I’ve always admired people with great intent for their lives, who know exactly who they want to be and what they want to do and pursue those clear visions with purpose and determination. I’m hardly unfocused or unaccomplished, but I’ve come to realize in my middle years that what I really am is opportunistic. I have a general vision for the kind of person I’d like to be and the kind of things I like to do. But what I’m really good at is seeing a hole – an opening – and then leaping into it to make my mark.
Most especially, with holidays. You all know my calendar of unique holidays. We have Mocksgiving two weeks before Thanksgiving (November 16 this year – mark your calendars). That was followed by Piemas, coming up next weekend. Then Flynn’s Fiery Feast, which is still forming but seems to have the theme of “we can’t make up our mind whether it’s inside or out”. These are not fake holidays, for all their provenance is known and created. I have heard many times that Mocksgiving is a true celebration of gratitude, friendship like unto family and tradition. (The mock, for the record, is not mock as in mocking. It’s mock as in trial run. It turns out you can’t rename holidays after 20 years of having them under one name.) These holidays have traditions and rules that guide and govern them just as any other holiday does. They even have holiday attire. (I have a great pie-themed dress! I still need a better Mocksgiving outfit.) There are things we always do, the community of shared experience, the stories of what happened last time we gathered. They are entirely real.
This gift of inventing holidays has a lot, I generally think, to do with the open-mindedness and joyfulness of my friends to indulge my flights of fancy. I’m hardly the only person on the block to have a traditional celebration. Around here, we also celebrate Oktoberfest and Vinterfest and other shared joys.
But what made me realize that this was, perhaps, my calling in life was when I managed to invent a holiday at work. Now, I didn’t do this on purpose (and I can’t go into too many details). But a while back I invited some colleagues to join me in an activity on International Women’s Day. And I gave it one of those great trademark Brenda names. (Eg. a cross between lame, descriptive and memorable.) I had no thought of making it an annual holiday, just like Piemas. But a goodly number of people asked me very politely (and persistently) if we could please do it again. So we just celebrated this last week, from the least to the greatest of us, and I realized. This is now a *thing*, with a tradition, and set of rules and memory of past celebrations. People refer to it by name, and look forward to it, and are joyful when it comes. All I had to do this year was set the date, invite people, and they came gladly and with alacrity with their offerings, like a joyful potluck. You know, like Piemas. Or Mocksgiving.
There are so many people in this world that our niches of uniqueness become ever more granular. I’m willing to share space with the rest of the world and the things that make other special. But I like being the person who creates the joyful holiday. I think I’ll lean into that one.
What about you? What have you discovered you somehow end up doing over and over? Are you a person who knows what they want to do and who they want to be, and does it? Do you have any holidays of your own creation?
This weekend we hosted a very successful Mocksgiving. I’ve hosted a “practice” (or mock) Thanksgiving for 19 straight years now, although I’ve truthfully never actually hosted Thanksgiving. Mocksgiving was the last big thing I needed to get through before life slowed down. A brief litany: camping on Labor Day, two 5ks on back to back weekends, my 40th birthday party, Otherworld (which was amazing – highly recommend), Grey’s birthday, my nephew’s death (weighs greatly on my heart through all of this), apple picking, King Richard’s Faire, finishing and furnishing the attic (huge effort – much Ikea), Adam’s birthday, week long trip to Singapore (plus off timezone prep before and follow up afterwards), Thane’s birthday, Halloween, Carnage gaming convention (full weekend Adam), Mocksgiving. All this while working full time (both of us) and raising two kids. Some of these were logistically challenging. Some of these were emotionally very deep and hard. Some of these were physically exhausting. I’m so grateful to be done, and for a coming few weeks that are massively less scheduled.
We’re also getting to the time of year where I can’t run. I’ve been running for three or so years now. I’m very slow – it’s *great* when I beat an 11 minute mile. I’ve switched up my default course, so now I run about 4 miles on a given run (a bit over a 5k) – I don’t want to go longer. My surgically repaired left knee was telling me at the end of the season that pavement isn’t it’s favorite, but this is the only exercise I’ve been able to stick with and be consistent about. But in winter I can’t really run on weekdays when it gets dark out so early, and pretty soon there will be ice and treacherous footing ahead.
But my body just hurts lately. I’m sore and stiff. I’ve been having constant headaches which, yes, are tension headaches in part. But they’re mostly muscular-skeletal. My C1 and C2 like to go in opposite directions and this gives me headaches. I go to my chiropractor, it gets better for about 2 days and then I move wrong and the headaches come back until my next appointment. UGH. I mean granted I’m over 40, but I don’t approve of constant headaches.
So I decided with the upcoming massive free time (are you skeptical that will happen? It won’t be so much, but it will be better.) to spend a few weeks stretching. The best my troublesome back has ever been (I have a really consistent regimen of massage and chiropractic which is extremely effective which is why you’ve never heard me complain of it) has been when I was doing yoga regularly. That was like for 2 months 10 years ago. We’re talking about getting a treadmill in the basement with our massive game of redo-every-room, but that’s still a while a way. So I’m going to give it a shot – 30 minutes a day of yoga. I’m very curious to see if it helps with the headaches and the back issues and the feeling that if I drop I’ll shatter instead of bounce.
