How did Rhino do through the Thanksgiving Holiday?

Inquiring minds want to know how Rhino did with the Thanksgiving dishes.

First of all, he was well prepared. He did the math. He knew what it was going to take to get the job done.

100_2890.JPG

He had the dish soap AND he had the Rhino power.
100_2891.JPG

He also had a babe to watch him wash. He received some much needed wall art AND a mail order girlfriend from Green Hope Farm friend Cher Bartlett in Atlanta. This really eased him through the two and a half bottles of dish soap he blew through during the Thanksgiving weekend. And to be frank, he was not heavy on the soap. This was a legitimate consumption of dish soap.

000_0388.JPG

Today, he and his girlfriend escaped for a mini break holiday to the crow’s nest apartment in the barn, the spot formerly inhabited by Ben. Looks like things are going well. Jewelry has even been exchanged, a crystal rhino kindness of matchmaker Cher. I am thinking they may be AWOL for awhile. I am thinking this means take out tonight and paper plates.

Fifty three degrees

We haven’t had any stretches of cold weather yet. Thin films of ice have formed on the garden ponds a few times only to melt by midday. Moderate weather has lingered so long I even got the last garden that needed mulch hay all covered and laid to bed for the winter. The gardens look so tidy, its like a Martha Stewart TV shoot.

It’s more than a little odd to be outside without a jacket this time of year. As I spread the mulch hay, I actually got hot in my shirtsleeves. No one has begun to fight about who “owns” the favorite mittens or hats this winter. The teenagers are still wearing flip flops and crocs without socks. I am tempted to remark how nicely global warming is working out for us in the north country, but it really is not.

I am sure this is confusing to every bit of our natural environment. I can go out and pluck a spring Flower to make my point. The deep blue spring flowering Scilla Sibericas are popping their heads up, ready to bloom right now and each day I look nervously at the Snowdrops that threaten to join them. Then there is the self seeded lettuce growing besides the door into our office. A head of lettuce harvested in December will be a first.

I hope humankind gets its collective acts together to stop all this. Much as I don’t like our winters of old, I would have to be quite the egomaniac to think the whole world should shift its climate to improve my backyard micro-climate. When I moved to the North Pole twenty six years ago, I believed that if I didn’t like the climate, I would need to move, not look to fossil fuels to get things cooking.

I guess we are going to find out either how resilient our dear Earth is or how fast us humans can collectively wake up and take care of each other and this precious planet we share. I hope we wake up.

A Shout Out to Thanksgiving Visitors

000_0375.JPG

After I wrote about Thanksgiving menus, the emails I received in response moved my thoughts away from caloric intake towards an awareness of how challenging this holiday is for many people and how many ways you bravely forge ahead to create a more inclusive sense of family during a holiday that can get bogged down in traditional and isolating notions about what family is.

In other words, your emails reminded me that courage is more the theme of the day than condiments.

Many wrote about gatherings with friends instead of family because of emotional as well as geographical distances from blood relatives. I loved the way you made the meal a celebration of a larger definition of family with mention of what the dogs had and guest lists that were bouquets of diversity.

You created occasions all over America that changed the status quo with redefined notions of how to celebrate our common humanity as well as what to cook. By the time I was through reading your emails, I wanted to sprinkle Fringe Tree Flower Essence over every dish served in America to support your grass roots effort to expand our notions of family and celebration. Vive the Oneness!

When people described a menu to me, it was usually an aside to the main story of making the best of a complicated situation. I heard about side dishes boiled with salted beef from a Newfoundland man a long way from his North Atlantic home, maple pecan cheesecake made by a single mom from the south, now living in New York and facing Thanksgiving without her children, a dinner that was take out Chinese because the apartment renovation wasn’t going so well, a meal delayed because the oven died, potluck gatherings of friends with everyone bringing their favorite Thanksgiving treat, memories of eating too much of Aunt Shirley’s marshmallow sweet potato pie or too many black olives from the ubiquitous crystal glass relish dish, an Oklahoma Thanksgiving in New England with the cornbread stuffing cooked in Grandma’s oval dish, mention of many chocolate cream pies for children and last but not least, I heard tales about fried turkeys. There were some wild stories about this new take on turkey. All I can say after reading your tales is that if you decide to ever fry a turkey, call a friend to talk you down or an insurance agent.

