Thanksgiving on the Tundra!

Minnesota is a long way from Bali, geographically, aesthetically, climatically, and philosophically. But it’s Thanksgiving, and my family made plans to come from the east coast, west coast, and Midwest to gather in Palisade, 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of the Canadian border, to be together.

I couldn’t miss that. Even though I made a vow never to return to Minnesota in the winter, Dad’s 93 and Mom’s 87 and there may not be too many more opportunities like this one.

I was the first to land in Minneapolis. Jessa and Dan’s cozy apartment felt like an oasis of comfort after thirty hours of travel. The next day Jenny and Kennen arrived from San Fransisco, and fast on their heels Joy and Kellen flew in from New York. We caravaned in two cars and converged at The Farm, my sister and brother-in-law’s home that is no longer a working farm, just a big house surrounded by nothing, thirty miles from nowhere, to bask in the warmth of family love.

Sis and bro had outfitted their huge loft, bunkhouse style, so the couples and I could all sleep comfortably, and somewhat privately, in that space. By the third night we knew the breathing patterns and little animal sounds of each sleeper. We also knew to stop the pendulum on the obnoxious clock at the bottom of the stairs.

By the time we rolled out of bed Thanksgiving morning, sis and bro were already into their 3rd cups of coffee and half-way through the New York Times crossword puzzle. A quick pow-wow and we received our marching orders. Joy had promised to make her from scratch French Onion Soup for lunch. P1100644

P1100643 The Gruyere, browned to perfection, the chunks of baguette dripping with rich broth, and onions sliced and sauteed to a transparent gold, set the stage for a day of feasting excellence.

Jenny had grandma time.

P1100659Then grandma, Jessa, and Jenny helped grandpa get settled at the table for lunch.

P1100640Mid afternoon someone suggested that we should have pie and coffee now. “We’re always too full after the big meal,” he said…I’m sure it was a he. At around 3 p.m. Gwen’s pumpkin, apple, and French silk pies appeared and we ate melt-in-your-mouth tender crusts with gooey fillings, groaning with pleasure.

After pie, everyone pitched in: many hands make light work! There was a harried hour of napkin folding, the artichoke, the pocket, the turkey tail until sis stepped in and said, “It’s like this…” and so it was, exactly like that, perfect pockets for lunch and perfect turkey tails for Thanksgiving dinner.

P1100668

THANKSGIVINGMy sister and my daughters are blessed with the cooking gene that skipped me. It was a gourmet Thanksgiving, Jenny’s beet salad with grapefruit, fresh basil, and feta cheese, Joy’s Butternut squash with sage hazelnut pesto, Jessa’s pureed cauliflower with garlic as a savory mashed potato substitute, and sis with three kinds of cranberries, traditional roast turkey and stuffing. Of course there were all the wines, beers, ales, and ciders to enhance the mood (that didn’t need enhancing) and accompany whatever food was being served.

And then it was over, too soon.

P1100670The girls and their guys loaded the cars and headed back to Minneapolis leaving me behind to spend a few more days with my parents, sis, and bro-in-law in the frozen tundra of the far north country.

 

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Next stop…Christmas!

Well, we polished off Thanksgiving just in time for Christmas. Nonstop, aren’t they? The holidays…

The tree arrived from New Jersey making the trip up the 24 floors (I stand corrected, I thought it was 21) on Kellen’s back, to their penthouse apartment. We had spent several days prior determining which tiny space would be the best for a potentially tall but hopefully skinny, tree. Kellen ceremoniously secured it in it’s stand…PERFECTION!

The scent of evergreen permeated the air. Joy lit candles and turned on Christmas music. Let the festivities begin! Then she hauled out boxes, upon boxes, and more boxes of ornaments, each one lovingly wrapped in newspaper. As she disrobed them each had a story. Joy is the historian, the keeper of old photos and family relics, the sentimental promoter of tradition. She’s also the undisputed boss.

