You will remember how forcefully she rejects all traditions that carry with them the merest whiff of obligation. How all outside expectations are shrugged off, all requisite get-togethers rebuked, all musts and shoulds unilaterally never-minded. You will be sad, anyway. Because Thanksgiving's Thanksgiving. And that's no time to be apart.
You will spend one hare-brained early November weekend, hatching plans for a whirlwind, last-minute holiday visit. You'll learn every flight on offer from Expedia, design several itineraries, each more unlikely than the last. Then come to your senses and remember things like jet lag, and delays, and work schedules, and the guaranteed dubiousness of all grand plans hatched after midnight.
You will carry on, of course, because that's what we do, and you will be genuinely glad for everything else. You will gather friends who also hail from far-flung lands, and who are kind enough to assemble around your table. You will use words like ex-pat and orphan and stray, tongue mostly in cheek, eyes almost dry. You will eat well and laugh often and give genuine thanks for the pleasures of families not born to but built.
And you will, in the days leading up to The Day, regularly remember said mother with a thump and a grin, because you'll be washing up the good china upon which you will eat. The good china you acquired when nineteen and in college and had approximately no business putting good china on layaway.
But the two of you walked into an antique mall, way back when, and spied it, and were speechless, and exchanged That Look. And after much back-of-the-envelope pencil scratching, and extra after-class work hours plotting, and mutual affirmation that 1925 was indeed an excellent year for Wedgewood, That Look became Those Dishes (in four months time). Those Dishes that came home to your dark college basement apartment, the one with the (so not legal) combined bathroom/kitchen. Because in your family, anyway, you root for good china the way ordinary some families root for their alma mater. We never once watched football, Thanksgiving weekend or any other. But boy oh boy did we (do we) (will we) go on and on over fruit bowls.
And as you wash those original saucers, dinners and salads, and the latter-day platters she's diligently added over the years, you'll begin to notice she's everywhere, actually, popping up around every corner.
You'll remember the chocolate pie that you're baking hails back to the annual birthday pie she made your grandfather. That your instinct to squeeze in, on Thanksgiving morning, a double batch of pot pie crust in preparation for the days after, owes its impulse to her legendary kitchen efficiency. That the gargantuan pot you pull out for turkey stock every year is the one she bought at the original Williams Sonoma in the late sixties. In San Francisco. Then drove back to Seattle. In her lap, in a Volkswagen Beetle, with your toddler brother in the back seat. This pot stands over two feet tall, people. The efficiency pales next to the determination.
You'll realize your willingness to let your daughter have at a pomegranate, to indulge her enthusiasm for a newfound favorite fruit, is directly traceable to your own upbringing, where keen interests were always fed, nourished, encouraged.
You'll recognize, in an instant, that Sculpey's the answer to your fifth-grader's impending model animal assignment. That you grew up on Sculpey, the way some kids grew up on corn, and likewise probably still have it coursing through your veins. Oven-bake clay literacy may be no ordinary inheritance, but it is mine, and it saved the day.
You'll realize that when you cast off a cardigan last week, of all the button options, your Zoë picks these. These green leafy numbers that your mom sent years ago, to sew on some other sweater, before you used phrases like 'sew on'. Zoë didn't know their history, just picked them, because she liked them. She is her grandmother's granddaughter, this one. This, you'll decide, is a win-win-win.
(No, the blue sweater is not among those six sweaters. Easier to start a new one than complete unfinished business, no? It's this one, and I loved it, best of any yet, the making through the wearing, three weeks, collar to cuff. Though in order not to look like a total slacker, I should mention I did cross off one of the six. The deservedly popular In-Threes cardigan, which was quick, simple, fun, and ingenious for its short sleeves. Since "sleeve" is pretty much a synonym for "paint and chocolate chip cookie sponge", anyway, why not do away with them altogether and just keep the core warm? Brilliant. So what if all that needed doing was the sewing on of buttons? Took me two months to get there. I'm claiming victory.)
You'll notice you've told the story twice, in as many days, of the little red star that hangs in your own daughter's bedroom. Of how it once hung in your bedroom, one of three (red-blue-green) your mom hung there, once upon a time, before memory. You'll be surprised by how she much she loves this story, and realize how many more could, should be told. You'll lament the fact you're a rotten storyteller (live? out loud? really. rotten.), and you'll consider resolving to improve this skill set. You'll realize you need to give voice to these objects, those days, to fill in the narratives behind the knick-knacks.