One interesting menu description came from a young man who reported that his family usually had tortilla and cream cheese pinwheels appetizers, turkey with loganberry sauce, hot chili gravy, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, flan, and glogg, a drink of fruits and spices fermented in vodka then added to hot mulled wine. This menu was a glorious melting pot of his Mexican and Swedish heritage, yet when all was said and done, he talked more about the fact that he could not get home to his family in Southern California for the holiday, separated as he was by a three thousand mile geographical distance.

At Green Hope Farm, the yeast of the holiday weekend came from the visitors in our midst. They gave everything a sparkle and a sense of occasion. Michael and Catherine arrived with fantastic treats from Brooklyn, even beautiful dog biscuits from a Pawtisserie. Together we walked and talked and laughed and made a mess of the kitchen for Rhino for four days. At the meal itself we had much of Jim’s family and more lovely visitors originally from England and Canada. This helped us not take ourselves too seriously. The evening ended with a dance party in the bottling room with all the little people whirled around until bedtime by various big adults. I thank everyone who was part of our celebration. You gave us to a chance to feel a wonderfully expansive sense of family. I thank you for your willingness to help us open the throttle on any exclusive definition of family and let it rip.

Actually, I thank all the folks who were the yeast in the dough of other people’s tribal gatherings. As someone put it, “We all have to be our best selves when there is company and that’s a good thing”.

I heard from one Green Hope Farm friend who was invited into a tightly knit family group with what she felt was a sort of a “pity for a single woman without family” invite. Her story of the day unfolded with painful moments in which various members of the host family made it clear they really did not want to make the effort with a new person. Yet this woman kept seeking to connect with someone at the gathering and finally found a delighted welcoming presence in the family’s ninety five year old grandmother. At first she thought the woman’s penetrating looks bore the same message that she felt the rest were
thinking such as “Who is this person without any family on this family occasion?”. But by the end of the meal the grandmother said to her, “You know, I feel like I know you. Do you know what I mean?”

What a gift she gave this gathering by being brave enough to cross the empty social space that sometimes exists when people make an offer for the sake of being kind but haven’t quite inhabited their best selves enough to move into a state of heartfelt inclusion. Her willingness to include them in her heart, even when she had none of the social power in the situation, was a gift to them all. And the grandmother knew it!

My Favorite Question

Last night some of Ben’s fellow teachers came for supper and I got to ask my favorite question. This is the time of year I get to ask people this question and no one but my children groan. Actually Ben knew the question was coming, so he asked his friends first, putting on a big fake display of interest. None the less, I was satisfied, because the question got asked and I got to hear the answer.

” What do you have for Thanksgiving dinner?”

I am completely fascinated by the answer to this question. People always say, “Why, we have what everyone else has.” AND THEN they tell you a menu that always has its own telling quirks.

Take for example my conversation last night with Ben’s fellow teacher Renee Levesque. She said that her family had turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed squash with maple syrup, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts, squash rolls, and then she mentioned their desserts of tarte au sucre or maple sugar tart, squash pie, and apple pie.

This was a great example of why I LOVE this conversation. There are almost always dishes in the meal that tell you where the family is from. In this case, while Renee was born and raised in Massachusetts, her lovely french canadian roots show in the tarte au sucre that her family prepares. The general emphasis on squash with the inclusion of maple syrup several times also suggests that her family has stayed firmly put in the northeast. There were no non-regional dishes like sweet potatoes or cornbread stuffing. When people have moved around or married outside their region there is almost always something that indicates this crossing of the mason dixon line or if somebody has recently arrived from another culture or region of the country. Renee corroborated that her family had stayed put in New England.

The reason I started asking this question was because of an article I read many years ago about a cultural anthropologist who analyzed people’s Thanksgiving dinner to assess how long people’s families had been in America and what geographical region they grew up in. According to this anthropologist, Thanksgiving dinner is rife with cultural, geographical, and socioeconomic indicators. I don’t have enough of a grasp on regional foods to pick up the nuances in people’s menus like this guy did, but I have learned some things from asking the question over and over. And no matter what, I always love hearing what’s for dinner.

