Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Note of Thanks

I find it odd that we Americans need a bold-faced, highlighted square on November’s calendar to remind us annually that we should share our food and be thankful for what we have.

Imagine for a moment that the Pilgrims had declined the dinner invitation from their newly acquainted Native friends because just as Mama was fastening her best bonnet, little Jacob came down with an unexpected case of small pox.
Might we have missed the proverbial boat on gratitude?

As a nation, we live well. And I’m not suggesting that we are unappreciative. But if we break it down, really, how many of us take the time to take mental inventory of our blessings? How many of us consider the community at large, before we break bread with our families?
Do we break bread with our families?

For most of us, time is a luxury we cannot afford. The very thought of carving out time to provide for the greater good is unfathomable, when we are faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting a hot meal on our own tables every night.
And in our culture where fast is king (how many of us have taken a fast trip, to get some fast cash, for fast food?), it’s hard to be thankful for a meal we can’t even remember eating.
But by making such “efficient” use of our time, are we essentially feeding the belly but starving the spirit?

I recall a favorite childhood book called Stone Soup by Marcia Brown.
It tells the story of three, war-weary soldiers who are hungry and cannot afford their next meal. The greedy townspeople refuse to share their food until they are tricked by the clever soldiers into providing the necessary ingredients for “stone soup.” While the soldiers can only offer stones for the pot, single provisions from each of the villagers results in a delightful and abundant feast shared by all.
On a basic level, we understand from this tale that small sacrifices can offer abundant rewards. But on a more intimate level, we acknowledge that both the soldiers and the villagers left the feast with much more than gastronomic satisfaction.

It is unlikely that any of us will be faced with tired and hungry soldiers on our doorstep. We are instead faced with the greater challenge of slowing down the pace of this runaway train we call life.
If only for one Thursday in November, we are asked to be aware of all that is good, to be thankful for the good, and to share some of the good with others.
We are asked to be part of a communal meal, one that recalls tradition and dare I say, sacrifice.
Unlike the villagers in the story, we are not duped by tomfoolery into sharing provisions for the Thanksgiving table. We willingly take our part, however big or small, in the production of the meal. We do it because it is right and because it is good.
Some of us will lug heavy birds into hot ovens awaiting the pop of one ingenious plastic device, while many of us will offer only a savory side dish or simple dessert. No matter, as this is not a day for making judgements. It is instead an opportunity for us to gather together. To sit comfortably at the hands of a stopped-clock, sharing food and thought with others. The sensory overload of this meal will force taste buds to dance and eyelids to grow heavy.
But as we make our way from the Thanksgiving table, I would argue that the experience satiates more than just our nutritional needs.

And as for the aforementioned Pilgrims, I am thankful they accepted the gracious invitation put forth by their new friends. But perhaps what I am most thankful for is that our Native American friends took time out of their busy day; a day that likely included the familiar demands of childcare, meal preparation and home maintenance, to share a table with travel-weary strangers to break bread (albeit corn bread) and give thanks.
Because without them, that late Thursday in November would be like any other Thursday, and quite frankly, my blessings are too many to forget.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


In the spirit of our Pilgrim friends, I am posting this recipe which appeared in a holiday publication from BJ’s Wholesale Club.
The recipe is for a snappy, yet chewy molasses cookie that after one bite will have you wishing you owned a bonnet.

Old-As-Pilgrims Molasses Crinkles

2 ½ Cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Soda
¼ tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Ground Ginger
1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp. Ground Cloves
1 tsp. Ground White Pepper (optional)
1 Cup Vegetable Shortening
1 Cup Firmly Packed Dark Brown Sugar
1 Egg at Room Temp.
½ Cup Molasses
1/3 Cup Sugar for Sprinkling (I use Turbinado Sugar or Sugar in the Raw)
Water for Sprinkling

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and white pepper if desired; lightly whisk together and set aside. In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer set on low speed, beat shortening until creamy, about 30 seconds. On medium speed, beat in brown sugar until smooth, beat in egg. Add molasses and beat until combined. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed until blended. Add remaining flour and beat until blended. Scrape down the dough into bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator and soften slightly for easier handling. Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon measure, scoop out dough and roll between your palms (gently) to form a ball. Drop ball into sugar and roll to coat completely. Place cookies two inches apart on parchment (at this point, I use a sugar-coated glass bottom to slightly depress each cookie). Sprinkle each cookie with cool water (do not saturate—a spray bottle makes easy work of this). Bake until tops are slightly firm when touched and have a crackled appearance—about 10 minutes for chewier cookies or 12 minutes if you like a crunchier cookie. Let cookies cool on pan for ten minutes and then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight container.
Recipe yields about 30 cookies.

***My notes: I always omit the white pepper when I make these cookies and when I have it on hand I add a few pieces of finely chopped candied ginger. It makes for a deliciously spicier cookie.
In my opinion, only one sheet should be baked at a time. I bake one large sheet on the middle rack for about ten minutes.
Don’t omit the cloves (unless you have to) because they are essential.
Light brown sugar can be substituted for the dark brown sugar but I think the dark sugar makes for a pleasingly dark cookie.
I have tried using butter instead of the shortening called for in this recipe, because I am not a big fan of shortening. But truth be told, this cookie is not the same without it. The butter version yields a different texture but still a tasty cookie nonetheless.
**Please note that these are not the same cookie as the Jumbo Ginger Molasses Softies as posted on an earlier thread. This cookie is smaller, snappier and spicier.


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