Thanksgiving is decidedly my favorite meal of the year – my favorite holiday of the year, and the best glimpse I can offer my Israeli friends into our world of strange American traditions. As with most things ‘American’, the holiday is defined by overindulgent gluttony, coupled with some quality time with family, and maybe a football game or an insanely commercial parade with floats and newscasters wearing earmuffs. In my family we weren’t exactly sports fans, and the parade (while nostalgic for me still), got pretty old the older we became.
This left the food as the main focus of our Thanksgiving traditions….and of course, a bit of family time. That giant bird smothered in warm gravy, sticky sweet potatoes with marshmallow toasted on top, snappy green beans, stuffing tossed with crispy bacon!! These were the things that made the memories in my house.
Plus, we got to decorate the table, run around with our cousins or neighbors until the food was ready, and eat marshmallows at the dinner table without being reprimanded. While Thanksgiving should also be about giving thanks, this often gets overlooked in the midst of all the plates of food whirling around your head. But, I’ve made sure that when I sit down with my friends here in Israel, the first thing we do is go around the table and give our thanks for something, a tradition that is as important as the food itself….ok, overstatement. Maybe not AS important. But something I cherish nonetheless.
This year I was thankful just to be sitting with a group of friends that have become like my family here. They are the people who I have lived with for years, who I eat ice cream with, who I work with, who feed me, who make me laugh, who share their stories with me, who have opened themselves to me and my whacky holidays, and who have allowed me to experience all the best things about living here.
I look forward to Thanksgiving each year more and more. Which is something I never thought possible. I thought that because my mom is no longer here to cook Thanksgiving that it would always be dotted with loss. That perhaps I could never enjoy it the way I had growing up, or that I wouldn’t be able to celebrate the day at all because it serves as a reminder of her missing from my life.
Surprisingly, Thanksgiving has the opposite effect on me. It makes me feel close to her, doing for others what she did best. Feeding the meal to these friends is in a small way introducing them to my mom, whom they have never met, but who is still such a part of my life, and continues to shape the person that I am. I like to think that her food lives on, her spirited way of doing Thanksgiving, or any family holiday for that matter, lives on in these traditions. If I can keep making my moms incredible food for others and passing on her Thanksgiving traditions to those around me it feels like the right thing to do. It makes the holiday feel like an extension of her and the sweeter times we were lucky to have.
One of her best friends told me that she was thinking of my mom this week (and every week, I know), because they would spend much of the day cooking food for their respective families with a cordless home phone wedged between their shoulder and ear, chatting away about this or that and planning for our annual Christmas gathering, no doubt. This, I also love.
With a meal this big comes major leftover action. In my case, I went ahead and made two turkeys this year. Both because I truly thought we needed more food, but also because I was banking on as many leftovers as possible to play with. Day after thanksgiving sandwiches have already come and gone (twice), turkey stocks have been made, cooled and put away for later usage, and pumpkin pancakes with cranberry sauce were thrown together, just because. Ok, fine. I already had 3 sandwiches.
Pumpkin Pancakes with Cranberry Sauce Syrup
1 1/2 cups pumpkin pie filling (in my case it was actual pie filling, fresh pumpkin that had been mixed with condensed milk, eggs, spices etc. So I just added the remaining dry ingredients and went for it)
1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
splash of vanilla
1 tablespoon baking powder
cinnamon big pinch
nutmeg tiny pinch
salt pinchy pinch
leftover cranberry sauce
Combine the wet, add to the dry. Mix until combined nicely. Do not overmix but be sure your batter is not too thick. If you need to really urge it out of the bowl than consider adding milk a tablespoon at a time. Heat a pan over medium-medium high heat. Give the pan a little butter to coat, wait until the foam subsides. Cook off one pancake first. Everyone knows the first pancake always sucks. This way you have something to snack on. Once that is out of the way, continue cooking off your pancakes until you’ve used up all your batter.
Chuck some cranberry sauce in the microwave, heat for 15 seconds, stir in some maple syrup. Serve pancakes with cranberry sauce syrup, cottage cheese (wait, i haven’t talked about how incredible cottage cheese is in Israel. It’s on another planet from what we know in the states…more on that later), walnuts and if you are lucky some pomegranate seeds.
Turkey Stock in two easy steps
1 Turkey carcass and bones
all remaining leftover vegetables from the day and some others if you need (ie onions, leeks, carrots, parsnips, herbs, herb stems)
water to cover
Chuck everything into your biggest pot. Cover with as much water as fits in said pot. Bring the whole mess to a boil, then drop down to a low simmer. Let it hang out this way for many hours. 4 is ideal. Drain all meat, bones, and veggies out and place your simmered stock in tupperware for later usage.
1 cup turkey meat shredded ( i like a combo of white and dark meat)
handful of stuffing
schmear of sweet potato with marshmallows
gravy (warmed in the micro)
roasted veggies if you must – or just more turkey if you are like me
Slap the whole thing together on really GOOD bread. this part is key. make sure your bread pays homage to the glory of the ingredients inside. Eat it with gravy dripping down your hands and cranberry sauce on your face. Done.
Tomorrow?? Turkey EMPANADAS! stay tuned, yo.