to take a picture before we ate them all. . .



 

The Table is Set

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The table is set for tomorrow's Thanksgiving mid-day meal, and I will be off shortly to the grocery store and farmer's market to gather provisions. I'll be blogging-while-cooking tomorrow, with short, on-the-fly posts as I've done in some past years. And, as always, I will start my day before dawn with my own personal tradition:  strong coffee and pecan pie. There's just no telling what a sugar-fuelled, fully-caffeinated woman might do.

My heart is full and so grateful to all of you, my virtual companions. You enliven, enlighten, and encourage me all year long. Thank you!

A Piece of Their Hearts

Light has just begun to come through the slats in the wooden blinds. I've been up folding clothes, just the sort of comfortable ritual that is a time-honored meditation for the householder.

I am reflecting upon our Thanksgiving gathering Thursday evening, the house filled with growing grandchildren. There are the beautiful teenaged girls, Andie and April, who cannot pass a mirror these days without fluffing their hair and turning slightly to admire their emerging goddess shapes, awareness of their latent power dawning; Alex, who at 12 has begun to sprout like the proverbial beanstalk, his newly deepened voice still something of a surprise; and 10 year old Julia, who is ever the spiritual child (spiritual in the way of wandering mystics who look for meaning in the reflection of shifting sands). She offers honesty always, and delights me with her unflagging love for all creatures, especially bunnies in the woods.

How lucky I was to marry a Granddad 25 years ago, not only for the man himself, although that would be an embarrassment of riches in anyone's universe, but also to acquire by the small embroidery of the heart, year by year, the privilege to enjoy a piece of the hearts of these children.

Maggie Waits

Maggie waits 1

He will be back soon. I will wait at the door.

Maggie Waits 2    Somebody's walking out of the woods. Is it Buck?

Maggie & Harold 11-27-08

Well, it's Harold; not Buck. But Harold's here, ready to scratch my ears, and Buck's still in the woods.  What's that old song? Oh yeah. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

Thanksgiving Day 4:45 A.M.

A small rectangle of intense light begins to flash. A few bars of music called "Eurotrance" plays. Stops. Plays again louder. Then again, even louder.

Ah. It's the dulcet tones of the Alarmberry, telling us it's time to get out of bed. In 30 minutes, our friend Harold will be at the front door, his little red pickup truck shining up the dregs of night.

I watch as Harold and Buck walk out into the woods,  their camoflauge disappearing into the trees, a seasonal ritual from their youth. Harold will be back about 8:30, eager to slip off his boots, take a seat at the kitchen bar, drink coffee and tell me stories while we wait for Buck to return.

Time for me to put on the coffee, cut a slice of my traditional Thanksgiving Day breakfast, pecan pie so sweet it can make your teeth hurt. The caffeine and sugar jolt me wide awake and ready to chop up those sweet little yellow squashes into a pot of boiling water.

Yellow Squash 11-27-08 

These were near the bottom of the bushel basket at Bailey's Farmer's Market. They're a little bruised. Notice the one propped up by the cooking pot. It's actually two grown together. If I could save it, I would. Anytime I find a mother and baby or two lovers cleaving together, like these squash, or tiny, fully-formed pepper fetuses inside a bell pepper, something within me clutches.  

Squash cooking 11-27-08 

While they cook, I'll saute' a chopped onion, and reduce a dozen saltine crackers to crumbs with the help of an old-fashioned mortar and pestle that I've had for more than twenty years. Once the squashes are tender, they'll be drained, mashed, mixed with egg, onion, cracker crumbs, salt and pepper and baked in the oven. It's a delicate taste, nice for a Thanksgiving Day side dish, but also a wonderful stand-alone comfort food supper