Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day Twenty-Five: Traditions in Transition, and a Recipe for You

Today, I wanted to take time out from talking about NaNoWriMo and writing, to share something on a more personal level. I've been thinking a lot about family traditions lately--maybe because some of ours are changing. As children grow up, move away from home, get married, parents grow older or pass away, the family constellation changes and so do some of our traditions. Some of the old ones no longer seem to "fit," or are impossible to continue, and new ones take their place. Yet there is always something that we cherish and pass on to the next generation.

On a trip to Virginia, when our children were little, we stayed with friends and experienced grits, red eye gravy, and monkey bread--all for the first time. The first two were not met with much enthusiasm by our children, but the monkey bread was an unequivocal hit with everyone and became our traditional Thanksgiving breakfast. Why it's called "Monkey Bread," our hosts couldn't tell us. I'll include the recipe at the end of this post so you can try it and perhaps it will become one of your traditions, too.

As for dinner, of course, the center of attraction is the turkey. In my family, we always made a bread stuffing; but when I met my husband, his family made a meat-based dressing. When I became gluten-intolerant several years ago and could no longer have bread stuffing (I tried it with gluten-free bread, and it just wasn't the same), I was very grateful we had added this tradition from my in-laws. Of course our kids all wanted Stove Top, so that, too, became a staple at our holiday dinners.

When my daughter Jen was in nursery school, she learned how to make homemade butter. This has been present on our Thanksgiving table for more than three decades, though it may be missing tomorrow since Jen will be with her husband's family for the holiday this year and I may not have the time or energy to make it. The butter was for pumpkin bread, which my mother used to make. Now, my son-in-law Louie has taken over this part of the meal, and does an excellent job of it, too.

We've even made a change in the squash, buying some that has already been peeled and cut into chunks (when we can find it). Davy and Sarah used to cut this up for me after I began having some problems with my hands; but when they're not here, we appreciate the convenience of buying it ready to just toss in the kettle, and are thankful for those who prepared it. I still make the boiled onions from scratch, though, because I don't like the flavor of the canned ones.

Several years ago, as our family grew through marriage, everyone decided to contribute to the meal so I wouldn't have to do all the work of getting a huge dinner by myself. Jen had tried a new potato recipe, "Cheesy Potatoes," and brought that as part of her contribution. They were a huge success, and were immediately voted in as a new "tradition." She has brought them many times since, and the dish has always been emptied by the end of dinner with one exception. Last year, the potatoes exploded! The glass casserole dish had been set on the glass-top stove, and no one noticed that one of the burners was on. Thankfully, it happened while we were at the other end of the room, and no one was injured, though it did take out two nearby pies. She made the potatoes again for Christmas dinner (by popular demand), and this time there were no unwanted surprises.

My daughter Sarah began a new tradition for us when she was in Girl Scouts and learned to make homemade cranberry sauce--super simple, super delicious! We also include the canned jellied cranberry sauce on the table's tradition! (I can hear Tevye breaking into song right about now. Tevye is the patriarch of the family in "Fiddler on the Roof.")

I always made at least three pies: an apple, a pumpkin, and sometimes a banana cream. Now, I make pumpkin custard (pie minus the crust), and Sarah (or my daughter-in-law Tracy, before she and Davy moved to Chicago) makes the apple pie. My mother always made a big fruit salad with both fresh and canned fruit, and fresh whipped cream and cherries on top. Now, that has fallen to me, only this year we're having it at Christmas instead.

And what would Thanksgiving Day be without the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? We always used to get up and watch the pre-parade show at 9 a.m., then the parade itself from 10-noon. In recent years, I haven't always been able to watch all of it, but try to at least catch the last hour. Another relatively new tradition we added was watching the National Dog Show, sponsored by Purina, right after the parade. We're able to do this because, for several years, we have shifted our Thanksgiving dinner from noon to 4 or 5 p.m.

About five years ago, we had a very different Thanksgiving--one I'm glad did NOT become a tradition. I ended up in the hospital over the holiday! The doctors and nurses were very nice, and after a couple of false starts the kitchen finally sent up a turkey dinner that was gluten-free, but I much prefer being home. It was definitely our quietest celebration, and the only year I didn't do any of the cooking.

This year, Sarah and Louie will be with us, Jen and Kreig will be with his family but will call us, and Davy and Tracy will be home in Chicago having dinner with friends, and will talk with us on ooVoo later in the day. We may not all be able to be physically present with each other, but we will be in touch with each other and share at least part of our day via phone or computer.

In reading this over, I realize just how many of our traditions have changed over the years; yet the important things remain: keeping in touch with family and friends, taking time to give thanks for our blessings, and remembering to keep glass casserole dishes off hot stove burners.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Have some of your traditions changed? Have you added new ones? Please share in the comments section. And have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Here's that Monkey Bread recipe I promised:

1 1/2 sticks of butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
4 cans of refrigerated biscuits
1/2 cup of chopped nuts (optional)

Cut biscuits into quarters.
Melt butter or margarine in a saucepan, add brown sugar and cinnamon. Heat until sugar is dissolved.
Place cut biscuits into a greased 4-inch tube pan, deep casserole dish, or oblong pan.
Pour the brown sugar mixture over biscuits and toss to coat biscuit pieces. Sprinkle nuts on top (if using).
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

[Note: This recipe is NOT gluten-free. To convert it, make biscuits from scratch using gluten-free flour, and use gluten-free brown sugar.]

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