24 November, 2009

Thanksgiving approaches

"Drake: the Musical" has receded into the mists of time, carrying along with it the memories of such ditties as "It's Raining Again in Greenwich" and the campaign song for Sir Francis running for Mayor of Plymouth against Lord Killigrew, whose famous refrain, "Thank you, Mother," will live on in the minds of all of us who saw two, three or even four performances. It was such fun! Such a happy reminder of my own high-school days in musicals, that feeling of group effort, fellow support, admiration.

The play ended in triumph on Saturday night but I wasn't even there, for two reasons: one, you couldn't get a ticket for love or money, and two, I was sick as a dog. I hardly ever get sick, and so when I do, it's with a vengeance. I spent Saturday, Sunday and yesterday in a lump of misery, sluggishness and tissues. Today I am beginning to feel better, which is a good thing considering... Thanksgiving is in less than 48 hours.

In any case, we're all mourning the passing of "Drake," and there is much Facebook activity in Avery's life as a result. But never mind: next week she has her very first paying acting job! She's providing a voiceover for "Bob the Builder," a terrifically popular television series here. At least, she is if she gets permission from school. In one of those flurries of notes to school, that particular request is in a pile along with "Yes, we'll be at the parent-teacher conferences" tomorrow night. I always get excited about these conferences, even when I know from long experience that what will happen is this: each teacher will gaze at us calmly and say something like, "Everything's fine."

Tonight was the Soiree Musicale at school, a lovely evening of musical feats (too much flute, not enough swing band). Avery and her "Junior Madrigal Choir" performed a hair-raisingly touching "Ave Maria," and can I just say? I will be so pleased when, someday, I can listen to my child sing in a concert without my breaking down into hidden tears. I always have to pretend I have something in my eye, or that I must blow my nose (at least tonight I had a cold). There is something about the utter innocence, the knowledge of the effort put into the performance, the touching investment of all these girls into their achievements that makes me unbearably sentimental. I find myself thinking, "You'll learn to sing these lovely solos and play the saxophone and write your own arrangements of ancient songs, and then what? You'll wake up one day and YOU'RE the mother, sitting in the audience, wondering where it all went." I am really in a mood!

Such was my funkiness last evening when, in the throes of an annoying hacking cough, I felt very blue. I think I can identify part of my sadness: I've been working for several weeks on a chapter for my "book" on Thanksgiving. And it turns out, Thanksgiving in England makes me sad. It's an American holiday! No matter how lovely our guests, and they will be, they are English and as such, visitors to our holiday. The childhood feelings of family, bickering and familiar and beloved as they are, will not be present. I'll wake up on Thanksgiving morning with that odd feeling of being in charge that never fails to amaze me, no matter how many (20 at least!) years I have been in charge. It's meant to be my Aunt Mary Wayne and Uncle Kenny who host us and take care of it all. My dad should be driving and my mother bickering about directions to Kentucky, and my sister and brother and I squabbling about having enough room in the backseat. I haven't spent so much time thinking about Thanksgiving in years and years, and I miss everyone quite desperately. But I imagine that I'll come out on the other side, still feeling nostalgic for the old days, but with my mind firmly aware that it's my house, my holiday now.

I'm making lists. Yesterday John and I picked up the huge turkey and placed him in his briney bath of sea salt, peppercorns, fresh rosemary, sage, celery and onions. So he will repose until Thanksgiving afternoon, when for the first time, I'm going to roast him upside down. So much for the Norman Rockwell photo opportunity: this year his legs will be sticking down the wrong direction, but let me tell you, that breast will be TENDER, not dried out. Then there will be the mashed potatoes, the cheesy potatoes my friend Becky has told me how to make (how we will miss her and her family on the day), green beans. John's arguing with me over the beans. Should they be canned, with mushroom soup and fried onions on top? Yuck, but traditional. I'm not getting much support for my view that they should be steamed, with a buttery, garlicky, lemony dressing. It's tradition versus a food someone might actually want to eat.

Then there's stuffing made of the torn-out insides of Italian bread, sauteed sausage, celery, onions, garlic, mushrooms, fresh sage and a glug of heavy cream... and spinach with Gruyere cheese and celery salt, and pumpkin pie!

