Friday, November 23, 2012

The Cobbled Together Holiday, and Tuscan Bean Soup

When I was younger, Thanksgiving was defined, as it is for so many of us, by meals with my small extended family.  Thanksgivings in my early years belonged to my aunt and uncle in central New Jersey, where there would be turkey and stuffing and sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and my mother's pumpkin pie and creamed onions, and early birthday presents for my brother, my cousin, and me.  Later, as I grew older and my aunt and uncle moved away, Thanksgiving meant a trip to Kennebunk Beach, Maine, where my grandmother lived with my other aunt and my cousin.  We still brought the pie, and there was still a turkey with all of the trimmings, but there were also my grandmother's meatballs and spaghetti and banana bread and coconut bread.  By the time I got to college we were spending most Thanksgivings alone, just the four of us, but that was fine, too; it was tradition.

I remember the first Thanksgiving I spent in Los Angeles; it was the first time I wasn't going to my relatives' house for the holidays, and though I didn't even feel like being with family was the happiest of holiday experiences, the palm trees wrapped with Christmas lights did little to quell my homesickness. After a halfhearted mid-day potluck with some fellow graduate students, I went to Ralph's, the local grocery chain, where I bought a store-made ready-to-eat pumpkin pie and a tub of Cool Whip, which I ate in their entirety that night, alone, watching reruns of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

But over the years, Thanksgiving with friends became easier; my friends became my family when my blood relations weren't available.  And sometimes I did both; there were Thanksgiving potlucks before Thanksgiving, and then meals with family later.

The older I got, the more I started to feel like the best holidays were the cobbled-together ones; the ones that involved both family and friends, or ecletic mixtures of friends from different corners of my small universe.

I remember talking with my friend N. about this last year; her parents were coming to visit, but they'd also managed to invite parents of a friend who couldn't speak English and didn't have a place to go for the holiday, and some of her husband's graduate students.  Initially, she was dreading playing hostess, but she mentioned later that it was one of the most fun holidays they'd had in a while.

Friends of ours were coming by in the morning to watch the Turkey Trot 5K, which passes right by our house on Thanksgiving morning.  They usually run the race themselves, but were benched by injury and recovery from surgery this year, so they wanted to cheer on the other runners.  I asked if they would stay for the meal, if they'd help us eat our turkey.  After an initial hesitation, they agreed.

And honestly?  It felt the most like Thanksgiving around here that it's felt in years.  I was deeply thankful not just for family, but for the friends whom we can choose to be family, the ones for whom we can be simply ourselves.  I was grateful for the destabilization of old conversations around the Thanksgiving table, the way in which new presence changed them or silenced them entirely.  I was appreciative of the extra hands and the extra ears and eyes, not just in the kitchen but everywhere.

This soup is one of those cobbled together meals, using up some of the things you probably have in your refrigerator from the preparations of the Thanksgiving meal, and some things you probably have in your pantry.  It's light enough to detox from the holiday indulgence, but heavy enough to make you feel warm and cozy after a late autumn day.  It was a staple in my graduate school years, and I still make it today.

Tuscan Bean Soup

1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 c. carrot, sliced
1/2 c. celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
rosemary to taste
15 oz. can black beans
19 oz. can cannellini
15 oz. can broth

Melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add the onion, carrot, and celery; saute for four minutes or so, until just translucent.  Add the garlic and rosemary and saute for a minute or two longer.  Add the beans and broth, and simmer for about 12 minutes.

Serve, if you like, with some grated Parmesan, or a crusty loaf of bread.
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1 comment:

  1. My holidays have always been the same, I spend each of them in one of two or three ways, with two or three sets of people, always family. I kind of wish I had been in more situations in which "made family" were present at holiday meals.

    I'm glad your Thanksgiving was a good one.


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