And you'll notice the art on the wall is slowly turning, away from turkeys, on toward tree lights and mittens. And that the days are darkening earlier, each and every. And the advent calendars are awaiting opening tomorrow morning. And that the Christmas carols you've been attempting come from her awesome green 1963 A Book of Christmas Carols. And that the important part here is not yet another little glimmer, but the Christmas part, because it's coming. And with it, so is she: December 19.
December 19! It's official, Mamo: we're counting down days.
Until then, or after then, or any time, really, may I recommend a grand ending for leftover roast poultry? A warm lentil salad, mustard-tinged, flavor-full, chock-a-block with personality, protein and green?
The original hails from a recent Martha Stewart Everyday FOOD, a publication I almost never pick up. But last month I did, and I couldn't shake the idea of this salad I spotted toward the end. It was a reader submission, sent by one Julie Sun, and one of those recipes you can taste with your eyes. Or read with your tongue. Or, geez, am I making sense? From sixty paces, an obvious slam-dunk.
Boy, and how.
To a few handfuls of leftover bird (we used turkey—what else?—but tender roast chicken would shine), you add a smart, giant heap of crunch. There's the pop of crisp grape, and the saline crunch of celery, which I don't always love, but very much did here. There's the punch of fresh parsley, poultry's semi-secret right-hand man, and the soft oily sweet of toasted walnuts. Toasted walnuts are wonderful. Have you tasted one lately? So ordinary, so everywhere. So, so good. And then, those darned lentils, those magical lentils, which don't appear on my table near often enough. They're so quiet, so drab, so unprepossessing on the shelf, so nutty and earthy and plump on the tongue. They taste to me of tender, tiny edible pebbles, of the smell of fresh rain on long-parched concrete, and I mean those both in the best possible way.
After a quick thirty-minute simmer in salted water, Zoë and I each greedily ate two helpings, straight-up. I cut us off only because I wanted some for the salad, and tossed them, still warm, in a spunky vinaigrette. This is like flipping a light switch at midnight: warm lentils beam under the influence of vinaigrette. Tossed again with the veg and the turkey et al, it came together as I'd hoped, and then kept on going: deeply savory, a touch sweet, seriously toothsome, gently tender, unabashedly bright and fresh, just a little bit cheeky. The sort of meal, in other words, I'm happy to find myself with pretty much any time.
Warm Lentil Salad with Chicken, Celery, Walnuts + Grapes
adapted from Julie Sun, via FOOD Everyday
Ironically, when I dug up the original recipe, I discovered it called for no poultry at all. (Such are the hazards of following recipes "from memory"—I rarely recall them the way they were written!). That said, I loved the addition of roast poultry, and will repeat it this way, when I've got it on hand. However, it stands tall and proud with no meat, plenty hearty from lentils and walnuts and, if desired, crumbled feta. Made without meat, it's vegetarian and gluten-free, and equally, differently, ridiculously good.
Lentils, like beets, adore acid, and benefit from a dressing more acid-heavy than most. Don't worry—it mellows, and it works.
1 cup French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
1 cup slivered celery
1 1/2 cups crisp grapes, halved (or quartered if large)
3/4 cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cups leftover roast chicken or turkey (optional), shredded or chopped into bite-size pieces *or* 2-3 ounces good feta, crumbled
2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
2-3 Tablespoons sherry or wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons olive oil
additional salt + pepper, to taste
In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups water plus 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Add lentils, turn heat down to a simmer, and cook lentils until tender, around 30 minutes. Drain, and proceed directly to end of next paragraph.
While lentils are cooking, prepare celery, grapes, walnuts, parsley and chicken. In a large bowl, whisk dijon, vinegar and salt, until salt dissolves. Add oil, and whisk well to combine. When lentils are drained and still warm, pour them into the vinaigrette-filled bowl, and toss gently several times to combine. Add chicken, toss gently, and set aside 5-10 minutes. When lentils have cooled slightly, add remaining ingredients (celery, grapes, parsley and walnuts). Toss gently to combine, and taste for seasoning, adding more vinegar, salt or pepper, as needed.
Serve immediately, or at room temperature, or cold from the fridge. This is one of those rare salads that tastes grand two days later.