Monday, November 2, 2009

Tales of Thanksgiving Food and Friendship By Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

Tales of Thanksgiving Food and Friendship
By Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel,
Authors of The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship

For some people, Thanksgiving evokes warm feelings triggered by 
memories of a close-knit family gathering, where relatives share 
traditions and a home-cooked meal.

For others . . . it's the beginning of a holiday season stuffed with 
lunatic relatives, family dysfunction, bitter recriminations, and 

We heard a wide range of Thanksgiving Tales this year while traveling 
around the country for our Recipe Clubs. Inspired by the plot and 
structure of our book, Recipe Clubs are storytelling and friendship 
circles in which women gather to share true-life food-related stories 
along with recipes. Recipe Clubs are not about cooking; they're about 
creating community and fostering friendship . . . they're about 
laughing and crying . . . they're about honoring our own lives and the 
lives of others. They show us how the simplest, sweetest, or funniest 
tales about food can turn into deep revelations about our lives.

Just about everybody has at least one quintessential Thanksgiving food 
memory that perfectly captures the complicated feelings surrounding 
the holiday. Here are some of our favorites:

One Recipe Club friend recalls the first time she ever cooked a 
Thanksgiving meal on her own. Her mother, who traditionally did the 
meal, was recovering from surgery. Her father was working. And her 
sister was flying in just in time for the meal, but not early enough 
to help cook.

So our friend rose to the challenge, proclaiming that she would do the 
entire meal, on her own. No problem -- until reality set in. She woke 
at dawn, shopped, chopped, and soon realized her oven was half the 
size it needed to be. By the time the turkey wanted basting the 
chestnut stuffing required baking -- and the brussel sprouts were 
definitely not cleaning themselves!

But things really went south when it came time prepare her 
grandmother's famous pumpkin pie. This was the pie recipe that had 
been handed down through generations. If it didn't come out perfectly, 
our friend knew she'd feel like a failure.

Of course, nothing went right. The pie crust was too wet, then too 
dry. There was too much nutmeg, not enough ginger. With every crimp of 
the dough her head swam with the imagined voice of her southern 
grandmother: "A woman is judged not just by who she is, but by what 
she can bring to the table."

When the pie came out of the oven, the crust was too brown, and there 
was a giant crack running down the middle of the filling. Our friend 
fought back tears, took a deep breath, and set the pie out to cool, 
knowing more clearly than ever that neither it -- nor she -- was, or 
would ever be, perfect.

But when it came time for everyone to gather at the table, something 
shifted. Her parents and sister praised her hard work and loved the 
meal. And our friend realized she had somehow been carried on the 
wings of the generations of women who had cooked before her, without 
complaining, to serve a Thanksgiving meal to their family. She felt 
truly thankful for all the work that her mother, grandmother, aunts -- 
indeed all the women she'd known through her life -- had accomplished 
each holiday. Triumphant, connected, and happy, she understood that 
food cooked with love is its own kind of perfection.

One Recipe Club friend recalled her first Thanksgiving after her 

Since carving the bird had always been her ex-husband's job, she 
delighted in finding a new, turkey-free recipe. She settled on an 
apricot-glazed ham, and went to work cooking a glaze of brown sugar, 
cloves, and apricot nectar (an ingredient that gave her extra pleasure 
knowing her ex-husband detested it.)

When her grown children came for dinner, they were childishly upset 
not to have their usual 12-pound bird. But it was delicious, and in 
the end each one complimented the chef. On her way out, the youngest 
daughter told her mother, "maybe we all need to learn how to 
gracefully accept change."

For this new divorcee, serving ham became a way of asserting her 
independence, showing her children there was life after marriage, and 
teaching the whole family to find new ways to be together.

The truth is, we don't pick our relatives. So if the Thanksgiving 
gathering of the clan is an annual emotional challenge, you aren't 

In a recent Recipe Club circle of old friends and new acquaintances, 
we met a woman who admitted that for most of her life she dreaded 
Thanksgiving; all it evoked for her were memories of family fights. 
The contrast of what she knew Thanksgiving was "supposed" to be, 
versus what it was in her home, always made her feel ashamed and 
disappointed. And yet every November she felt compelled go home for a 
family Thanksgiving meal.

But one year, that changed, when her parents and brother decided to 
have Thanksgiving away from home. They journeyed together to 
Nantucket, where they ate dinner at a seaside inn. The inn served a 
New England clam chowder, rich with cream and warm on a cold autumn 
night. And they discovered that a new location, with new foods, away 
from the house where memories were often more fiery than the jalepeno 
cornbread, turned out to be just what the family needed.

Now, every year, back at home, they have a new tradition: serving New 
England Clam Chowder at their Thanksgiving feasts, each spoonful 
bringing back fond memories of a peaceful and loving family holiday.

Finally, a little tale of food and friendship.

A reader of our book told us that she had a choice this year. She 
could invite Uncle Tim and Aunt Zoe, the way she does every year, and 
spend the entire holiday worrying about whether or not the perpetually 
complaining couple were happy. She could include cousins Beth and 
Sean, knowing they would be competitive, putting down her choice of 
food, her way of cooking, her table setting. She could extend an 
invitation to her brother and dreaded sister-in-law, who would sit in 
silence the entire meal and pick at the food.

Or . . . she could shake things up and do something entirely 
different: invite only friends. True friends. People she enjoyed being 
with. Who made her laugh. Who spoke truthfully. Who shared her 
passions for good books, good wine, and good music.

She took the leap. She dumped the whiners, broke with tradition, 
irritated several family members -- and never looked back. The moral: 
good food and good friends are the perfect combination. Sometimes it's 
a good idea to trim the guest list before you serve the bird with all 
its trimmings.

©2009 Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel, authors of The Recipe Club: A 
Tale of Food and Friendship

Author Bios for The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship
Andrea Israel is a producer/writer for ABC's Focus Earth. She was a 
producer/writer on Anderson Cooper 360, Dateline, and Good Morning 
America (which garnered her an Emmy Award). Her story In Donald's Eyes 
was recently optioned for a film. Ms. Israel is the author of Taking 
Tea. Her writing has appeared in many publications.

Nancy Garfinkel is co-author of The Wine Lover's Guide to the Wine 
Country: The Best of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino(Chronicle Books, 
2005). A creative strategist, design consultant, writer, and editor 
for magazine, corporate, and non-profit clients, she has won a host of 
graphic arts and editorial merit awards. She has written extensively 
about food and graphic arts.

For more information please visit


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