We’ll find out!
And heck, maybe with all this free time I’ll also update the ol’ blog more, and finish my novel, and cook more meals from scratch, and catch up on all my church commitments, and do more local history research, and spend more time with my husband, and finally clean out my junk drawer and ….
This is the 18th time I’ve prepared to host my friends for the Mocksgiving meal. I’m perilously close to having had as many years of life with Mocksgiving as without it. Adam and I were married in August of 2000, and moved into a cute little apartment in Roslindale, which I saw for the first time in the 5 hour layover between returning from our wedding in Washington and leaving for our honeymoon in Greece. I worked from home that first year of married life, and I got really bored. Bored enough, it turns out, to try to learn how to cook. Adam’s family had lately been going to restaurants for Thanksgiving. I decided to give them the treat of a “real homecooked meal” instead… just as soon as I learned how to cook.
I was young, but I was no fool. So two weeks before Thanksgiving, I decided to give it a trial run. So I did a “mock” Thanksgiving. But I knew that two people couldn’t eat a turkey (not and repeat the performance a scant few weeks later!) so I invited some of our best friends (and all of our wedding party). That year 13 of us sat around a table and shared a meal and it was FANTASTIC. Also, that year, it just didn’t work out with the inlaws and Thanksgiving. We had such a good time that I repeated the performance the next year. And the next. The Mocksgiving that was most likely to not happen was the one that happened a scant two and a half weeks after Thane was born. But that one happened too, although I barely remember it.
Just as a caveat, I always feel somewhat self-conscious about Mocksgiving. We have long since hit the physical limit of how many people it’s possible to invite. I can say with relative confidence that no more than 30 adults can be seated simultaneously. Even though my circle of friends and welcome faces has continued to grow, my dining room as not. So I cannot invite many people I would wish to invite. If you’re feeling a little wistful about not being able to come, I likely feel a little wistful about not being able to invite you. Please don’t use this as a litmus test of friendship!
Anyway, one of the things about this particular day in my year is that I always spend it talking to you in my head. I’m not sure why. I think there’s something about the continuity. On this day I practice skills and revive recipes that go back in time. My bread recipe, for example, is a simple one. But my mother used to make it as both a therapy for her aching carpal tunnel hands, and as our primary source of bread. My grandmother made it, and served it in neat slices at lunch. My great grandmother, sharp blue eyes and wry smile, made it before her. I can see generations of capable hands making the same mysterious, practiced gestures. As my hands gnarl out of their childish softness, long having left maiden behind and well into matron (on my way to crone), I see the hands of my maternal line. And these recipes are really throwbacks. Adam’s bread, which he makes year round and which is our “normal” bread, is a healthy, whole-wheat, no-knead recipe he’s improved over years. My bread bears all the hallmarks of the fifties – white flour, butter (or margarine, as the recipe calls for) and the Crisco which lays unused in every other recipe but my high holy day recipes.
So, with no further ado, here are the notes I’ve saved for you so far. I’ll likely continue to add as breaks in cooking allow!
There’s pretty much never school on my prep day, due to Veteran’s Day. Mocksgiving and Veteran’s day almost always line up. I probably could do this with them home. It actually would probably be great if I taught them in this long line of heritage. But man, that sounds exhausting. I find it very relaxing and centering to just do this one thing – readying everything – on Mocksgiving day. This year I found out a few days too late that their regular afterschool and vacation program, the Boys and Girls Club, actually had an offering. Oh well, enjoy your LARP lads!
One of the great quests of Mocksgiving is the procurement of the turkey. It falls *right around* the time that stores start getting their fresh turkeys, or rather usually a day or two before. That’s what makes it exciting. I’ve noticed even the fresh turkeys tend to be rather frozenish for Mocksgiving. I went to Wegman’s first (figuring that any place that has an open bin of oyster mushrooms would have, you know, turkey). I was wrong, so then I went to Stop and Shop which had just gotten their shipment. I selected the largest turkey I could find, clocking in at 24 pounds. I once got an artesenal farm-raised, locally grown and ethically sourced turkey. It was terrible. It turns out that places like Butterball inject brine into the birds. I’m here to tell you that’s what makes them DELICIOUS. So I cheerfully buy Butterball turkeys and they always turn out amazing. Unfortunately this year, the Butterballs were all still frozen, so I went with an organic turkey that was marked as fresh. (Although is still rather suspiciously rock-like.) I trust that brine is organic, and I won’t miss out on any deliciousness due to upgrading.
My first task of tomorrow morning is almost always chiseling out the gizzards & neck of the frozen bird, while swearing that next year I’m going to find a turkey that is ACTUALLY not frozen, not one that just claims to not be frozen.
Aprons are most critical when you’re doing stuff that involves a lot of flour. Both making the bread and rolling out pies have this unfortunate tendency to enflour your midriff if you don’t wear an apron. So I wear an apron. I also have learned to seriously sequester my hair while baking.
