Thankful Thanksgiving

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A New Way To Celebrate

This has been quite a week. Over the weekend, it started snowing,  gently at first. Soon, soft, fluffy icing sugar snow hid all the horrors of the late autumn garden under a blanket of beauty. Then slick ice built up underneath and even a simple walk to the mailbox became an adventure. Thank goodness for pull-on crampons, which I bought for everybody last year.

That part was very pretty and peaceful, but after a fierce wind storm on Monday afternoon, the island and much of the surrounding county was out of power for quite a while. Here, it was out for three days, which meant no water except what we had hastily gathered when the lights began to flicker.

What We Do When The Power Fails

Living on a tree-covered island, we experience a lot of power outages, so the minute the power even dims, we go into action. We fill pots, pan, and jars of water for drinking, cooking and washing, as well as two 10 gallon jugs for flushing toilets (elemental hygiene is much appreciated when it suddenly becomes limited).

We also get out the lanterns and the old two-burner camping stove, with its little propane bottles. I haul out the tea kettle, my iron frying pans and some elderly saucepans as well. Candles are placed strategically all over the house so nobody trips in the dark. I do a quick fridge check, removing whatever I might want to use in the next day or so. (The less you open your fridge, the colder the food will stay.)

Of Refugees and Refrigerators

By Monday evening, we had five adults and a teenager huddling around our propane fireplace. Without a running fan, these stoves don’t put out a lot of heat, and most of it rose up to the top floor of the house. My son built a fire in the woodstove in the daylight basement (it’s big, south facing, and now being renovated into an apartment by my son and his wife). The woodstove heated the basement and the main floor and the propane fireplace heated the top floor. Now everybody could be more or less warm but needed to be fed, using as little water as possible.

I love when we lose power in  winter, since I can just empty the freezer and fridge into our big cold boxes.  When it became clear that we were in for a few powerless days, I put the freezer stuff outside. The temperature got down into the teens at night, so all the food stayed colder than ever. I put the fridge stuff (things like eggs that you don’t want to be frozen) into the sunporch with the blinds drawn down.  The sunporch stayed at about 35 degrees, just like a big walk-in cooler.

Caring for Indoor Plants When Cold Comes

Not surprisingly, the sunporch is full of plants, from a 6-foot tall jasmine in full bloom to a pair of lemon trees I grew from seed. My plant table is covered with African violets (double ruffled soft purple), aloes, angel wing begonias, and some elderly but still productive Christmas cactus. On the floor are pots of amaryllis which I keep going year after year. Some are getting quite large, throwing off “pups” which turn into flowering-sized bulbs in a season or two. All these were well watered, so all I had to do was drape them with a sheet of floating row cover cloth until the power came back on.

My sunporch pots of basil and cilantro were still quite productive. After I harvested the cilantro for enchiladas, I brought the basil into the bathroom and set it in my deep tub, where it stayed warm enough to survive. I was planning to  make pesto for Thanksgiving, but that plan did not work out.

A Different Thanksgiving

For one thing, the roads were covered with black ice and driving was treacherous. On our hill, there were cars in the ditch–different ones every few hours. Without four-wheel drive or chains, I wasn’t going anywhere soon.

The day before Thanksgiving, all the other adults went off for a camping trip on Mount Rainier (in the car that did have chains) and the teenager went to visit her family. By then, my 87 year old Mom, who lives a few miles away, had power and a phone but no water, since some pipes froze in the cold, including those in the apartment directly over hers. When the ice thawed, it flooded Mom’s bathroom, which was colorful.

It finally started to rain and I ended up going to the grocery store on Thanksgiving morning. (When did stores start staying open on holidays?) I lucked out and found a 12-pound unfrozen organic turkey that I could cook right away. I spent the day happily making pies and whatnot, then packed everything into the car and took it to Mom’s. My older son met us there and we shared a memorable meal–no water, but good company, good food and plenty of fun.

When I dropped off my son, he loaded his 4 month old kitten into my car and took off to visit friends. Now I am “alone” with five cats (my aging Lily, my son Andrew’s two yearlings, Monk and Howard, his new Maine Coon kitten, Pippa, and Peter’s Eowyn) and some great leftovers. They do say that after a loss or death, it is a good idea to change your traditional patterns a bit, and I’d say we are doing really well in that department.

Day After Thanksgiving Soup

After I pick the turkey apart, I pile all the remains into the crockpot, along with any leftover broth, plate scraps, vegetables, and so on. I toss in some onions with their crisp brown skin, which gives the broth a rich color and deep flavor. I also add a head or two of garlic, skin and all (just break the cloves apart), top the whole thing off with water and put it on low-slow. By morning, the stock is strong and ready to strain.

Overnight Turkey Stock

1 turkey carcass; all bones and skin
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, with greens
1-2 onions, quartered (skin on)
1-2 heads garlic, cloves divided (skin on)
2-4 cups leftover vegetables and scraps

Combine in a large slow cooker, cover with water and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Cool slightly then strain off stock (pour it through a cheesecloth-lined colander). If you like, squeeze out the cooked garlic, mash lightly and add to stock. When stock is cool, skim off fat. Refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

To make great soup soup, just add vegetables as well as rice, noodles, or dumplings–whichever your family prefers.

Turkey Day-After Soup

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon thyme, stemmed
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 turnips, chopped
6-8 cups turkey stock
1 cup short grain brown rice
2 cups cooked turkey, chopped
1 cup leftover gravy
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, stemmed

In a soup pan, heat oil, fennel seed, thyme, and garlic over medium high heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add onions, sprinkle with salt and cook until barely soft (6-7 minutes), Add celery, carrots, and turnips, stir to coat, add stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Add rice, bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover pan and simmer until tender (about 30 minutes). Stir in turkey and gravy, heat and serve, garnished with fresh herbs. Serves 6-8.

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