I'll do a post-mortem after the holiday itself and give you some perfect recipes. In the meantime, let me tell you what will make any schoolgirl sit up and take notice at breakfast, when "Drake" has finished and the holidays are just beginning to beckon. It's warm, it's fragrant, colorful, sweet and welcoming. Just right for those dark mornings with the rain pelting down the windows.

Perfect Fruit Crumble
(serves about 4-6 breakfasts?)

6 nectarines or small peaches
2 dozen strawberries, hulled and halved
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup Demerera sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp each: ground cloves, ground nutmeg
125g/1/2 cup cold butter

Cut up all the fruit and lay it in a glass dish about 9 x 5 inches. Then place flour, sugar and spices in a Cuisinart, turn it on, and gradually add, in small cubes, the cold butter. Let the mixture whizz until it has the consistency of a rough, crumbly dough.

Scatter the crumbly dough over the fruit and bake at 180C/350F for 40 minutes or until the fruit bubbles and the top is brown.


Onward and upward then, past nostalgia for musicals, past doses of Day Nurse and Night Nurse for colds, past grocery lists and table-setting strategies. It's time to assume the mantle of adulthood and be thankful.


john's mom said...

All right, the time has clearly come for me to extend two sincere apologies to the dear girl who married my son. Two words--well maybe, six. Green bean casserole and tuna and noodles. Sorry.

John's Mom

Anonymous said...

I feel exactly the same as you do aout Thanksgiving in England. It simply can never be the same. Add to that the burden of being solely responsible for a huge meal (and I, like you, enjoy cooking) and the whole things loses it's sheen.
I've compromised this year with only having a pumpkin cheesecake on the day. Will be topped with swirls of melted white and dark chocolate. Yum.

Kristen In London said...

Not to worry, John's mom, the green beans are in the fridge, ready to go... small price to pay for family happiness, after all.

And yes, the problem is, I'm cooking the whole thing. I think I've learned that next year, it's even nicer to have people contribute than it is to know I'll like everything there is to eat... contributing MAKES the holiday.

Enjoy that pumpkin cheesecake, and think of me as I struggle to produce the pie!

Bee said...

Why does it seem like so many joyous events have the undertow of sadness/knowledge?

I love the description of your daughter's concerts . . . and how they make you feel.

And THANKSGIVING. Sigh. It will never be right in England, and it will never be right unless your mom makes it . . . while you loll on the sofa, reading, with your stomach growling because she wanted you to build up your appetite.

Make the fresh green beans. I implore you!

Bee said...

Ok; have read John's Mom's comment.
Make both?

Kristen In London said...

Bee! I'm making both. The casserole reposes in the fridge under a most un-traditional bed of fresh breadcrumbs and fancy pecorino cheese. I have topped the tailed the fresh beans and the buttery dressing lies (as yet unmelted) in its saucepan.

Here is why so many important/joyous events are embedded with sadness. Because the essence of human emotion is in contrast. I firmly believe this. Happy things are so only because they are close friends with sad things.

Of course this comes from me, of whom a therapist once said, "You measure love by how sad you'd be if the person died," and that is true! But I do think so much joy comes alongside an awareness of the potential loss. Am I alone in this? Maybe a blog post.

Bee said...

I'm glad that you are having BOTH kinds of green beans. I know that many people are emotionally wedded to that green bean casserole, BUT (meaningful silence).

I just chatted with the woman who is doing the Thanksgiving dinner we are attending, and discovered that there has been a mix-up over the brussel sprouts and that we won't be having them at all. Which is fine by me.

As for the blend of joy/sadness: Yes, definitely worthy of its own blog post. I think there is always an undertow to joy because we know it is rare and fleeting . . . but I will ponder more on the subject.

In closing, Happy Turkey Day -- my fellow American expat friend.

Kristen In London said...

No Brussels sprouts... how was that, was there disappointment, then, or no?

I must laugh and tell you: ALL the fresh beans in their lemony, buttery, garlicky bath were snapped up, and... the whole casserole of green beans in mushroom soup still left over, tonight! John was crestfallen, to say the least.

Will think more about sorrow and joy and the relationship between the two. I think we're onto something, my friend.