|Vanha Kirkko, Helsinki
Finland doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day, although the style of their Independence Day is far closer to our Thanksgiving celebration than it is to the whoop it up, fireworks watching, BBQing casual affair that makes me love the American Independence Celebration so much. But it’s November, and I’m a long way from a BBQ and even further from an American Thanksgiving table at the moment.
But. Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday. It’s an act. Of giving thanks – for friends, family – our own and adopted, and a time of remembering all the bits and pieces in our lives that make us feel fortunate, or, well, thankful.
And then there is Father’s Day. Celebrated in America not long on the third Sunday in June, usually with another BBQ and a gathering of families together to thank Dad for all he’s done for us over the years. To my mind, it’s a Thanksgiving Day too. In Finland, it’s celebrated on the second Sunday in November.
This year, I thought it might make reasonable sense (I love that term in so many ways, but I digress…) to combine the Thanksgiving meal and the Father’s Day celebration, and serve up turkey and all of the fixings to the family I’ve adopted through marriage.
|A beautifully set table
The preparations for the dinner spread, as they often do for large-scale celebrations involving large quantities of food, over a period of several days. As I planned and we chopped and prepped and cooked (more thanks to my willing helpers, a.k.a. husband and brother-in-law), my memories drifted back to moments with two fathers, my own, and my husband’s.
I have a picture of my dad, sitting in the long grass, his dog by his side, at the top of the bluff overlooking the Ranch. He looks happy, in his element, and no doubt wondering, as he would say “what the poor people are doing” – meaning all those people who weren’t having the same level of enjoyment that he was at that moment. My dad loved the Ranch, and loved even more when we were up there visiting to enjoy it with him. Another memory of my dad keeps coming to mind, particularly as the chill of winter settles into Finland: I can picture him on those cold winter mornings at our house in Clearview, kneeling in front of the open door of the wood stove in our living room, building a fire, blowing on the coals to spark a flame against the wadded up newspaper and the chopped bits of kindling. I took it for granted as a kid that the house was always warm; the fire always lit and cared for. Now I know it was one of those chores he did as another way to show us that he loved us.
|Ready and Waiting
My husband’s father also has a place he loves: the family cabin on Lake Päijäni, and loves it when we come to visit and enjoy the peaceful setting with him. I didn’t have a camera to capture the memory of a moment J and I shared with him out on the lake, pulling up the nets to see how many fish we’d secured for dinner. As he pulled up the nets slowly, the setting sun glinted sharply, gloriously, off the droplets of water clinging to the ropes, and off the scales of the wriggling perch we’d soon be eating with garden fresh potatoes and salad. This is a man who finds great joy in giving. He’ll call and ask – not if you would like a bucket of freshly picked lingonberries, but rather, would you like your bucket of lingonberries whole or crushed? This is one of the many ways he shows his love for us.
|Cranberry Chocolate Cake, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Jello Jiggler Pie
I am thankful for this – for the father I can no longer see and the one I’ve been given through marriage. I am thankful for family and friends around the world and the ones in Finland – and I would have to say, that I am hard-pressed to think of a single family member or friend with whom I have not shared a meal, large or small. Food brings us together, but it is just an excuse – it is just one more way of showing how much we care.
Here are a few recipes for Thanksgiving – for those of you gathering in a couple of weeks around your family tables in America, and for those of you curious about what it is Americans serve at the celebration.
Bread Stuffing with Fresh Herbs
modified from Fine Cooking Make Ahead Holidays 2010
Note: unlike most recipes for stuffing, this one has only 4 Tablespoons of fat in the whole thing. Nice! And delicious! Don’t be tempted to cook this inside the turkey – you’ll have a soggy mess that no one will want to eat.
One day ahead, spread on a baking sheet:
1 loaf whole wheat bread, sliced and cubed
1 loaf white bread, sliced and cubed
The morning you want to serve it, toast the bread in a 400° F/ 205°C for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. You should be 10-12 cups of bread cubes.
While bread is cooling melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan on medium-high heat and add in:
1 leek, white part only (halve lengthwise and chop into thin half moons)
1 onion, diced small
2 large ribs of celery, diced medium (I don’t like big celery chunks)
|The day after – a lighter fare
Stir until vegetables are tender, 8-10 minutes. Add:
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1 T finely chopped sage
1T finely chopped thyme
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
Stir just about 2 minutes until the herbs are fully combined and softened slightly. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, vegetable mixture, and
3 cups of chicken broth
2 eggs, beaten
until all of the bread crumbs are fully moistened. Transfer to a large casserole dish, and bake in a 400°F/205°C oven for 30-40 minutes until hot all the way through and crisp and golden brown on the top.
Since the turkey has to rest 30 minutes before you cut it anyway, that’s the perfect time to cook the stuffing so it’s nice and hot.
Serves 20-25 generously as a side dish.
Green Beans with crispy pancetta, mushrooms and shallots
Say goodbye once and for all to the green bean casserole. From the same source as above, these take Thanksgiving green beans to a whole new level. The beans can be cooked the day before and refrigerated until needed.
1 1/2 (500 g) pounds of green beans, trimmed
2 1/2 oz thinly sliced pancetta or Serano ham, cut into strips.
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup wild mushrooms, sliced or chopped if large (I used yellow foot a.k.a. suppilovahvero)
2 medium-large shallots, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
1/4 cup very thinly sliced sage leaves (tip: stack all of the leaves and slice through at same time)
1 T sherry or apple vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Fill a large bowl with water, add about 12 large ice cubes, and set aside.
In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the beans all at once. Cook uncovered until tender when you bite into them, but still a bright green. Drain beans and pour them immediately into the bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and pat dry.
In a non-stick pan cook pancetta over medium-low heat until crisp and browned. Set aside. In the same pan, add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, the mushrooms and the shallots. Cook until tender. Add the sage and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the mustard, vinegar, and remaining 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Stir to combine.
Return the pan to medium heat and add the beans. Toss to combine and cook until hot. Season to taste with salt and transfer to serving dish. Top with crumbled pancetta.
|Still making me happy.