The first step of my ancestral bread recipe is to make sure the yeast is alive. You add the sugar, salt, hot water and yeast and then go clean up the kitchen a bit. If you see this bubbling, your yeast is fine. If you don’t, you might as well stop now or you’ll get unleavened bread. This yeast was particularly vibrant.
I actually really don’t like my KitchenAid mixer, which I know makes me weird. I miss my Sunbeam mixer, but I got one of the “after bankruptcy” models that was poorly manufactured. I find it hard to add ingredients with the KitchenAid, and I can never mix in enough flour. I have to finish off getting the flour in by hand on the kneading table. The dough is warm, and moves like a slow lava-flow. I think the kneading is one of the spots where you need to know what it “should” be like, and where practice makes a big difference. I added almost 3 cups of flour more than the recipe called for to get the bread to the right consistency.
The bread goes through three rises. It doubles in the bowl twice, and then it rises in the loaf pans. While the bread is rising, I clean up the kitchen and get started on the pie starter. I should’ve made it last night, but I was lazy.
Once upon a time, I had a perfect pie starter made out of Crisco. Then Crisco took the trans fats out of their shortening. I’ve been complaining about this for like 5 years, and I may complain about it for the rest of my life. Anyway, they’ve improved the recipe, but I still find that the all Crisco recipe doesn’t taste as good as it used to. I really like working with a lard crust. It’s super forgiving. But it’s not vegetarian (which many of my guests are), and the taste also isn’t perfect. The mixed butter-Crisco crust is pretty hard to work (I use a vodka-water mix to help compensate), but has the best taste/flakiness quotient.
It’s possible I have strong pie crust opinions. By my reckoning, I’ve made about 200 pies in my life.
I still hate cutting in shortening. I often make Adam do this, but he’s working and I didn’t delegate early enough. The crumb on this isn’t quite small enough (eg the shortening bits should be smaller), but I’m a little lazy and this is good enough for me to work with. Its in the freezer now, getting super cold so I can work it.
As I mentioned, my yeast this time was super active. I think it cut nearly an hour off the regular rise time on the bread. (I’ve also learned on particularly cold days – like today – to prewarm my ceramic bowl by filling it with hot water.) This is the second rise on my dough.
My mom does a set of loaf-shaping activities I’ve never quite mastered. I suspect that if you plan on entering your bread in the State Fair they’re an important step. But so far no one at Mocksgiving has complained. I really like forming the loaves – you get to slap the bread with a satisfying “thwack!” that brings me back to being a little girl. I suspect there’s about a half cup of Crisco that ends up in the recipe, from how much I slather my hands with to make the forming possible.
Here’s another task I should’ve done last night – the lone crust for my favorite pie, lemon meringue. Fun fact: I can’t spell meringue. I’m now at the point in the day where I’m watching the clock about when I need to pick up the kids. I still have three pies + the most difficult pie filling to go before I can rest. Maybe four. I saved some rhubarb this summer and I’m pondering whether I can make a pie of it. (I always think about the “extra pie”. I never make the “extra pie”.)
All the pie crust recipes I use are high-shortening and hard to work. There’s a few things I keep in mind: all ingredients must be COLD. Handle the dough as little as possible (an opposite from the lovingly worked bread dough). But I don’t know how you’d be able to get the crust in the pan if you used a board instead of a cloth. I fold it with the cloth. Sometimes with a particularly difficult roll, I’ll even drag it over on the cloth. Then I can gently unfold it. I still end up having to reroll after this step half the time.
I usually make lemon meringue, blueberry from farmshare blueberries set aside over the summer, peach ditto, and two pecan pies (which are SO EASY compared to all the rest). I didn’t make peach pie this year because, um, I’m lazy. I was really busy when the peaches were in season. It’s a pity because peach pie is my favorite. My mom can make the dough actually round when she rolls it out. I can’t. Also, my edge-crinkling skills have improved, but they’re not up to her standards.
This pie crust gives me fits every year. It always schlumps on me, regardless of crust recipe. I’ve tried different pie pans. My mom pricks the bottom like three times. As you can see, no inch goes unpricked. There’s actually specific gadgets you can get for this, although I’ve never tried it. So I take that as validation my schlumping issue isn’t incompetence. This year it came out ok. My mom’s looks way better. It’ll taste great with lemon meringue in it though!
Meanwhile, the bread’s out of the oven just in time to put the crust in.
I like how the bread and the wood of the porch are the same color. I keep all my baking on the porch because my cats are jerks. Ask me about the year that some feline stepped right in the middle of my pie and I had to eat it all by myself. Tragic. The lone crust goes in right after the bread comes out.
It’s amazing how interrupting it is picking up the boys. An hour gone, with nothing in the oven! Dark is falling, and I’m not nearly done! I came back and got started on the two pecan pies. The kitchen is a major disaster area – once I get the blueberry prepped I’ll need to clean it again. Then the last pie of the day is my lemon meringue. I should probably make that before I clean up, but I’ll need the mixer bowl cleaned.
I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff I should be doing too, but I’m momentarily forgetting it.
