Sunday, December 6, 2020

Gratitude and 2020

This year, it feels both harder and easier to be thankful.  2020 has been overwhelming.  The pandemic, climate change, civil unrest, political polarization, racial injustice, social isolation, school closures, and pregnancy after loss, have all brought up a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  But at the same time, 2020 has forced me to do a lot of inner work and to appreciate things that I took for granted before.  Uncomfortable feelings have led to growth, awareness, learning (and unlearning), slowing down, solidifying values, and self care.  I'm not anywhere near where I want to be, but I have been able to devote undivided attention to both collective and internal issues that have flown under my radar for far too long.  Truthfully, neither the external work nor the inner work will ever be done to my satisfaction, and disappointment is certain.  I realized that I needed to come to terms with this by being at peace with myself.  To be fully present for learning opportunities, to create sustainable change, and to show up for others, I had to show up for myself.  For me, practicing gratitude during these torn times has helped me to move away from a place of guilt and go forward with a sense of hope.

Perhaps the biggest responsibility either of us has ever dreamed of holding is now on the horizon.  We are about to be parents of the next generation.  This has put us in both a vulnerable and empowering position over the last seven months.  To put the timing into perspective, I had literally just finished all of the infertility tests before things shut down, I was six weeks pregnant when we marched in a Black Lives Matter protest, my second trimester was overshadowed by the wildfires, and the elections were happening as I was entering the third trimester.  Throughout this time, we have had many conversations about how we can raise our child to become a socially responsible and self aware adult.  Our conversations always go back to how important it is for us to model what we want to see.  So, there is no better time to stop beating myself up, to stop acting like things need to be in my control, to stop hiding my weaknesses.  There is no better time to practice gratitude to reconcile vulnerability and empowerment.  I've been feeling positive and courageous about raising our kid together and about making progress as a society, even in this messy world, even though I'm still cleaning up my own mess.  I think that a big part of this is recognizing the good in the world, and the good in me.  

I feel grateful to start a family together, grateful for the opportunity to both teach and learn from our child.  I feel grateful for my health and my family's health.  I feel grateful to have our comfortable home.  I feel grateful that I have reconnected with hobbies that fulfill me.  I feel grateful for a job that satisfies me and for every parent, child, and teacher who has touched my heart through the Internet in the last eight months.  I feel grateful to have a supportive, smart, and selfless circle of friends.  I feel grateful for the 6-foot-distanced outdoor chats, phone calls, text messages, Instagram interactions, Facebook comments from people near and far.  I feel grateful to be breathing, grateful to be alive.  Grateful to give my all to what's to come.

With COVID cases rising throughout the country, it had to be just the two of us this year celebrating Thanksgiving.  At first, I was disappointed about that because I love the craze and commotion that comes with the holiday.  I love the planning, the prepping, the people, the pictures, all of that cheesy family gathering stuff.  Though I'm always exhausted by the end of the day especially if hosting, nothing beats the satisfaction of making people happy, creating an atmosphere of liveliness, and sending everyone home with copious amounts of leftovers.  It felt unfair that the pandemic was taking this all away at a time when people need each other most, but we were prepared to make this sacrifice to keep everyone safe.

In the end, the day did not feel all that much different from any other day off the two of us would have spent together.  We woke up when we wanted to, went on a hike, and cooked (only this time, there were turkey legs and a pie).  But this, I realized, was the beauty of this year's unusual Thanksgiving.  Though we were missing the family, it still felt like a wonderfully satisfying day, full of things to notice and be thankful for.  If anything, there was more time to notice these things as they were happening rather than after the fact.  I was reminded that giving thanks does not have to be some big extravagant showthe opportunity to show and recognize gratitude is there every day.  I think that this year, it was most fitting to have a low-key Thanksgiving day, given all that we've been talking about, learning about, and working on.  Also, this would really be our last one before our lives completely change, so in a way, it was much more special to have it to ourselves.

After a nice, easy hike at what has turned into our go-to trail, we got home with plenty of time to cook.  Though we cheated by falling back on two instant sides, I still wanted to take the time to record how we made the things that we did make from scratch!  All of it brought joythe simplicity and craveability of the boxed mixes, and the heartiness and labor of love that went into the smoked turkey legs, the mashed potatoes, the roasted vegetables, and the pie.  I used a butternut squash was from our friend's garden for the pie, and Wes scored turkey legs at our local market a couple of weeks ago.  With no one else eating any of this but us, we felt no pressure to perform.  Yet, everything was delicious, made at our own pace, and we got to enjoy just the right amount of leftovers for a couple more meals.  Looking at these photos and thinking about the food is like round 4!

