Friday, November 18, 2011

Being Thankful

A few days ago I read a post by Jennifer Perillo, who writes In Jennie's Kitchen. If you read lots of food blogs, you've probably heard Jennie's story; this past August, her husband died unexpectedly from a heart attack, and she quickly became a single mother to her two young daughters. It's a heartbreaking story, and though I'd never read her blog before, I began to after that. I'm not sure why I did, but in the past three months I've grown to look forward to her posts. They're filled with raw emotion; she doesn't sugarcoat anything; to be honest, some of the posts can be downright difficult to get through. The compassion, the pain, and the emotion you feel for this distant stranger can be pretty startling.

Anyway, this past week Jennie posted about being thankful for everything she has in her life, and she encouraged her readers to do the same this Thanksgiving. "Take a moment and think about everything that you feel fortunate for in your life," writes Jennie. "Then, think about the millions of voids that will be on Thanksgiving tables around the country."

In our family, we like to go around the table and each say what we are thankful for. It's pretty cheesy, yes, but it does allow us to reflect on everything we have. Usually, I say something like "I'm so grateful for all the delicious food we're about to eat," which is the truth. But my response never really delves deeper than that.

I don't often reflect on all the blessings in my life. I have so many. My education. My family and friends. A warm bed to sleep in at night. It can be really easy to turn these wonderful things around, though.

Classes are too hard. 

Too much family time. 

Why do I have to get out of bed so early? 

I've thought all of these things before. Actually, I've probably thought all of them in the past week (especially the first and last).

A few days ago I was in a real panic to decide what to make for dessert for Thanksgiving. I'd really wanted to make the brown butter tarts that I'd had as my birthday "cake," but I wasn't getting a response from the pastry chef at the restaurant where they're made. So I was frantically searching for an alternative. Will pie be too hard? Is crisp too boring? Are two springform pan desserts too similar? It was a whirlwind of self-inflicted stress.

And then I stopped searching for a while. Why was I making such a big deal about this Thanksgiving dessert? How was this in the spirit of Thanksgiving at all? How many people across America would gladly take any Thanksgiving dessert, be it pie, cake, fruit, or otherwise? How many people across America wouldn't even be partaking in a Thanksgiving feast? How many people around the world wouldn't be able to spend the day with their family? It was humbling to think about the embarrassment of riches I take for granted, to shift my perspective just a tad and realize how fortunate I am to consider my second dessert problem a problem at all.

This Thanksgiving will be a strange one at our home. For the first time, it will be only my parents and me, as my sister can't make the trip from Los Angeles to Atlanta. It will be a quiet day, for sure, but it won't make me love Thanksgiving any less.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. I love the food, of course. The week-plus of leftovers that ensue. I love the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and learning how to make carrot ring alongside my mom. And watching all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes and casually viewing the football games and seeing Miracle on 34th Street for the first time this holiday season. And taking a walk in the crisp morning before hunkering down in the kitchen. Having a peaceful and conversation-filled meal with my family. Staying at home. These are only some of the things I'm thankful for this year. They may seem little, but together they make Thanksgiving what it is, small memories I'll take with me in a few years when I have my own Thanksgiving dinner and begin to form my own traditions.
Last Thanksgiving I invited my Chinese roommate Chen to our home for Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful experience for both of us: Chen got to experience "real American Thanksgiving food" and I got to show it to her. Undoubtedly it's a Thanksgiving I won't soon forget.

As next Thursday approaches, I want to know: what are you thankful for? 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Around Here

Today I thought I'd share a few things I've been into lately. Some food-related things, some not.

1. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon Autumn Reeser's blog. You're probably saying "Who?" right now, but for the clueless out there she played Taylor Townsend on The O.C. and as such was the inspiration behind this blog. So it all feels very karmic or fateful or whatever the correct term is that she, too, has a blog. And now she is both married and has a baby son, so I feel very old. She lives in Los Angeles and still acts, but I think it's so cool to hear about her daily life and thoughts. (This is probably why I like Twitter so much.) Give it a read if you can.

2. Something else that makes me feel old: Friends now comes on Nick at Nite. To me this means it's on the level of All in the Family and The Cosby Show, which were shown late on night when I was really young and therefore meant they were practically ancient. I still remember when Friends would come on every weekday on TBS at 7 o'clock (primetime), which meant that was when our family ate dinner. Heck, I still remember the fourth season finale in London at Ross' wedding when he says Rachel's name. That was 1997, so I wasn't even in elementary school then. The concept of a season finale was totally lost on me (What do you mean we have to wait four months to find out what happens next?). Friends was the first show I ever truly followed, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It's striking to me that almost ten years after the series finale (and twenty years since the series premiere) it's still hilarious to me. My parents sometimes watch reruns of MASH, and I'm always amazed at how unfunny it is. Was it always that way or has our humor evolved that much in the past thirty years? I could go on about my love for Friends, but I'll leave you with a few of my favorite videos instead: "PIVOT" / "PIVOT" bloopers / "Meat? Good" / "Misshapen claw" / "Phoebe's Christmas Song" / "A lot of information" / A hilarious but subtle opener

2. I'm loving anything by Bon Iver these days. Their songs are so beautiful it hurts. The perfect soundtrack for autumn. Check out "Michicant" (video) and "Fall Creek Boys Choir." So good.

3. I'm a big fan of Dana Velden's "Weekend Meditation" posts over at The Kitchn, and this week she also wrote a "Midweek Meditation." I love her writing - her prose is such an inspiration. 

4. Mindy Kaling's new book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is one I'm dying to read. God, I love her. Read an excerpt here.

5. Ditto the new Serious Eats book.

6. New blog obsession: Scarletta Bakes. It's like Joy the Baker moved to the Southwest. So witty, creative, and, most importantly, she makes delicious food.

7. I'm getting antsy and anxious about Thanksgiving. It's less than two weeks away! How did this happen? Our menu is pretty much set in stone from year to year, but I have free reign over desserts, and my indecisive self usually waits until the week before to decide what to make. There's always pumpkin cheesecake, and this year I'm hoping for brown butter tarts (crossing my fingers I can get the original recipe straight from the source). Otherwise, it may finally, after several years of "yes, this is the year I'll make it," be time for Cranberry, Almond, and Cinnamon Tart. Lately I've been in love with everything deep-dish. There's something so wonderful about baking a pie in a springform pan: more buttery crust (duh)!

8. Today Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 comes out on DVD. I'm dying to see it again. Sometimes I kick myself for having waited so long to read the Harry Potter books. So, to close, one of my favorite HP-related links: J.K. Rowling's Harvard Commencement Speech. If you only actually click over to one of the (many) links in this post, make it be this one. You'll be left in awe and inspired.