When I was very young, I always got excited when Thanksgiving came around. This was the most fun holiday. We got to eat turkey, all my cousins came over and my grandparents spent the whole day at our house, not just a few hours. And, in addition, I was not missing school for a Jewish holiday that required going to temple. It wasn’t that I did not like going to temple, but I liked school a lot more and I hated finding that folder of makeup work when I got back.
For years, I thought Thanksgiving was a Jewish holiday, without the praying — it was a holiday that I celebrated with family, and we did that on Jewish holidays. We had a big meal and we had no school. But by the time I was five or six, I knew that this was a holiday for all Americans to celebrate, until my grandmother told me that every day was Thanksgiving for Jews.
My grandmother had a knack for connecting things in a way that my child’s mind could understand. She connected Sukkot to the vegetables from my father’s garden. We were giving thanks for the bowls of tomatoes and piles of zucchini on the kitchen counter and the refrigerator filled with blueberries. I got that. The harvest was a time to thank G-d for the warm weather and the rain that helped the vegetables grow so beautifully.
But the connection she made that I understood the most as I grew older was her connection to Thanksgiving. For her, and for all Jews, every day was a Thanksgiving. She explained that American Jews had to be grateful that they did no live in Europe, that something terrible had happened to Jewish people there before I was born. She said that she was thankful every day that she lived in a building with heat that did not come from a fire pit. While she never told me much about her childhood, she did tell me that she loved being warm in the winter and having hot water come right into her house so she could take long hot baths. I guess life in Belarus was much different in the late 1800s.
I was too young to ask more about her life. By the time I was old enough to want to know, she was in the middle stages of dementia and couldn’t tell me.
For my grandmother, every day was Thanksgiving. I didn’t understand when I was 6 or 7, but I did figure it out, sadly, long after she was gone.
We need to remember to be thankful every day for what we have and, while this American holiday is a single day set aside to celebrate, I much prefer my grandmother’s wisdom. Every day is Thanksgiving and we should remember to thank G-d for all that we have.
If you want to get started on your feast, these do-ahead recipes will all freeze well and save you time on the big day.
Perfect Turkey Broth for Gravy (Meat)
3 turkey thighs
8 to 10 turkey necks
3 to 4 turkey wings
3 onions, unpeeled, cut in quarters
4 to 6 stalks celery, leaves included, if you like, cut in thirds
4 to 5 carrots
2 to 3 bay leaves
1/2 to 1 tsp. whole peppercorns
3 to 4 qts. water
Salt to taste
Rinse the turkey parts and place in a large soup pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 10 minutes, reduce heat and let simmer, partially covered, for several hours, skimming foam and adding more water as needed. When done, remove turkey and vegetables with a slotted spoon. Save turkey parts for salad or Chinese egg rolls and discard veggies. Makes about 2 quarts. Freezes well for up to 4 months.
NOTE: For gravy, defrost stock and bring to a boil, simmer to reduce to 1 quart. Add some of the turkey drippings and a flour roux, some sautéed mushrooms and white wine.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
with Fresh Herbs (Meat or Pareve)
This freezes beautifully and is as delicious as freshly made. I add frizzled leeks or shallots as a garnish when I reheat it.
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 leeks, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
1-1/2 to 2 lbs. butternut squash, roasted
2 garnet yams, peeled and cut into small cubes or thin slices cut in half
2 sprigs fresh thyme
7 to 9 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 to 1 cup orange juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with nonstick aluminum or a silicone sheet. Lightly rub the cut side of the squash with olive oil and place, cut side down on the cookie sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until the squash is easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Heat a large soup pot and add the olive oil. Add the onion, carrots celery and leeks and sauté until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir often. Add the thyme sprigs and the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the orange juice if using. Add the yams. Reduce the heat to simmer. Scoop the cooled squash out of the shell and discard the skin and the seeds. Add the squash to the pot and simmer about 20 minutes, until the yams are soft.
Use an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and process until the soup is smooth. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot, garnished with minced parsley. Serves at least 8.
This soup freezes well for about 3 months. To serve, defrost in the refrigerator for two days. Reheat. Garnish with frizzled leeks or shallots, made by frying thin rings of shallots or leeks until deep golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
Pecan or Chocolate Chip Praline Pie (Dairy)
This is simple, freezes well, and uses pre-bought crust. 15 minutes to make!
1-1/2 cup white corn syrup
1-1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. melted butter or pareve trans-fat-free margarine
4 extra-large eggs
1-1/2 cup pecans, shelled
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1-1/2 cups mixed nuts and chips or even toffee pieces for a dairy meal
2 deep-dish 9” frozen pie shells, unbaked, or your own piecrust recipe, baked until lightly golden.
For pecan pie: Combine the syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla in an electric mixer and mix well. Add the eggs and mix until thoroughly blended. Pour half the mixture into each of the piecrusts. Arrange the pecans in any design you like over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until top mounds and cracks, but still jiggles a bit when moved. If the pecans begin to brown too much, place a piece of foil over the top until done.
For chocolate chip pie: Follow the above recipe, except leave out the pecans and add 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips to the filling. Mix with a fork and pour into the two shells and bake as above.
Variations: Mix the nuts and chips together and pour half in each piecrust. Substitute walnuts or hazelnuts for pecans. Use white chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet. Use toffee bits and pecans for a toffee nut pie.
To freeze, let cool completely and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. Will freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, defrost overnight in the fridge and heat at 325 degrees until warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.