I have noticed that at Thanksgiving time the mason dixon line could be called the white bread stuffing-cornbread stuffing line or maybe the pecan pie line. My maternal grandmother grew up in St Louis and married into a New England family. My paternal grandparents were from Philadelphia. Our Thanksgiving had nary a southern twist except my maternal grandmother’s import of the blessed pecan pie, a very untraditional pie at a New England Thanksgiving dinner. My paternal grandmother’s Pennsylvania import of sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping did not prevail because the women from the women’s side of the family seem to drive the menu here and in other families as well. This is probably only fair since it’s mostly the women putting on this annual thousand dish show.

Oysters are another big geographical marker, some sort of west of the Erie canal marker because if someone mentions oysters they usually seem to have roots in Ohio or somewhere in the midwest. This beats me because you would think coastal New England folks who actually live near the oysters would have that part of their tradition, but they don’t.

Sweet potatoes, as mentioned earlier, are another geographical marker. Not big in New England but sliding into regions as far north as the mid atlantic and New York state. No one seems to serves them unless someone in the family has ties outside New England or watches the food network a lot.

My family of origin had an odd Thanksgiving dinner of Turkey without gravy, rice pilaf, green beans, curried cooked fruit instead of cranberry sauce, and atypical desserts like rum cake mixed in with the saving grace of pecan pie. One year we actually had steak, but this was only because the oven broke and we had to cook the meal on the grill.

I don’t know why the culture of my family was so resistant to the traditional menu, a meal I considered much more delicious than this fussy alternative food. Maybe too many Gourmet magazines. One of the reasons I was thrilled to marry Jim was because his family had my idea of a real Thanksgiving dinner; turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, creamed pearl onions, mashed squash, pumpkin chiffon pie, and mincemeat pie. Before the meal they had cut glass dishes full of black olives from a can with celery. This hors d’oeuvre served in this kind of dish crops up in a lot of people’s description of their family’s meal, but I do not know its cultural origins.

On my first Thanksgiving after I got married, my mother in law taught me how to make gravy. We have never had a Thanksgiving without it since.

When I think of Thanksgiving now, I think of this conversation with various people. This year, former staff goddess Catherine Boorady and her husband Michael Dutcher are coming from Brooklyn to spend the holiday with us. One year when Catherine was working here, she and Michael came for Thanksgiving dinner and I asked them my favorite question.

Catherine’s meal was traditional except for the last thing she mentioned, “Oh and of course we always have pita bread with hummus.” Both sides of Catherine’s family are from Lebanon. Her years here were one big celebration of fattoush, kibbeh, and dishes seasoned with za’atar. When I turned to ask Michael what his family had eaten for Thanksgiving dinner when he was a boy, the answer was even more surprising than Catherine’s answer. Without missing a beat Michael said. “Whatever I shot.” I had thought Michael was a suburban boy from New Jersey, but in fact, Michael is Mohawk and grew up on a cattle farm in the Catskills where his Mohawk grandfather would send him out to get the main course for Thanksgiving dinner as a sort of rite of passage.

Whatever the menu, it is a great thing that most all of us sit down to this meal of gratitude no matter where we came from. What a testament to all that is going well here in this country that we share this holiday without religious squabbles or a sense that one culture owns it more than another. Thanksgiving is a shining moment of our melting pot nation and I am grateful for it.

PS Our menu this year looks like it is going to be:
Turkey WITH GRAVY (turkey not shot by Michael, but hopefully enjoyed by Michael)
Stuffing with ingredients to be decided upon or described later (somebody made a face when I mentioned chestnuts)
Mashed Potatoes from the garden
Mashed Squash from the garden
Creamed Leeks from the garden (We usually have pearl onions but we have a zillion leeks in the garden still)
Cranberry sauce (maybe from scratch, maybe from a can)
Green Bean Casserole brought by my sister in law Katy and made from a family recipe from Katy’s mother’s family the Ryans of Springfield, Vermont
Cranberry Orange Bread another family recipe from Katy and brought by Katy (she who is saving my butt)
Chocolate Espresso Tart made by Deb Cardew (who is free of all dogma about Thanksgiving because she’s from England)
Tray of Lebanese Pastries brought from Brooklyn by Catherine Boorady ( an enormous tray of these delights sent by Catherine in October was wolfed down in five minutes by a hoard of young people. Ironically a note from Catherine suggesting the leftovers be refrigerated was all that was left in the tray after the Lebanese pastry love-in. This tray will be hidden when it arrives so the grown ups get some too)
Pumpkin Pie from the garden
Cranberry Orange Trifle ( Katy found the recipe in a kid’s magazine and wants to try it. With seventeen and counting coming to dinner I said YES PLEASE!)
Pecan Pies from my mother in law Mary Anne who makes the best pies ever as well as awesome gravy

PS#2 What do you have for Thanksgiving? Write me at [email protected]

Mercury Retrograde redux

“Mercury retrograde in Scorpio doesn’t let you get by without noticing it, especially when the moon is in Virgo like today.” So spoke Green Hope Farm resident astrologer Jane Taupier during a pause in the action today.

