Thanksgiving & Sweet Sorrow

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Celebrating & Remembering

This year, once again, our feast of gratitude is tinged with a wide range of other emotions. Over the weekend, Mom died in the swiftest, sweetest possible way, her body simply stopping with a gentle sigh as I stood, amazed, beside her. Nobody could wish for a kinder death and we are all filled with the deepest gratitude that her long struggle is over. I am especially grateful for the existence of Hospice, an institution that gentles and dignifies the dying process. The Hospice team supported and nurtured us through these last few months, meeting our needs, providing wise counsel and encouragement, and teaching us how to help Mom at every step.

I am also hugely grateful for the blessing of drugs like morphine to ease pain and lorazepam to sooth anxiety. When my husband Bud was dying, he once said, “We lied to the kids: Drugs ARE the answer.”  Mom’s last few weeks teetered upon the edge of awful and those marvelous drugs eased her pain very well. Before that, Mom’s drug of choice was comfort food. Until she could no longer swallow, she got true pleasure from the simplest things, from morning orange juice to macaroni and cheese, which she ate at least five times a week.

We Gather Together

This year’s family regathering will no doubt be rather subdued if still grateful. Thanks to complex schedules and multi-family events, we’ll replace one big dinner with several smaller reunions. It’s very freeing to change things up, keeping whatever is most treasured and introducing pleasant new ideas. Thus, we’ll start the day with a light, informal brunch, then have a more-or-less traditional Thanksgiving meal in the afternoon, ending with sandwiches and salads for whoever stops by in the evening.

My thanksgiving is often about sharing gratitude and celebrating belonging–to family, community, or the fellowship of humanity–not spending most of a day (or more) making a heavy, rich meal that will be over in the blink of an eye. One year, my young adult kids and their friends helped make the usual enormous meal, which takes the better part of a day. After it was consumed, they were shocked to realize that the actual meal lasted less than an hour, which led to some very rich and fruitful conversations (and a lot more holiday help).

Ever-Changing Traditions

I still enjoy making the traditional foods, yet my extended family now flows into others, presenting an interwoven net of connection and sometimes obligation. As my sons reached adulthood, I made a clear decision that I did not ever want being with me to be an obligation for my family or friends. That sometimes means that on the actual day of certain events, I am cooking for just two, which requires some imaginative adaptation.

There is an art to changing up long standing patterns, and new ways to celebrate are best introduced as intriguing innovation, not some sorrowful second best. As my mother’s health failed, she no longer enjoyed the friendly chaos of large gatherings and did much better when there were just a few guests at our table. Though the huge dinners-for-dozens had their own crazy joy, I find myself enjoying the continuation of that new pattern for all major family holidays, since small, informal gatherings throughout the day are less stressful and more pleasurable for me now as well.

Holiday Brunch Highlights

Here’s an array of vegetarian and vegan treats that complement each other beautifully, some rich, some tart and citrusy, some crunchy, some like edible velvet.

Marvelous Mushroom Tart

1 pie crust (can be gluten-free or vegan)
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
6 cups sliced mushrooms
3 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a pie dish with crust, brush lightly with a tad of oil, set aside. Toss remaining oil and next 6 ingredients to lightly coat and spoon evenly into crust. Top with bread crumbs and bake until crust is golden (35-40 minutes). Serves 6.

Winter Jewel Salad

2 cups Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
2 cups Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1 bulb Florence fennel, finely shaved
2 clementines, sectioned and peeled
1 Honeycrisp or Opal apple, chopped
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped roasted hazelnuts
2-3 tablespoons citrus vinaigrette

Toss all ingredients and serve. Serves 6.

Roasted Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes, & Cranberries

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (1/4 inch)
2 tablespoons avocado or high temperature oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups raw cranberries, washed and picked over

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss vegetables with oil and spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (or two). Sprinkle with salt and roast for 30 minutes. Stir with a spatula, add cranberries and roast until well caramelized (15-20 minutes). Serves 6.

Wild Rice With Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

1 cup hand-harvested wild rice, well rinsed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon avocado oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
4 cups thinly sliced crimini or any mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine

In a saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat, add raw rice and toast lightly for 2-3 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 cups water, bring to a boil, cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer until grains are tender and puffing open (40-45 minutes). Remove from heat and let stand 5 minute, then fluff with fork and keep warm. While wild rice is cooking, heat remaining butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium high until foamy. Add onions, sprinkle with remaining salt and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (4-6 minutes). Lower heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized. Add mushrooms, sprinkle with pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add wine, reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer until mushrooms are wilted and reduced in volume (8-10 minutes). Stir into hot rice and serve. Serves 6-8.

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10 Responses to Thanksgiving & Sweet Sorrow

  1. Meg Lynch says:

    Your mom was lucky to live out her life with you and your love for her.

  2. Cathy says:

    Ann, just read your post about your mom’s passing. Sorry to hear of it, but so glad it was such a peaceful ending. We just “enrolled” my wonderful stepfather in hospice, so I was comforted to hear what a great help it sounds like they were for you and your mom. Hope you have a warm and peaceful Thanksgiving.

  3. So sorry to hear about your mother. The hospice people sound wonderful.

  4. Lauren says:

    Blessings to you and your family, and your precious mama. My aunt, the last of my parents’ generation, also Crossed Over last weekend. It is a bittersweet time filled with memories, grief and gratitude.

    May the the generosity of the foods that join your table, feed you and your family well.

  5. Marina McShane says:

    Ann, peace to you and to your Mom. A dear friend’s sister also died this weekend and before I saw your blog post today I thought about your mom. I have noticed there seem to be a lot of deaths during Novembers. I wonder if human bodies feel “the pull to go under” as do so many other manifestations of nature where we have seasons.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      I think you’re right, Marina; the tide of the year is running out and it’s easier to let go. Also, many people die around the winter holidays, perhaps after seeing or hearing from family?? A sweet time to fly home, anyway.

  6. Candi Merrill says:

    Thinking of you this holiday. Warm wishes, highest dreams.

  7. Van Weiss says:

    So happy my wife and I had a chance to spend some time with Aunt Jean in 2009 one afternoon. What a treat. Grateful to know she died peacefully. Hope to reconnect with the Awaters before too much time goes by. Love, Cousin Van

  8. Virginia says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. I, too, cared for my mom at our home and know the sorrow that her death will bring. But you will always keep the wonderful memories in your heart and know that you did the very best for her. This continues to bring great comfort to me.
    By the way, you are my “go-to” gardening guru. I have many of your books and try to follow your earth-friendly gardening practices. Thank you for being there for so many of us!
    Peace to you and your family.

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