“Do you like to do lights, mom?” Joy asked in a voice that translated, “Your job is lights!” I don’t think I’ve ever NOT done the lights. It’s an art that I don’t entrust to anyone else. They have to be done right. And this year they have to be perfect because if they aren’t, Kellen will disassemble them and make them so! I know this about him! He is more OC, AR. and BS than I am! (No, I won’t decipher the acronyms!) And make no mistake, I love that about him!

So I did the lights and Kellen approved. Whew! Then, because he has height going for him and the right tools for the job, he was assigned the task of affixing the tree topper. He nailed it. Good job Kellen!

About this time empty boxes, scraps of newsprint, unused strands of lights, and miscellaneous snowmen and Santas were strewn haphazardly about. Joy brought out the wine. She has an instinct for these things. Her timing is impeccable!

It was a muscat, sweet and fruity, just like the company! Kellen tried to achieve the same beautiful reflection through his Miller-champagne-of-bottle-beers but the results were not photo worthy. About that time we were singing along with Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, attempting to stretch our alto voices to the impossible registers of coloratura soprano with only moderate success. Then, at some point, the elves arrived to spit-polish and clean up.

Joy loves her beautiful tree…

and I love my sweet middle child…

The holidays: we love them, we hate them, we eat and drink and make too much merry, but I wouldn’t trade this time in New York for anything. Merry Christmas!

Kitchen Ballet

It started early this morning. Joy posted the schedule for Thanksgiving preparations on the refrigerator and we went to work. There would be four of us for dinner, and the plan was to have the first course, French onion soup, at 1:00. Joy was poetry in motion, chopping, basting, sauteing and maintaining a steady stream of conversation all the while keeping one eye on her spreadsheets and the other on the clock.

The kitchen is not large and counter space is limited. I was assigned the task of chief dish and bottle washer throughout the morning, keeping the counters clear while Joy did what appeared to be kitchen ballet. Gracefully pivoting and pirouetting from oven to stove top to cutting board, she worked her magic. The mouth-watering aromas must have driven the other residents on the 21st floor crazy!

When Kellen came in from his morning run I was re-assigned. I happily moved on to table decor. He joined Joy in the kitchen and the two of them functioned together like a well-oiled machine. It was as though he read her mind, anticipating her next move then supplying what she needed before she asked.

Karen  arrived and the soup was ready. A gastronomical journey of impressive proportions began!

Oh that soup…!

I’ve eaten a lot of French onion soups in my time, but Joy’s was far and away the most delicious concoction I’ve yet encountered. The delicate rich flavor of the broth was complemented by a thick slice of sourdough bread topped with the creamy gruyere. Oh bliss! The soup alone should have been enough, would have been if this were not Thanksgiving. But as soon as our bowls were empty, out came the rest of the feast.

We had the ubiquitous turkey, a 20# bird that Joy soaked in a spicy brine for 16 hours prior to roasting. She crafted her dressing from French bread that she cubed, toasted, and lovingly seasoned to perfection. The Brussels sprouts were tossed with olive oil, lemon zest and black pepper. She did a side dish of made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese with sharp cheddar and cream. Her cranberry sauce started with real cranberries and an unexpected addition of jalepeno peppers. The garlic mashed potatoes and giblet gravy were just as mouth-watering as everything else on her amazing menu.

I haven’t eaten that much at one sitting for many, many years. But I couldn’t resist the flavors of that beautiful meal prepared with such skill and love. And then…dessert. Karen brought apple pie and cheesecake that she had also made from scratch. Of course there was no way to choose one or the other. So slowly, very slowly, I ate apple pie and vanilla bean ice cream. Then even more slowly, I ate New York cheesecake with strawberries and chocolate sauce.

Some things are just worth it.

Now the day is done. The house is quiet. Neighbors in the condos across the street, those who don’t pull the draperies, are one by one turning off their TV’s and going to bed. I’m wide awake and still far too full to fall asleep. But it isn’t just my over-stuffed stomach, my heart is overflowing as well. The blessings of family, of friends, of love and acceptance, of a life filled to capacity with immeasurable goodness scroll through my consciousness like scenes in a movie. Thanksgiving. Giving thanks.

May I never grow so accustomed to plenty that I forget what a gift it is.

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