I just love me a holiday totally focused on food traditions, don’t you? While we might all succumb to the tradition of hot dogs or brats on Independence Day, or honey-baked ham on Easter, the “sides” at Thanksgiving really vary a lot from household to household. Sure there is the family tradition of making the family favorites grandma used to make when you were a kid (although no one in my family has been able to duplicate the potato dumplings my Grandpa used to refer to as “cannon balls”), but I’m here to tell you that having a non-traditional side like I had this year, caused me to think fondly about all the foods I’m truly thankful for, convenient or not.
When we arrived at my parent’s home for Thanksgiving (turkey, gravy, and butternut squash gratin in tow), the first thing that happens after the hugs and hellos is making room in the oven for everything. My Mom was acting kind of funny right away about needing the oven for her dish before we could crowd it with any of ours. What do you have there Mom, I asked? Now all I asked for from my Mom this year was to make the mashed potatoes, since she was hosting the gathering and that meant she had to clean the house and set the table (and I didn’t have to). Mom got a big grin on her face and said, “it’s a surprise” as she took her ever so secretly aluminum-foiled dish, allowed my Dad to have a peek at it, and placed it in the oven at 400°. After about an hour when all of the side dishes were unveiled and the aluminum foil was removed, the great secret was put before us. We were having Mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese. Now never before in the 50+ years of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions have we EVER had macaroni and cheese, although for all of us it was our childhood favorite dish. My Mom just smiled and told us she hadn’t made the dish at all since we all left home, and just felt like making it for us today. My Mom’s surprise made this Thanksgiving more special for me than others in recent memory, mostly because I’m so thankful I still have her there to surprise me.
Living my life inconveniently the past 32 weeks I’ve developed a great appreciation for a number of foods I may have under other circumstances, taken for granted. To start with, I’m really thankful to have a food co-op in my community where I have a super great variety of bulk ingredients to fill up my pantry. After all, the premise of this year is from scratch cooking and baking – and that would be made more difficult without my Outpost Natural Foods Co-op. Most of the ingredients I use regularly, like flour, oats, yeast, nuts, and beans are also all organic. Buying in bulk is not only a cost-savings measure when cooking from scratch, but I also use less packaging and can re-use my plastic bags from week to week.
I’m also really thankful for farm-fresh eggs. When I refer to farm-fresh, I mean that I’m thankful I’ve actually met the farmer (Lynn Lein from Yuppie Hill Farm), and that my eggs were NOT part of a national recall this past fall. I use a lot more eggs now than before I started my food project when they were primarily a breakfast option for me. Now eggs are an important ingredient in things like baked goods and fresh-made pasta, as well as in a salad or on a sandwich for my lunches.
I’m thankful I found a bread recipe I really love and have gotten quite proficient at making once a week. While I enjoy making bread from scratch, and enjoy trying out different methods of baking, this multi-grain bread has become my standby recipe that is a much better substitute than the convenient variety I used to buy, and much more economical as well. I can also experiment by adding a new combination of grains each time I make it, so far without disappointment. This recipe can also be easily made into hamburger or hot dog buns just a few at a time which means I’m not wasting them like I used to when buying a package of eight from the store.
I could go on and on about the many other foods I’m thankful for (Growing Power greens, Indian spices, homegrown tomatoes, Wisconsin maple syrup, Diana’s pickles or Lisa’s pasta sauce) to name a few. But what this year has taught me so far more than anything else is that food and our food sources in particular, should be respected and not taken for granted. Here in the good old US of A we continue to have some of the lowest food costs per capita of any nation, and we continue to rely more and more on processed foods that I really can’t call “food” in good conscious. When you cook all of your meals from scratch you develop an appreciation for the time and resources it takes to get something as simple as a loaf of bread or jar of pasta sauce on your table. I waste less food now than I did before, and save even the smallest amount of a gravy or sauce for another use in my freezer.
And it goes without saying, I’m really thankful I’ve had my readers to encourage me and keep me motivated to go this far this year. I could have easily given up on this whole thing a number of times now, but your encouragement keeps me moving forward, with only twenty weeks left. HOLY CRAP – only twenty weeks? I still have to try making cheese and yogurt and barbeque sauce and mayonnaise and…. I better get crackin!