Ann Ferro: The most important ingredients

13 days ago Eagle News Online

Earlier this week I had some time to spare and I sat down in the living room on the sofa where only the cat sits.  Armed with a huge cup of tea and three brand spanking new magazines that had arrived the day before, I looked forward to a trip thorough the fantasy land of women’s publications.


All of the periodicals had extensive articles about Thanksgiving, describing elaborately decorated tables, mouth watering side dishes, luscious desserts along with incredibly complicated methods of cooking the turkey and articles about how to reduce stress during the holidays.  Hmm …  How long ago was it that I thought that the thanksgiving meal was one of the easiest of the annual holiday feasts?


If I concocted a shopping list that reflected what we ate as children, teens and young adults for Thanksgiving dinner, it would look a bit like this.   A 15 to 18 lb turkey; Pepperidge Farm Stuffing, potatoes, canned yams, brown sugar, margarine, jellied cranberry sauce, frozen peas and Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie (the big one).  We would also have homemade biscuits from a recipe that I have committed to memory and mince pie, made from ingredients already on hand, since we always had flour, Crisco and my grandmother’s mince meat made from the last green tomatoes of summer.  It was a simple and simply wonderful feast for us, never exceeded by any that I’ve attempted since, full of the anticipation of the crisped turkey skin, the sage-savory stuffing, fluffy mashed potatoes with gravy, the sweetness of the yams and the decadence of two pieces of pie for dessert.  At least that’s how I remember it.


The magazines describe something only vaguely like that. I came to an article in Living, the first magazine in the stack, about “holiday” cookies.  Cookies to me are a big commitment.  Cakes are relatively easy.  You mix the batter, pour it into the pan, bake, unmold and frost.  Cookies can mean refrigeration of the dough, rolling, cutting, baking, carefully removing onto racks and decorating.  They also mean an aching back from leaning over the counter to work on all of this.


I read on.  Martha wrote about her insistence on only using the best ingredients, quoting brands of chocolate that I can’t pronounce and which aren’t available in most of the stores that I frequent.  She then tells the reader that, because cookies are so important, she is now looking for imported flours, artisanal imported butters and even more exotic chocolates, fruits and such.  Yikes!  What will these cookies, already a tour de force of work, cost in dollars?   Yes, the lady does explain that these special ingredients create cookies that are especially tasty, but, gee in my house a cookie doesn’t last long enough to be savored.  They are inhaled.


How do you keep up?  Or do you want to? I’m still getting used to arugula and brussels sprouts.


This year, crazy schedules and a hip resurfacing (my son-in-law) have created the need to reorganize Thanksgiving.  For my daughter and her family, it will be brunch at our  house, featuring things like scones, biscuits, fruit and herbed butters … which by the way are easy to make and can be quite impressive.  Emily and her boys, Tommy and will are scheduled to arrive very early.  They will eat, share their reasons for being thankful and head back to Cazenovia for their next version of the day. Still, it will be one more chance to hug those growing boys as they transition into young men. A few hours is just as good as a whole day if hugs are available.


I am thinking of maybe some mimosas for myself, but I haven’t committed to that idea as yet.


Our son and his growing family, traveling over the hills and through the woods from Rochester will arrive a bit later and we will then add a turkey casserole (made with Pepperidge Farm stuffing), cranberry sauce, some kind of veggie and a dessert that I can buy at Heart and Hand.   The sweet one-year-old twins, appropriately bibbed, will sample some of our Thanksgiving fare, their giggles and laughter adding to the feast.  A lot more hugs.


This kind of rag tag Thanksgiving will be just fine and I won’t feel the least bit guilty, guilt being one of the enduring hallmarks of parenthood, particularly in females who read those glossy magazines.


It’s true that good ingredients, just like good upbringing, make a better product or person, but there is a limit to what “good” means.  For all of us, the act of preparation of a meal for others itself and the warmth of welcome that we offer to those we love, are the most singularly important ingredients.  Those ingredients are as ordinary as a smile and can’t be bought for any price.


And I wouldn’t say no to help washing the dishes.

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