Today was a day that snapped me out of my fantasy thinking that a good attitude could prevent Mercury retrograde from completely messing with us. It was a day during which we relearned some painful things about ourselves such as we know shit about computers. It was a day we will long remember.

Yesterday I was still mellow about this apparently endless Mercury retrograde. I was sick of examining my underwear drawer, but nobody but me knew this. I was bored with my shadow, but I put on a good show of being delighted by the prospect of re-examining my inner garbage for the umpteenth time. I read trashy novels at night, but left a well thumbed self help book in the living room to prove the point that I WAS HAPPY to rehash my dysfunctional patterns.

Today however, I moved from secret whining to public caterwauling. Yep, Mercury retrograde worked its magic and the truth surfaced; I HATE MERCURY RETROGRADES!

As dawn broke over the hills of Green Hope farm, I discovered that I couldn’t open any email. Even though I had done nothing to the computers, I was told that our ” TCP configuration” (whatever that means) needed to be re-configured. Of course, everything is a re in mercury retrograde. Sadly, my attempts to reconfigure came to naught.

When other people arrived for work, we discovered that our problems were not limited to email. The network that connects our various computers to each other so we can share files like the mailing list or the invoices was not working. This left several people answering the phones with no access to our data. And only one person could invoice orders. This was not as big a problem as it sounds because the printer was not responding either. This meant we couldn’t print the invoices that the lone invoicer was cranking out anyways.

Those of us here in the office who are in our forties, fifties, and sixties like to think of ourselves as technologically challenged women who valiantly try to learn new tricks. We try not to glaze over when someone under thirty explains how to troubleshoot a computer glitch. We take copious notes about what to do when things go wrong, so we don’t ask the same questions more than once four times twenty or thirty times. As this full office snafu unfolded we calmly rebooted, read all our cheat sheets, and tried really, really hard to fix something. We did every we could think to do and more. Nothing got better.

So we packed orders without invoices and left them open hoping that Vicki, who was coming for a visit with the baby, could use her generation X voodoo on the machines and get them rolling. Worst case scenario we would pause at the end of the day to do handwritten invoices, a charming idea in which a lucky few would experience my marginal quirky horrific handwriting or Deb’s. She had gotten up at 3:30 am to make a zillion of her famous quiches for a catered luncheon. Usually its a dead heat who has worse handwriting, me or Deb. This could have been a day when she edged me out due to lack of sleep.

As the morning progressed and our pile of half baked orders got bigger and bigger, we began to leave SOS messages on Ben’s answering machine. Can you believe it? He was NOT hovering by his phone waiting for us to call him! He was off somewhere having a life. Each message had a unique flavor. The first was chirpy. The second a bit more dire. The third made from the privacy of the kitchen was a plea for mercy. The fourth, well, it’s best not to describe this one too specifically. Lets just say it was bad, really bad. Very scary. Think Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I hope he deleted those messages BEFORE listening to them. I am not sure its good for anyone to have to listen to that kind of noise from such a tormented soul.

Eventually we stooped even lower and sent out somebody to try and FIND Ben down in the village. When the poor guy left his other job and appeared in our midst, it was shortly before we started hyperventilating and right after we began torching the MacFiles for Idiots.

Okay, so he fixed the situation in 23 seconds. Maybe less. He did it really gracefully without making us feel too stupid. Anyways, we were so relieved, we didn’t mind feeling stupid. Apparently our router got unplugged during William’s game of kickball in the office last night. Sadly, it never occurred to us to check that the router was plugged in, because none of us had really focused on the fact we had a router.

Oh well, all’s well that end’s well.

After our hero Ben departed, we finished processing the multitude of packages covering every flat surface in the office and we all got to play with baby August who was having a much better day than us!

100_2882.JPG