I grew up watching 1940s US films in black and white, and I knew that on Thanksgiving people sat around the dining table, some wearing Pilgrim costumes, and re-enacted the story of that first Thanksgiving when the Native Americans and the settlers joined together to give thanks for the harvest. Imagine my disappointment that this no longer happens – if indeed it ever did. Even as I walked through the door last year in Philadelphia, a tiny bit of me was still hoping that one of the kids would be wearing a 17th century hat. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it’s also Dad’s birthday. He’s jolly happy that the office is going to be closed, and even happier that it won’t re-open until Monday. It’s a first (and probably last) for him to have a national holiday on his birthday, and a chance to recover the next day.
Pilgrim re-enactments and latent disappointment aside, I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of Thanksgiving. I was sure that this was a truly American holiday so I was disappointed to learn that in fact Thanksgiving travelled to the USA from the UK with those first settlers. Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving had been created by the Protestants/Puritans to replace the Catholic saints and feast days. Thanksgiving Days were declared after times of national joy or crisis – according to wikipedia, 5th November was declared a day of Thanksgiving after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Given how that celebration has evolved over the years, I suppose I can’t be upset that the US Thanksgiving doesn’t include any re-enactments any more! The tradition of fasting and thanksgiving was brought over to New England, and the original Thanksgiving is usually dated to 1621 as thanks for a good harvest. Nowadays Thanksgiving centers around a meal with family and friends. We arrived in NYC in October 2011 and we didn’t think we would know anyone in time to score an invite, and so we made plans to go to Montreal for the long holiday. Ten days before the holiday, I received a text from Jimmy in Philly asking if we had plans. As many of you know, Jimmy and I met online on a Springsteen forum where we then talked about everything but Springsteen. In November 2011, I hadn’t yet met Jimmy in person, and his invite made me cry – I thought and still think it was extraordinarily kind of him to ask us to join his family for this celebration.
Everyone who knows me knows that I am hyper-organised about Christmas and probably know who will be with us by the middle of August, so when Jimmy hadn’t asked us by August 2012, we made plans to go to Niagara Falls. Again Jimmy asked us to join his family and again it was too late. Definitely mea culpa. In January 2013, I asked Jimmy if we could join him for Thanksgiving later that year, and that’s the end of that story! So for me, with no family here, Thanksgiving has become about friendship and that very generous invite from Jimmy in 2011. My father often said that you can choose your friends but that you can’t choose your relatives, and he was right. True friends are rare and should be treasured. ‘Friend’ for me is not one of 200 Facebook people I interact with semi-regularly, but someone who knows me, likes me despite knowing me, and will be there if I need them.
Despite my Facebook comment, the internet redefined friendship for me. In 2001, George had become very interested in Springsteen and asked me questions about him, most of which I couldn’t answer. You see, although I liked his music I really was a very casual fan! In searching for the answers I found a forum where a lady in Morpeth made me laugh when I needed to laugh. I had found that board at a very difficult time in my life – Grandma was dying and then died, and Dad was working on one of the most demanding jobs of his life and was rarely home. I felt isolated and alone and I searched the internet. I joined the forum and virtually met many people discussing Springsteen and his music, and then, with some of those people, I shared details of my life, and my interests apart from Springsteen. From that large board, smaller groups developed but without it there would have been no Matt living with us; no Cindy here in NYC introducing us to her friends; no Jewels taking us on a road trip around Arizona; no Lori in Florida; not to mention Jimmy in Philly – I could go on but I won’t. When you add this disparate group to the friends I met in more conventional ways, I am blessed.
Families on the other hand are complicated. Shared blood doesn’t always mean shared love or even liking one another very much. In many homes, lack of communication, over familiarity, jealousy and straightforward stupidity inject unnecessary emotions into every day life. The best thing I have learned as I have grown up is that just as it is okay for me not to like someone, I am absolutely comfortable with not being liked. It’s awkward when that person is related to you, but sometimes relationships need to be kept at arm’s length for you to be content. And that’s absolutely fine.
Well, what an odd turn this has taken! From Thanksgiving to Friendship to Downright Depressing! Today’s recipe is something I made last week and continues the orange theme of Thanksgiving. It is cold here, and of course my brain turned to thoughts of soup. This is easy, tasty and filling which is great as a starter or as a lunch or as dinner with some splendid croutons. It is
Roast Butternut Squash Soup
- One butternut squash, cut in half, and then each half cut into eight slices – all seeds removed
- Olive oil
- Fresh thyme – at least 16 sprigs
- Half an onion
- One clove garlic, peeled, crushed and chopped
- Stock – I used vegetable from a stock cube
- 3 tbsp fresh coriander / cilantro
Preheat the oven to 190 C / 375 F.
Put the squash in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the thyme over – try to get it on the squash if possible. Put in the oven and roast. Before last week, I would have told you not to let it get too brown, but I wasn’t concentrating and this is what happened to my squash
Do not despair, it was even better charred. The flavour was a rich caramel. If you don’t believe me, cook yours until it is as brown as you are comfortable, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Soften the garlic in some olive oil and then add the onion. While this is cooking over a low heat, remove the skin from the squash and chop. When onion is opaque, add the squash and cook for about a minute.
Add water. I added about a liter / 34 fl oz, but remember you can always add more if it’s too thick at the end. Add your stock cubes, and cook for about 25 mins. When cooked, add the chopped coriander.
Allow to cool. Liquidise, check for seasoning and serve. I ground black pepper on top because I thought it would look pretty.
It did! Enjoy!