I should really make just over 3 pecan pies in Pi plates for perfect geekery. I tried to trace a pie in pecans on one of them, but I think you’d have to be staring pretty hard to make it out.
I’m starting to flag, energy wise. Now’s the hard part.
5:30 pm –
It occurs to me I should’ve been time stamping this all along. Sorry.
I’m in the home stretch now. The blueberry pie is in the oven. The pecan pies are cooling. I still need to make the lemon meringue filler before I collapse, but that’s not so bad. It could also THEORETICALLY happen tomorrow, but that’s not a good idea. I also made a sad discovery with regard to one of my favorite pie plates. It was a gift from a friend, oh, ten years ago. It’s my “go to” for blueberry pies. Lately it’s been a little porous and leaky. But it has now developed a fatal crack. Farewell favorite pie plate. Sniff sniff.
On the plus side, the pecan pies are looking excellent.
8:51 pm –
It’s done. The last pie has come out of the oven. The meringue came out very nicely this time! I could eat that filling by the spoonful. I’m a little nervous about putting on the porch. The temperature out there is currently 34 degrees, and I don’t think the meringue should freeze. There’s no room in the fridge (I moved the turkey from the front porch to the fridge, because the front porch was too cold to help thaw it). So that leaves the oven. (It doesn’t need to be chilled.) But the real question is … will I remember to remove the pie before I preheat the oven for the turkey?
Tomorrow morning – turkey, stuffing, potatoes & butternut squash! And table settings, cleaning house, and other preparing.
This has been a hard week for me, and for people I love. For example, I have a dearly loved family member who is transgender and gets life-saving medication with their coverage through the ACA. For them, the current president-elect is an existential threat to their life. And other than my support, I don’t know how to help.
I find that one of my usual consolations – my friends on social media – is full of pain. And I need solace, and to remember the good things in the world.
One of those good things is coming tomorrow! The seventeenth (I think) annual Mocksgiving is tomorrow! I took today off work to bake (and tend to my schooless Thane – Grey is at a church field trip to the Heifer Farm.)
Anyway, I always miss “you guys” on Mocksgiving prep day. I talk to you a lot in my head – but this day especially. As a complete distraction from weightier concerns, I’m going to live-blog my prep for the 31 adults and 20 children who will come to my house in fellowship to be served tomorrow.
Stuffed Squash (with opportunities for garlic, butter, bacon & cheese)
This is a new recipe to Mocksgiving. Part of being a CSA member is defensive recipe gathering. I found this one last year, and blessed my lucky stars!
My cooking got an early start this morning because I had to drop Grey off for church. I’m not a morning person. Usually I’d start my day off at like 9 or 10. I started this one at the appalling hour of 7. (Shudders). I have a complex schedule today, mostly because this is the only time in a one month period I can actually get my hair cut, so I need to get a bunch done before the haircut, but nothing that needs tending between noon and two. So I usually start with bread, but not today.
Instead, I began with the squash. My plan is to adjust the recipe to twice-bake the squash instead. I baked it with butter and garlic. I’ll wait for it to cool completely then prepare the filling. (Mmmmmm bacon…. although I’ll probably make one vegetarian instead.) Then I’ll stick it back in the oven to warm tomorrow while the turkey is resting. It should be noted that pretty much all my cooking prep during Mocksgiving relies on an enclosed porch and cold overnight temperatures to double as a poor person’s ‘fridge.
Squash cooking, I turned my hand towards pies. Now I am caught on the horns of a pie dilemma. I have three different pie crust recipes at my disposal:
Butter & Vodka
This has been popular lately. It has the advantage of reducing the water content of the pastry (the vodka burns off). It tasted pretty good. It’s reasonably flaky. It’s a pain in the butt to make the starter for. And it’s moderately finicky to work with. Basically – I use this recipe when I have to but it’s my last choice.
This stuff is like a dream. It’s super easy to work with. It’s delicious. It’s flaky. It is the ideal, ultimate pie shortening. It’s also, um, not vegetarian. Not even a little. Nor is it friendly for anyone with religious based dietary restraints. (See also: bacon). So if I’m making pies for my own consumption, I’ll use this 100% of the time. But by my count I have five vegetarians coming tomorrow, and stealthmeats in dessert is a cruel thing to do. So lard is right out.
For many years, this was the only way I made piecrusts, using the recipe my great-grandmother had made before me. It’s a very “short” recipe (high shortening to flour ratio) making it extremely flakey and light. Then Crisco took transfats out of its recipe. I spent a few Piemases and Mocksgivings in tears, trying to understand why the pie crust I’d used for literally a hundred pies couldn’t be worked. It took me a while to figure out the correlation.
But when I went home this summer, my mom said Crisco had changed their recipe again and it was working for her. This is the idea compromise between vegetarian and pain-in-the-rearness. So I’m going to try Crisco again and see how it goes.
2 pm Update
Well, I got my hairs cut. They are now shorter. Mission accomplished.
