Tag: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thursday, 24 November, 2016 0 Comments

The poetry of Charles Reznikoff is marked by his love of the simple life and common things. Reznikoff was a New Yorker and “a collector of images and stories who walked the city from Bronx to Battery” in search of “the soul of the Jewish immigrant experience.” There is no mention of Thanksgiving in his Te Deum but he speaks of “the day’s work done” for the reward of a seat “at the common table.”

Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Charles Reznikoff (1894 – 1976)

Note: Te Deum takes its name from an early Christian hymn and its opening Latin words, Te Deum laudamus, are translated as “Thee, O God, we praise”.


The second Station: Food

Wednesday, 25 November, 2015 0 Comments

The most treasured of my mother’s many recipe books was published in 1960 and over the years it had doubled in size thanks to countless newspaper clippings interleaved between its pages. Strong, red rubber bands kept the lot in place and prevented the volume from breaking its spine. Full and Plenty by Maura Laverty was aptly titled for the needs of its users and the eight chapters embraced the essentials: Bread; Cakes; Pastry; Fish; Vegetables; Meat, Poultry & Game; Puddings & Desserts, Accompaniments.

When good musicians are presented with a simple melody, they improvise and transform the piece into something delightful, and good cooks are no different. Down through the decades, Maura Laverty’s recipe for currant buns morphed into my mother’s framework for fruit scones, with the margarine being replaced by butter, yeast by baking soda and buttermilk taking over from milk, while the candied peel was dropped entirely. Here is Maura Laverty’s original recipe:

Currant buns

Ingredients: 1 ½ lbs flour, 2 ozs raisins, 2 ozs currants, 2 ozs candied peel, 6 ozs margarine, 6 ozs sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ pint lukewarm milk, I oz yeast

Method: Cream yeast with a little sugar. Sift flour with salt. Melt margarine in lukewarm milk. Add yeast and milk mixture to flour and beat well. Cover and leave in a warm place until mixture doubles its bulk. Turn onto floured board, spread with sugar and fruit and knead well. Cover and leave 30 mins. Shape into buns (these quantities will make 20). Place on greased baking tin, leave in warm place 20 mins, then bake 15 mins at 240 °C / 475 °F / Gas Mark 9. Just before they are cooked, brush with water or egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

No matter how many buns/scones were formed from the ingredients, there was always an extra piece of dough left over after my mother had finished and this would be the first item retrieved from the oven after the 15 minutes had elapsed. This prototype would be assessed for colour, felt for consistency, then be broken in two and spread with butter. “How does it taste?” was the expectant question. It was exquisite every time.

Currant buns/scones

Writing in the Irish Times at the end of October, historian Diarmaid Ferriter summed up the significance of Full and Plenty in contemporary Irish food preparation. He noted Maura Laverty’s focus on the idea of a balanced diet; praised her advice about everything in moderation and drew readers’ attention to the fact that Laverty’s “minimum daily ration” included egg, cheese, butter, bread, vegetables, fruit and “a serving of meat or fish or bacon.” His conclusion? “Bring it all on.”

That cherished and much-used copy of Full and Plenty was placed on my mother’s coffin on the day she was buried. Its presence was a reminder to the mourners that most of them had benefited greatly from her interpretations of its contents during their lifetimes. The hands that that had lovingly turned its pages had generously and without demur placed before them bread; cakes; pastry; fish; vegetables; meat, poultry & game; puddings & desserts and accompaniments. The best of the lot was those mysterious “accompaniments”. They were the incantations, the acts and the embellishments that made the cooking and the presentation so memorable. Maura Laverty mentions this extra dimension of the kitchen in her introduction to Full and Plenty when she describes the sensation of “rubbing butter into flour scones”. She continues: “The purity of flour, the pure velvety feel of it, the gentle, incessant, calm-giving motion of the finger-tips — no tangle or turmoil could hold out against such homely comforting.” And none did.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Thanksgiving.


Transatlantic thoughts on Thanksgiving

Thursday, 28 November, 2013 0 Comments

Much to the chagrin of the traitor Snowden and the tyrant Putin, another Thanksgiving has come around and, despite their worst efforts, the United States persists. And it will, to the despair of those who have made a trade out of wishing for its decline and fall. Typical of this lot is Al Jazeera America, which shed crocodile tears recently with “The consequences of US decline.” The fons et origo of this recurrent irrationality is, of course, the Guardian, and it piled in earlier in the year with “Decline and fall: how American society unravelled.” To understand what’s behind this wishful thinking, it’s worth rereading an essay that Hannah Arendt wrote in 1954 for Commentary Magazine.

Europe and America: Dream and Nightmare” was originally part of a series of talks at Princeton University on the Transatlantic relationship. Arendt asked: “What image does Europe have of America?” She answered that the image is based on two myths. Firstly, America is less the New World than the personification of the Old World, the place where European dreams of equality and liberty are realized; secondly, America is the land of plenty. It is this second myth that powers the anti-Americanism of European liberals, even as it inspires the poor.

Decline “As a result,” of this myth, Arendt writes, “sympathy for America today can be found, generally speaking, among those people whom Europeans call ‘reactionary,’ whereas an anti-American posture is one of the best ways to prove oneself a liberal.” And so it is 58 years after Hannah Arendt’s “Europe and America: Dream and Nightmare” was published. Except that there’s a new myth doing the rounds: American decline. For all engaged in peddling declinism, Josef Joffe has some sobering news. The publisher-editor of the German weekly, Die Zeit, exposes The Canard of Decline in the November/December issue of The American Interest.

The source of modern declinism, says Joffe, can be found in “the serial massacre that was World War I,” the horrific slaughter that revealed “the evil face of technology triumphant.” The same laboratories that produced the blessings of pharmacology invented poison gas. The scientists who created good also enabled evil. The result was an anti-scientific theory about the “death of progress” took hold in Europe. America, however, the epitome of progress, is the embodiment of the rebuke to that theory. Josef Joffe writes:

“Technology and plenty, the critics of the Enlightenment argued, would not liberate the common man, but enslave him in the prison of ‘false consciousness’ built by the ruling elites. The new despair of the former torchbearers of progress may well be the reason that declinism flourishes on both Left and Right. This new ideological kinship alone does not by itself explain any of the five waves of American declinism, but it has certainly broadened its appeal over time.”

Decline, writes Joffe, ‘is as American as apple pie.” But for the day that’s in it, we’ll have a slice of pecan pie and wish all our American readers a happy Thanksgiving.

Pecan pie