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Friday, October 31, 2008

Another Memorable Thanksgiving

I read a church sign this week that said, “We don’t need more to be thankful. We just need to be more thankful.” How true.
The Farmer and I host dinner parties all the time. It’s our favourite thing to do on a Saturday evening. On Sundays, we have any available family members over for Sunday dinner. We usually seat 12 to 18 people.
On Thanksgiving, the number swells to 40.
It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s certainly worth it. The preparation begins the day before. We take all of the furniture out of the living room, standing couches on end and chairs on top of each other in the hall of the farmhouse. This is my third Thanksgiving with the Fisher family, and so far we have been very, very lucky with the weather. That’s a good thing, because we like to put all of the TV room furniture out on the back porch on Thanksgiving Day. It’s the perfect place for pre-dinner cocktails and après-dinner coffee, as we watch Donkey leading the sheep around the pasture.
We set up three long foldaway tables in the living room, and three in the TV room. 22 adults sit in the living room, and 18 “young folk”, aged 13 to 20-something, are seated in the TV room. We set the tables with three sets of china. I cut flowers from the garden: bright orange Chinese lanterns and red and yellow chrysanthemums that I planted after our wedding last August. There is symbolism in that bouquet. I had to live in Asia for a few years before I really knew where home was. It’s here. I found it. Back where I started.
I am so very thankful that life has led me to this place. I am thankful that we are healthy, and that we have enough. That’s all we need. Life on a farm is dramatic and calm, exciting and peaceful. We spend a lot of time fully engrossed in the weather. Making sure the animals are comfortable. And the hay is dry. Being outside this much forces you to appreciate the wonders of nature around you. The night sky this Thanksgiving was amazing, wasn’t it? A quilted cotton-cloudy sky surrounded a Harvest moon. It was incredibly beautiful.
Back to the dinner. We raised our own turkeys this year. Even the kids notice the difference in the taste with a farm-fresh turkey. The Farmer (who is also chief cook in all of our dinners) set the alarm for 3:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Sunday. I got up with him, the dutiful Farmwife. Half-asleep, he thought he would give instruction without speaking. I attempted to follow his telepathic direction, peeling and quartering Macintosh apples, measuring out raisins and chopping onions and dried apricots. The Farmer struggled to free the legs of the 35-lb turkey from its trusses. I suggested he rub the cavity of the bird with salt. He looked at me, saying nothing. I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know why. My mother does it.”
The Farmer held the heavy bird while I stuffed the cavity with the crouton-and-dried-fruit stuffing. I couldn’t help thinking, as we struggled with the awkward beast, of the movie where Mr. Bean gets the turkey stuck on his head as he looks for his lost watch. I decided to take my wedding rings off, just in case.
When we could cram no more stuffing in the bird, we tied its legs together with waxed string and heaved it into the special roasting pan from C.A. Paradis.
In order to fit this large bird in the oven, we take the top rack out and place the bottom one on the lowest ridge. We even had a few inches to spare. Next year, we’re doing a 40-pounder.
Here comes the Farmer’s secret to roast turkey perfection (don’t tell him I told you): the oven is turned up to 450 degrees for the first hour. This seals in the juices. The catch is, you have to be awake for that hour, unless you have a computerized stove that will reset the temperature after sixty minutes. We don’t.
So we sat up for an hour at 4 a.m., sipping herbal tea and discussing our teenagers. I was reminded of when I used to wake up at 4 a.m. to feed my newborn babies. Life goes so fast.
At 5, we turned the turkey down to 325 degrees and went back to bed.
Our first guests arrived at 11. Each guest brought a dish to add to the meal. A new addition to the feast this year, which brought back memories of Asia, were the dumplings prepared by nephew Bruce’s Chinese girlfriend, Jessica. We served appetizers on the porch and lent rubber boots to the people who wanted to go for a hike in the barnyard. Nephews and nieces from the city took their girlfriends and boyfriends out to meet the animals.
Donkey was in fine form, standing at the fence and hee-hawing at the humans, nodding his head up and down, begging for a snack. He was rewarded with an apple.
A little later, I took a bucket of sweet feed out to the cows. Donkey followed me. I gave him a garbage-can lid full of the candy, and he hoovered it up in a few seconds. Our eldest, Milena, tiptoed out to the barnyard in her short skirt and high-heeled boots. I pointed out the “landmines” that the sheep had strategically placed throughout the yard, but she didn’t seem to care. She was interested in Donkey, who was trying to reach his short snout down to the bottom of the long, narrow bucket.
He got the bucket stuck on his head. We laughed and took several photos. He dropped the bucket and looked at us. Cocking his ears, he summed up the loud reaction. And then he decided he would do it again. Milena put the bucket handle between his teeth, and he swung it back and forth. Again he was rewarded with a burst of laughter from his human audience. He liked the attention, so he did it a few more times. He nibbled on the boots of his hecklers. When we got bored and turned to walk back toward the house, Donkey snorted at us. He didn’t want the game to end.
The “kids” started a game of touch football, and Donkey moved toward the gate where he could comment on their skills with the occasional hee-haw. I wonder what he would have done if we had let him in to play. It was such a beautiful day.

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