I’ve been cooking pretty much all day. This is the depressing part. Here’s where we are…
1 Pecan Pie (I sometimes make two)
Twice baked squash (need to mash up the insides and add bacon and cheese)
Lemon meringue pie (fun fact – I always misspell meringue as merangue) – crust made
Bread – dough kneaded and set to first rise
Not yet started and needs to be finished today:
Monkey bread if I decide to do it. (Votes? Do y’all want me to try it, or should I use that time for “cleaning” or “sleeping”?
A mere hour or so later, I’m in a much better spot. The bread is on the second rise. The blueberry pie is about 5 minutes from done. Before cleaning up the pie stuff, I decided to make another pie. For most pies, the crust is the hardest part. My blueberry pies, for example, are made during the year when Farmer Dave brings me blueberries and kept in the freezer until pie time comes. I tried increasing the water in the starter and it’s handling much better now. I think there’s so much shortening in it, that it looks wet enough when it’s not. So that’s good!
So my bonus pie is a raspberry apple pie. I had raspberries in the freezer from this summer’s haul (not enough to make a batch of jam from alas). And this is the time of year where apples are inescapable. So we’ll see if it’s any good. No huge loss if it’s not.
The lemon meringue is left to be done. It’s the exception to the above “the filling is the easy part” rule. I have the crust ready to be filled and it didn’t shlump too much. Lemon meringue is my favorite.
I remember when I was a kid I used to be appalled at my mom’s lack of creativity in creating pie vents. Here was this amazing decoration opportunity and she just cut slits! Such lack of imagination.
Of course, now I find myself staring down a blank pie crust and wondering if slits are just traditional. I usually inscribe a pi symbol that looks like a smiley face if you see it upside down!
Well, the kitchen’s a disaster and my back hurts, but everything has been done but the lemon meringue filling. (Guess what the most pain in the rear thing is?) I’ll pull the bread in about 10 minutes. I got the squashes stuffed. I have three completed pies.
It seems patently unfair that this is the time where I need to ask that age old question… what am I going to serve my family for dinner?
You’ll be happy to hear the meringue has been meringued. It didn’t set right. I suspect some of the flour on the beaters from the bread fell in and messed up the set. I couldn’t bring myself to remake it. It will still be delicious!
I always feel sneaky when making lemon meringue pie. The yellow doesn’t come from the lemons – it comes from the egg yolks.
In other news, Civilization 6 has civ called Congo, and Congo has Mbuji-Mayi in it. This is a city that is famous in my family history – it’s where the language school my parents attended to learn Tshiluba is – but I’ve never seen a reference to it in any material. Ever. But it’s in this video game.
Which of the 10 commandments do you break most? If heaven and hell are decided by how we adhere to the 10 commandments, I’m going to need a whole lot of grace for my complete failure to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for us, not us to keep the Sabbath… but the truth is I don’t keep it.
But today, well, I pretty much had to.
Mocksgiving was amazing. It was, I think, our biggest Mocksgiving ever. I believe over 30 grownups simultaneously sat to share a meal. The total attendance was something like 48. I had friends who labored intelligently, diligently and cheerfully in the kitchen to help set the meal. I had friends who did the same to make sure I didn’t wake to mounds of dirty dishes the day after. (Some of those were the same people. I really hope they, um, just like doing dishes? Yeah, I think I probably need to have them over for a dinner they don’t have to cook pretty soon!) My brother did an amazing job keeping the kids happy and engaged and quiescent. But I’m happy to report that the turkey was excellent, there was enough stuffing for even Mike, and all were sated with food and friendship. It had that ineffable Mocksgiving quality that makes it what it is. Also, I can sit 30+ people for dinner.
I did feel the shadow of the attacks in Paris. I do not forget that half of the Syrian people have been driven out of their homes – that bombings are frequent enough to blur together in the strife-torn middle east. But I think Paris hits close to home for those of us in the West because so many of us have been there, or it seems so familiar. We react more strongly the more we see danger threaten people who could be us. I wish I could think of a thing I could do other than pray for those who went out Friday night and will never come home again, or those whose homes are a continent behind them, or those who face the choice to join with evil or die. I’m pretty sure that making sterner lines between “them” and “us” will not make any of use safer. But, as so often before, I lack the imagination of spirit to see what I can do to influence that outcome.
My novel progresses. I’m at 17,000 words. I’ve managed to move forward to some plot points. (Although my plotting is rather mirroring my discovery process, in which the protagonist finds something cool on the internet – not sure that’s a page-turning technique there.) I managed to write 250 words yesterday, which is about 10% of what I should be writing a day, but 250 words on Mocksgiving day seems like rather an accomplishment.
One thing I like about Mocksgiving (and I like many – most of them people) is that I no longer feel resentful of the imposition of Christmas that seems to happen earlier and earlier. (I’d love to see the studies that show that people buy more when you hammer them with Christmas carols in 65 degree weather eight weeks before the high holy day…) But hey! I had my Christmas so bring on your tinsel, Madison Avenue!
Do you remember back when my posts used to have a central thesis I’d write about? Yeah, me too. I’m sure that will come back in December, when I’m not doing all the writing on the side. Right? Right.
So I made an offer to my Facebook friends. If you’re DYING to read my novel (you know, my unedited, stream-of-consciousness write-as-many-words-as-possible attempt) drop me a note with your email and I’ll share my document with you.
