My Thanksgiving started in chaos. Instead of getting up early(ish), like I was supposed to, I was startled out of bed by my parents waltzing through the door. Needless to say, I was quite surprised. As it turned out, I had set my alarm incorrectly and they had arrived hours before I expected them. Once the shock wore off, there was much to do – cleaning and cooking that I thought I could do before they arrived.
Thankfully, I was only responsible for a minute portion of the entire dinner. Unlike last year, when it was just my parents and I, we actually had an invitation elsewhere. A family at my church invited folks, especially those who would have few people otherwise, over to their house for dinner. Considering that we were only a party of three with Chris at work, we decided it would be nice to join a larger group.
As D.C. has a great many wanderers, it was no surprise that we weren’t the only ones to accept the offer – there were four families besides ours. It was a great mix of adults and kids. The adults stood around the kitchen, chatting, munching on cheese and crackers, and sipping wine. The little kids found a rolling garden cart and figured out that if they sat in it, they could roll down the hill in the backyard and have a grand old time. The teenagers floated back and forth between the two, balancing the joy of entertaining the munchkins and the stimulation of more adult conversation. It had a familial atmosphere, reminding me of some of the best Thanksgivings of the past. Needless to say, I wasn’t searching out a Nintendo system like I did when I was a kid. The food was awesome, but even without it, there was plenty to give thanks for.
To ensure that we provided our fair share of the feast, I brought two side dishes, in addition to the jug of genuine upstate New York apple cider my parents brought. I took these side dishes straight from the holiday playbooks of both sides of the family – Chris’s family and my own – and they couldn’t be more different. While one was all canned goods, the other was largely local ingredients.
The local ingredient based one was apples and “yams.” (I put “yams” in quotes because it actually uses sweet potatoes – real yams are from Africa and Asia.) It’s a tradition of Chris’s family and although it isn’t healthy – it’s got a ton of sugar – it’s natural and tasty.
Ironically, despite my family’s hippie leanings, the dish from them was the “fake,” non-vegetarian one – jello mold. Not that I didn’t try to change it. The traditional recipe uses canned cranberry sauce, raspberry jello, and canned pineapple. As my mom is vegetarian and gelatin is made from the collagen in animal bones, I tried to find a way to replace both the canned sauce and jello. To replicate them, I bought fresh cranberries and frozen raspberries. Unfortunately, the one ingredient I was missing was agar-agar, a seaweed-based vegetarian replacement for gelatin from Japan. Unfortunately, Giant’s Asian section was quite limited and when I asked about it at the Asian grocery store, everyone gave me a blank stare. As it was too late on the night before Thanksgiving to head down to Whole Foods, I shrugged my shoulders and went home defeated.
As it turned out, my mom (who is vegetarian) was far less disappointed. When I told her about my failed quest, she said it was fine and started mixing up the original recipe anyway. When I inquired about the gelatin, she said, “It’s jello mold! It’s Thanksgiving! I already fell off the vegan bandwagon.” So c’est la vie. Needless to say, we all enjoyed it.
As the “apples and yams” recipe consisted of Chris telling me “throw some apples and yams together, add some sugar, add some syrup,” I’m including the jello mold one instead. It ain’t healthy or natural, but it’s pretty tasty. And it’s a tradition. Even once a year, we can give thanks for delicious unnatural silliness.
Jello Mold Recipe
Ingredients (double for a large side dish, such as one for Thanksgiving):
– 1 can of jelly cranberry sauce
– Small package of raspberry Jello (if doubling, a large package)
– 1 large can (11 ounces) of pineapple chunks or tidbits
– Add walnuts to taste (1/2 cup usually)
– Melt cranberry sauce in a small saucepan
– Add gelatin and stir until dissolved
– Drain pineapples
– Add all ingredients to the cranberry sauce mixture and stir
– Put in bowl and put in fridge for several hours until firm