A Groovable Feast
With Thanks-day so close I had to find a box of Bell's Seasoning. This little guy packs a punch of dried sage. My New England ancestor ladies have been using it for their stuffing for a long time. William G. Bell himself was a Boston gent who imported spices into the Harbor. Let's just say they have been using these dried herbs since 1867. Everyone has something that Thanksgiving "tastes like", and this little box is it for me. The pecans featured above would not make it into our traditional and sacred, simple stuffing. White bread, onion, celery, Mr. Bells, and a Boston harbor- sized boatload of butter and stock.
I diverged from the old ways but with Mr. Bell at my side. For a "Friendsgiving" of New York sensibilities, I want to take traditional dishes and let them be influenced by all the voices, colors, and countries that we have in the city. I'll let you know what recipes I come up with after the big day!
I adore and read a variety (read great number) of food blogs. They are amazing windows into the individual kitchen creativity of people I end up feeling kindred to, though we have never met. Their stories and thoughts inspire my own explorations and give rise to a community that somehow nourishes itself in cyberspace. I like the word "cyberspace" because it is defined as a "notional community", yet it very much exists past "notion", outlined and filled in by our thoughts. This is the space where we are able to receive our other daily bread of language, metaphor, and meaning.
While I spend time on these food blogs and think about my own, I feel that we have failed to mention something crucial about food and feasting; scarcity and hunger. We post pictures of decadent cakes and sumptuous scones as if our larders were never empty and the grocery store was as straightforward and sincere as a farmstand vendor. The truth is that as a cook living within my means, I am aware of the things I cannot make and buy, or the things I am privileged to have access to. In this country and many others, people are making serious decisions about food everyday. Sometimes the decision will be that food does not take precedence over rent that is due or the travel expenses required to actually get to work. Some might have to eat spoiled food rather than go hungry and some will just go hungry. The essence of the feast is its opposite. The feast is not the loosen- your- belt type gluttony that popular media might be fond of portraying this time of year, it is the celebration of abundance made possible by sacrifice and the cooperation of family and friends. In previous centuries a feast might mean that you went without in order to prepare for the feast day, the special quests you would host, the spirits you would feed and sing to. Feasts not only required some forms of deprivation, they helped communities to alleviate and overcome it. At least for a time. We have much more together than we ever will apart, and in a political system that favors isolation and alienation, I fear that not everyone is making it to the table. A great good mystery lies in eating and cooking together and I must write about it and investigate it. What does it mean to feast in our time? On a threatened and thirsty earth? With chaotic and questionable food sources? The feasts of old are not silent on the matter but a little up to date imagination is definitely required.
I always have this intense desire when designing and putting on a dinner to make multiple courses appear. I want every dish to have its special ingredient. I have a grand vision for the diners and I need to execute it! Well, this year I just can't do that. I trim my list, I do without, I make substitutions, and I ask for help and participation. To my surprise it is still a feast and I think, a better one. Food at a feast is of secondary importance to the people that are gathered. I mean food is very, very important to me. I love to dream of flavors, aromas, and textures... and I love to eat them. But I think what truly interests me about food is what it conveys about relationships, how it connects us to others and makes us aware of our dependency on the earth, the ecosystems, and now complex economies. I write and cook food because I am hungry for love and truth and spiritual meaning. It has often been the case that I find all these things and more where there is food, or where there is a lack of it. I am a cook because my soul knows what it is like to be hungry, it knows too what it is to be well and wonderfully satisfied. I would like everyone not just to feel full but to feel feasted. If Thanksgiving is a time where we can think about how to make that happen, then break out the party hats and candied pecans! We deserve each other, a lavish welcome, and a plate we can truly celebrate.
Enjoy the day with family and friends in all the delicious forms they come!