This feels so much like a letter, I am finding it hard to end without a proper closing.
The groceries are in the fridge. The Mocksgiving week to do list is half scratched off. I’ve indoctrinated a new set of coworkers to the sacred holiday that requires me to take a day off. And I woke up bolt upright last night remembering who I’d meant to invite but forgotten to.
Ahhhh… the sacred Mocksgiving traditions! (As I just said to my brother, “I should be making pie instead of updating my blog about how much pie I need to make.” This is also a tradition.)
If you’ve never encountered me writing about this before… back in the mists of time when I was a young newlywed who had just turned 22, I invited my inlaws to Thanksgiving dinner. In prior years we’d eaten in a restaurant and my horrified prim self was convinced that this was just not the way Things Were Done. But even my clueless self knew that cooking that turkey on Thanksgiving day for the first time ever was hubris that would set me up for an epic fall. So two weeks ahead of time I bought a small turkey to practice on. Since two people cannot eat even a small turkey, I invited a few friends over to share it with me.
And thus the first Mocksgiving was born.
We didn’t end up hosting Thanksgiving that year (the story of why is lost in the mists of time). But everyone had SO MUCH FUN at that first practice (or mock) Thanksgiving that next year we invited everyone back to do it again – plus a few extra.
This year marks the 16th year that I’ve been hosting friends for Mocksgiving. I join other friends on Thanksgiving day for theirs – and it’s usually beautifully low key. So Mocksgiving is an authentic celebration of Thanksgiving. And I’m so thankful for it, and for all the people who come to celebrate with me. Every year there are new faces. This year, my early RSVP count is for 33 grownups and 16 children for the main meal. This is all held in my home. Board games spring up in various locations like weeds. (Pretty much any door you open in my house that day will lead to a board game.)
It’s also logistically maxed out. My number 1 stressor at Mocksgiving is not the 5 loaves of bread, 5 pies, 10 pounds of potatoes, maximum sized turkey, two batches of stuffing, butternut squash or beverages. It’s the fact that I can’t ask everyone I’d like to. Once or twice in history I threw it open to everyone who might want to attend. That’s just not possible anymore. (On the list of humble-brag problems I’m lucky to have, eh?) So if you’re feeling slightly droopy that you weren’t invited, it could very well be that I woke up in the middle of the night realizing I hadn’t invited you.
OK, I swear I’ll quit apologizing for hosting a fun party now. Did you know that when I had knee surgery I woke up from anesthesia worried about whether I’d been rude to someone in that period I couldn’t remember? True fact.
And now I’ll quit procrastinating and work on the lemon merangue pie crust.
The turkey is in, the house is clean, the pies are done and only slightly squished by non-edibility-impacting malfeasance. The cats are exploring the new living room configuration and the children are under strict instructions to play quietly without messing up their room.
I think, while I cook, a lot of you. And I feel grateful. So in a stolen moment between turkey and dishes, let me shrae some things I’m particularly grateful for this morning.
* The complete recovery of Tiberius-cat. Yesterday he got his feeding tube removed. He had gained weight since his last checkup, and is pretty much completely recovered. Fatty livery rarely recurs, so… for the most part we are simply done, after a very difficult month. I’m grateful that our hard work and love paid off with health.
* The long, joyful service of the pastor of my church. He’s an amazing preacher, excellent minister, kind person and rollicking honkey-tonk piano player. His only fault is in being an awfully hard act to follow.
* The embarrassing riches of friendship that are mine. I have few lonely moments. My life is filled with close friends, acquaintances, friends of friends. I have friends of long-duration, new friends, parent friends, single friends, geek friends, faraway friends and friends close enough that I sometimes forget to knock when I invite myself into their house at 9:30 pm. I never thought that this wealth of friends would be my lot, and still find myself looking in disbelief to discover it’s true.
* My work is so many of the things I want out of my labors. It is interesting, important and educational. Every day I have more to learn than I can master. I had the flexibility to take care of my cat, but I go to work every day feeling like I will have important things to do, and that I am growing in my career. It also allows me to afford things like veterinary care for my cat. It comes with a hard toll to pay in fatigue and absorption, but I try not to complain about getting what I have asked for.
*Finally, of course, my family. I love reading advice columns, and the stories I hear make me grateful of loving, thoughtful, undemanding parents and in-laws. My own little nuclear family is made up of people I find interesting, and whose company I enjoy. My sons are fun and funny and growing more independent. My husband is helpful, thoughtful, kind and loving.
As Calvin says, Halcyon days are usually only awarded retroactively. I do feel as though, perhaps, I’m in the midst of a halcyonic stretch myself right now.
Today is the day before Mocksgiving which is, while not a national holiday, a Brenda holiday. So I’m off work and in the midst of a marathon cooking session.
It’s quiet in the house on Mocksgiving prep day – which is a vast rarity. But it’s always noisy in my head. Mostly, while I cook, I talk to you. I observe, make jokes, give you updates and bask in your admiration. It always seems wrong that you and I should have such a nice conversation while you don’t get to take part, so I figured I’d clue you in.
