It's something about the darkening sky, the full-tilt rush towards Christmas and the pressure to give extravagant gifts, the starches of the Thanksgiving meal, the conversations I'm doomed to have around our Thanksgiving table.
World War Three, the Passive Aggressive version, came early this year. With my mother's fall down her stairs, and her move to our house for her recovery, we've been dancing around difficult conversations for weeks now, me sometimes biting my tongue, and sometimes not. Imagine Thanksgiving, with all of its family land mines, stretching out for three, then four, then five weeks, and you'll get some sense of what it has been like around here.
Reflecting on the difficult topic of religious pluralism in church this week, our minister reminded us of another meal that wasn't exactly the most congenial of meetings.
Edward Winslow wrote, in a letter dated December 12, 1621:
Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.Can you imagine? The Pilgrims had invited Massosoit to sign a peace treaty, and spent three days eating with ninety surprise guests with whom they couldn't communicate (except through Squanto), warriors who were bearing arms, not really sure whether they were going to be killed. And you thought your Thanksgiving table conversation was a little tense? Not that I am entirely sympathetic with the colonists, but it sort of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? At least we're not armed. And the one thing I've noticed is that over time, even if the conversations are still difficult, they've become less charged, as if time has diffused them, just a little bit. Maybe we are figuring each other out, even if that understanding doesn't make us best friends.
Much has changed since 1621; though we haven't entirely abandoned our "roots," there's a lot on our Thanksgiving tables that is hardly "traditional" fare. This dish is a nod to those early settlers and to their native American guests at the table, a stew made with traditional root vegetables, most of which actually were around for that first Thanksgiving (no potatoes, since they hadn't yet made their way across the Atlantic). It's a perfect example of the meeting of cultures, American vegetables fused with the flavors of the Middle East. Even if peace may be hard to imagine, perhaps at least we can appreciate the result of the marriage of flavors, knowing that the longer we sit around the table together, the more likely it is we'll at least achieve some kind of understanding, if not agreement. And we can give thanks for that.
What--and who--will be at your Thanksgiving table this year? What do your Thanksgiving roots look like?
Moroccan-Style Chicken and Root Vegetable Stew
4 c. canned low-salt chicken broth
1 T.olive oil
1 lb boneless skinless chicken
1 1/2 c. onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. garam masala
2 t. ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
2 c. sweet potatoes, peeled, 1/2" cubes
2 c. parsnips (I used kohlrabi, because I had one) peeled, 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 c. turnips, peeled, 1/2" pieces
1 large carrot cut in 1/2" pieces
1 c. rutabaga, peeled, 1/2"pieces
1/4 c. golden raisins or apricots (chopped)1 14-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained
Juice and zest from one lemon
In a small pot, bring chicken broth to a boil, continue to boil until reduced by half, then set aside.
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Sauté chicken for about a minute until light golden and remove from pot; set aside.
Add onion to pot and sauté until golden and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add spices and stir 30 seconds until just fragrant. Add sweet potatoes, parsnips (kohlrabi), turnips, carrot, rutabaga, broth and currants. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, lemon zest with juice, and chicken, and simmer over medium heat about 5 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Sprinkle with cilantro if desired.