Smoked Turkey Legs

Brine the turkey in water, salt, brown sugar, orange peel, onions, rosemary, sage, black peppercorns, compressed garlic.

Place a pat of butter under the skin.

Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with Herbs de Provence.

Set smoker to 250F and place turkey legs in until the internal temperature reaches 165F (this took approximately 3-4 hours).

Optional: roast in the oven to make the skin less rubbery.

Red Skin Mashed Potatoes
(Recipe adapted from Food & Wine)

  • 4 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed
  • Salt
  • 6 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 1/4  cup warmed whole milk
  • 2 scallions, sliced

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and boil, uncovered, over moderately high heat, until fork tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return to the pot.

Shake the pot over moderately high heat to dry the potatoes. Cut them in 2-inch pieces.  Mash the potatoes. Add the butter and milk and mash until incorporated, adjusting the amount of milk to your desired consistency. Stir in the scallions, season with salt, and serve.

Roasted Delicata Squash and Brussels Sprouts
(I made these on the fly, so measurements are not going to be accurate)

  • 1 ½ pounds Brussels sprouts, rinsed and halved
  • 1 delicata squash, horizontally divided and sliced into 1/2" pieces
  • 2 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 sage leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Italian seasoning

Toss everything in a mixing bowl and spread it onto a baking sheet, do not crowd.  Roast at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.

Shingled Sweet Potatoes with Harissa
(Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit)
  • ⅔ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ⅔ cup plus 2 Tbsp. harissa
  • 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, divided
  • 3¼ lb. medium sweet potatoes, peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. raw pistachios
  • 2 tsp. sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk ⅔ cup oil, ⅔ cup harissa, and 1 Tbsp. vinegar in a large bowl to combine. Slice sweet potatoes crosswise on a mandoline ⅛" thick.

Add to bowl with harissa mixture and toss to coat; season with salt.

Arrange sweet potatoes so they are standing upright in concentric circles in a 2-qt. baking dish, packing tightly.

Roast, brushing any accumulated harissa oil in dish onto sweet potatoes every 10–15 minutes, until soft and starting to brown on top, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, toss pistachios, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds on a small rimmed baking sheet. Toast alongside sweet potatoes until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to spice mill or mortar and pestle and coarsely grind. Set dukkah aside.

Whisk remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, 2 Tbsp. harissa, and 1 Tbsp. vinegar in a small bowl. Remove sweet potatoes from oven and brush with oil mixture. Sprinkle with reserved dukkah.

Butternut Squash Pie
(Recipe adapted from NYTimes Cooking)

  • 1 ready-made pie shell*
  • 2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup/100 grams dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup/50 grams granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger**
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon**
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg**
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 large butternut squash (3.5-4 pound)
  • 1 ¼ cups/295 milliliters heavy cream

*I used Diamond of California pecan pie crust from the supermarket, it's nutty and delicious!

**I ended up using 3 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice and added an extra dash each of ground ginger and cinnamon.

To make roasted squash purée, heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the stems from butternut squash and then cut through them horizontally.  Cut in half lengthwise and place face up on a baking sheet. Coat with grapeseed or other neutral oil. Bake until tender and beginning to caramelize, about 1 hour. After it is more or less cooled, you can scoop out the insides with a spoon.  It's definitely easier to do this with the neck part of the squash where there's more flesh, so if you want you can do 2 butternut squashes and use only the necks and save the bulb parts for another use.  Puree the flesh in a food processor until mostly smoothyou will be pureeing it again later so it does not need to be super smooth.  Measure out 1 ½ cups/355 grams of this roasted squash purée.

Pre-bake the pie shell for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees until golden brown to prevent the bottom from getting soggy.  Remove from the oven, let it cool.

Combine eggs, vanilla, sugars (I used about 75% of the required amount to cut the sweetness), salt and spices in food processor, and process until smooth. Add squash purée, and process until smooth. With machine running, pour in heavy cream, and process to combine.

Scrape filling into the pre-baked shell, and bake on pizza stone for 20 minutes at 300 degrees. Turn the oven up to 325 degrees and continue baking for another 20 to 25 minutes until filling is set two-thirds of the way in from the perimeter and the center still jiggles, about 40 to 45 minutes total (custard will continue to cook after pie is removed from oven). Tent edges loosely with foil if browning too quickly.

Remove pie from oven, and cool to room temperature on rack. Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

This big meal was technically for three, right?  The baby was kicking around quite a bit after, and those jerky little movements are always the most uplifting sensations.  9 weeks left and counting!

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