Here are some of the things we talked about this morning, you and I.
You asked, “What’s Mocksgiving?” and I told you all about it. Basically, it’s Thanksgiving with friends. This one will be my 12th. I’ve been hosting this every year since I got married. Yes, I hosted it the year Grey was born, when he was barely a month old. Yes, I hosted it the year Thane was born, when he was a fortnight old. Yes, I hosted it last year, when I had massive knee surgery in September. (I actually don’t remember anything about my knee and the cooking last year.) I love it.
Every year, I panic that I will have more people attend than I can physically fit in my house. This year I was relieved when the count 25 adults and 10 kids (of whom six are old enough to, you know, sit). I thought my total count started at like 35 adults.
I always, always, always feel badly that I can’t simply invite the whole world and everyone I know and everyone I’ve ever met. If you and I have met and you thought, “But I thought she liked me! Why didn’t she invite me?!”, the answer is because we all actually sit down to eat. In my house. All 30+ of us. And so it must be a finite universe of people.
My day began at almost normal work time. I ran some errands this morning: dropped the kids off, went to the podiatrist (I know – so exciting!), got a flu shot, bought Mocksgiving specific groceries (the ‘fridge isn’t big enough – several things are staying slightly cooler on the porch) and gassed up the car. Then I started in on my list.
– Turkey has been in the ‘fridge since Tuesday, defrosting. Only 20 lbs this year. Hope it’s enough.
– Pie shell for lemon merangue pie is done
– Bread is on its first rise (need to punch it down in about five minutes)
– Pecan pie is beeping at me in the oven
– Pie starter is made and chilling in the fridge
– Pomegranate molasses is simmering in prep for the cranberry sauce
– Run the first of about 4 dishwasher loads I’ll do today, including cans for the cranberry sauce. Because, of course, in my inexorable brilliance I’ve decided to make a quadruple batch and can it. Yes, it’s stupid. But, well, it’s my stupidity and optimism that make me so charming, right?
– Run a first clean of the house (many things need to be moved)
– Bring the spare dishes upstairs (2 & 3 dishwasher loads)
– Figure out how many chairs we’re short
– Peach pie
– Blueberry pie
– Lemon merangue pie
OK, I’ll keep you updated. Check back!
2:15 pm – Mocksgiving Eve
Mocksgiving Brenda is very grateful to summer Brenda for her hard work. I have complete blueberry pie and peach pie fillings put away in the freezer. The peach pie is especially precious, costing great labor. Peach pie is my second favorite pie, next to lemon merangue. Farm share, succulently perfectly ripe peaches caught at their height and put away for November is a great gift.
I was thinking how nice it was to have a day away from work. No project planning, no technical specifications, no time estimates, no deadlines.
Then I realized I had carefully mapped out the next two days practically by the hour. I had drawn up a detailed list of recipes, and figured out the optimal order to make sure they all got done on time and considering the dependencies between them (stove use, refridgeration, rising time, etc.). And for each of these, I had an excellent estimate on how long it would take me to prep, how long to cook, etc. Furthermore, I have deadlines almost every hour for most of the day to ensure some task gets done in order to meet the next task in line.
Ah well. At least I don’t have to get client signoff?
2:35 pm Mocksgiving Eve
Time to form the loaves and leave the bread for the third rising. Adam’s been using my loaf pans for his bread, which is cooked in parchment paper. Parchment paper leaves sticky residue, so I just spent 20 minutes scrubbing my loaf pans. Maybe I should ask for some new loaf pans for Christmas.
Speaking of gear, I have three awesome pie pans and a gazillion boring pie pans. I think I need to focus on procuring more awesome pie pans. I mean, if you’re going to make pie, shouldn’t it be in an awesome pie pan? And I make between 4 – 6 pies at one go more than once a year.
So loaf pans and pie pans. Yup.
2:45 Mocksgiving Eve
Second time through Mumford and Sons’ collected words. I’m convinced “Broken Crown” is from the point of view of Satan in the garden.
Forming loaves always reminds me of my mom. She made this same recipe of bread often growing up. When she had carpal tunnel, she made a lot of bread because she thought it helped. I remember hearing her “spank” the bread and thinking it was hilarious.
6:34 Mocksgiving Eve
Well, I made much progress since my last update. I got the bread baked, signed up for cable with a great deal (what can I say… I was home… I miss sports…), made the blueberry pie & the peach pie (thereby completing my pie crust complement), and did make and can the cranberry sauce. Also, I did a load of dishes and made it so you could see the floor.
Also, I have a lot of canned goods. This is not all of them. And I had enough empty jars in the drawer where I stick empty jars to can a batch of cranberry sauce. As usual, I should have prepared more jars, but I figure two big dishes of cranberry sauce is enough for tomorrow. It’s “take a tablespoon” cranberry sauce, not “fill up a bowl” cranberry sauce.
All I have left to do tonight is help the kids clean their rooms, give them baths and make lemon merangue pie. Just thinking about that pie is making me tired.
9:15 pm Mocksgiving Eve
Things I don’t like about making lemon merangue pie:
– Zesting lemons. I swear my zester has developed a taste for human flesh.
