Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gratitude 2014, Part 1: Thanksgiving

My favorite holiday, all about food and family and friends and fun, the one day a year I drink some sweet white wine and then some more, no worries because all we're doing today is cooking and eating and laughing and talking together, the candles are lit and the mood is hyggelig.

Dear Sally and Erik are here from Saugatuck and merry Uncle Sid, my father's little brother, with his wife Kathy and Sid's son Matt with his lovely wife Kris and their two girls who are such sweeties and play all day with our girls, all the second cousins screaming with laughter over Mario Karts and chattering happily as they color the cute holiday gift tags that Sally brought for the girls to craft.

Cousin Sally and Aunt Kathy

Sally's sister Chris comes too, with her daughter Beth who works for Loyola's Public Health Program but who will always be a babe in arms to me, bringing tiny sweet potato tartlets and a huge basket of luscious orange rolls from Chris and Sally's mom's recipe. The orange rolls, gooey, rich and glistening with orange zest, sugar and butter, are one of the treasured vintage recipes honored at this retro-themed dinner. We have dear departed Aunt Theresa's Heavenly Salad and Aunt Ruth's Marinated Tomatoes (this year soaked in a homemade version of the usual Wishbone Italian dressing) and the night before the feast I carved radish and celery flowers, trying the imitate the precise cuts made at Thanksgivings long past by the careful hands of our Grandfather Edgar, a watch repairer and jeweler by trade.

Radish roses to the left

Sally and Chris's brother John walks in at the very moment we are sitting down to eat, to general cheers, just like in a sitcom and the rest of the day unspools in the same charmed way, down to the sweet end with big bowls of sweetened whipped cream and five kinds of pie and these cunning little acorn shaped spice cakes split with maple icing made by Kris and her girls Sophia and Elise.

Acorn spice cakes

If I'm a little tipsy and slurry and inappropriate, so be it, we're all family and who isn't grateful for a little grace and forgiveness? A dollop of understanding goes a long way today and as Kris says, "cousins are forever friends."

My favorite holiday, for what better quality to practice than gratitude and thankfulness? And the laden table is both a delicious reality and a perfect metaphor for all the different things that sustain us during this dark and bare season: loving family, supportive friends near and far, friendly neighbors, patient teachers, restorative personal time, inspiring art, beautiful nature, good work.

And that precious sustenance is even more treasured now because this year was a hard one. I will continue that part of the story in another post. Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones.

Lydia's Orange Rolls
as prepared by Joan Winthers

Makes ±3 dozen rolls, depending on how thick you slice them.

Combine: (Mom always used a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup here)
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons sugar

Scald 1 cup milk in a saucepan. Add one stick of butter. Let butter melt, stir to combine and set aside to cool.

Once yeast is revived and ready to get to work (5 -10 minutes)…
in a mixer bowl, place
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
yeast mixture (from above) 
scaled milk/butter (from above)  
4 cups flour
1 teasp. salt

Mix into a tacky dough. Place in a greased bowl, note size of dough blob, cover with clean towel, and let rise until double in size. (I just use the mixer bowl.) Depending on conditions, the first rise usually takes about an hour.

While dough is rising, wash two oranges and grate zest into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup melted butter. Mix to make a paste. Cut the naked oranges into wedges and refresh yourself with a snack. Then grease three muffin tins.

When dough had doubled, give it a poke to deflate. Divide dough in half and roll one half into a long rectangle on a well-floured counter. (Mom used a canvas pastry cloth for rolling with a matching sock over the pin.) Spread half the orange zest mixture on the rectangle of dough, roll into a long snake, and cut into 1-inch cross sections (as for cinnamon rolls). Place in greased muffin tins. Repeat process with 2nd half of dough and zest. 

Place rolls in a cozy place and cover with clean dishtowels. When doubled in size, place in 350 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes. Once nicely browned, remove from oven and turn muffin tins over on to cooling racks. Warning: The zest filling will be very hot. Do not let rolls cool in pan. The zest filling with harden and the rolls will have to be torn free.

Pro tip: For Thanksgiving, Mom would bake the rolls after the turkey had been taken out of the oven to rest before carving. This results in still-warm rolls for the dinner table. Unbeatable!

Heavenly Salad

One cup sour cream
One cup sweetened coconut flakes
One cup miniature marshmallows
One can drained pineapple chunks
One can drained mandarin oranges
One cup halved fresh grapes

Combine all ingredients. It is recommended to give this task to a child, who will love to mix the white sweet mess. Garnish with strawberries and sugar. Minnesotans are rumored to use brown sugar.