– Four dirty pots
– My solo crust ALWAYS schlumps.
– I can never make peaks like mom does.
Things I like about making lemon merangue pie:
– Watching the corn starch mixture turn. So cool.
– Licking the pot after I’ve made the filling
– I always feel badass for being able to make merangue.
Fun fact: the lemony yellow color of the filling – for all that it contains the juice and zest of three to four lemons – gets its yellow color from egg yolks.
So bonus! I have a document that has most of my critical Mocksgiving recipes! In case YOU need ideas for your Thanksgiving feast, or want a Mocksgiving all your own, here’s what I make every year, including the stuff I don’t use recipes for. (See also, turkey and mashed potatoes.)
Lemon Meringue Pie
Mocksgiving Shopping List:
Very large turkey
5 – 6 butternut squash halves
5 lbs yukon gold potatoes
*1 package fresh cranberries
*4 cups pomegranate juice
3 – 4 lemons
**2 boxes butter
Home Pride Buttertop Wheat
**Bells Poultry Seasoning
Black cherry soda
Vanilla ice cream
* for optional recipes
** check pantry
Turkey & Mashed Potatoes
1 cup olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
Make about 6 hours before intended serving time
– Purchase largest available turkey
– Defrost in ‘fridge at least 3 – 4 days prior
– Add beverages to the ‘fridge when you take out the turkey
– Remove giblets & neck (so much easier when it is actually thawed) – discard
– Preheat oven to 325
– Massage turkey in ~1 cup olive oil added in increments
– Cover wings and drumsticks with tinfoil
– Stuff turkey (see stuffing recipe)
– Add 2 – 3 cups chicken broth
– Put turkey in oven, covered if possible
– After the first hour and a half, baste every 30 minutes or so
– After turkey hits done temperature (180), remove from oven and pot, and tent (put tinfoil over it) for 30 – 40 minutes
– Carve and serve
5 lb bag of yukon gold potatoes
½ cup butter
1 – 2 cups milk
Make about 1 hour before intended serving time
– In very large pot, add about 1 gallon water (1/2 full)
– Wash and quarter potatoes (I do not peel – it is optional if you are feeling bored)
– Put on stove and bring to boil – keep simmering for about ½ hour until potatoes begin to crumble at edges (Within reason you cannot overcook. You can also leave in hot water indefinitely on the same day without harm.)
– Drain potatoes & return to pot
– Add butter and milk
– Mash with either removable mixer or hand masher
– Once in serving bowl, top with a pat of butter in a divot and a dash of paprika
Stuffing & Butternut Squash
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 large chopped onions
5 stalks chopped celery
1 loaf wheat bread (traditionally “Home Pride Buttertop Wheat”)
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons Bell’s Poultry Seasoning
Make 7 hours before planned meal (first thing in the morning – while the turkey is defrosting on the counter)
– Chop onions and celery
– Melt butter in largest fry pan (the big steel one – not cast iron – this makes too much)
– Fry onions and celery in butter
– While they’re cooking, cube the bread and add to a very large bowl
– Pour seasonings over bread & mix
– Pour hot butter/onion mixture over bread & stir with spoon (it’s hot!)
– Stuff the turkey as soon as it’s possible to touch the stuffing without burning your hands. You should be able to get most of it in. If you want to make some as a side, or you can’t get it all in, you can use chicken broth and put it in as a side dish after you pull the turkey. I usually get it all into the turkey-pot.
– 5 or 6 prepeeled “half squashes” (NOTE: It is totally never worth it to peel and core your own butternut squash. Trust me.)
– 1 cup brown sugar (to taste)
– ¼ to ½ cup butter
– Dash of cinnamon or nutmeg if desired
Make right after you get the mashed potatoes on the stove.
– Using your second biggest pot, fill halfway with salted water.
– Cube the squash and add to pot
– Boil until edges begin to crumble – as with mashed potatoes. Like potatoes, these are hard to overcook and can remain in hot water.
– Drain and return to pot
– Add butter and brown sugar
– Hand mash
– If desired, top with dash of cinnamon or nutmeg once in serving dish
Bread and Pie Starter
Johnstone White Bread
Make 1 – 2 days in advance. Can be frozen once baked. Critical for hot turkey sandwiches afterwards.
Add to electric mixer mixing bowl:
5 cups hot water (110 degrees, or as hot as your tap goes)
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons salt
– Let sit until action (bubbles), then add
½ cup (one stick) melted salted butter
– Gradually blend in “enough” regular flour (~10 to 11 cups) until dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl
– Knead on floured surface, adding flour as needed
– Let rise in large ceramic bowl greased with Crisco, covered with cloth, for 1 hour
– Punch down (cover hands in Crisco) and let rise for 45 minutes
– Preheat oven to 335
– Grease bread pans (4 big, 2 small) and form loaves, using Crisco on hands and pans. Place bread inside pans.
– Let rise 30 minutes
– Bake 30 – 40 minutes, until crust is golden brown
– Remove nearly immediately from pans and cool on wire racks. Wipe top of loaves with Crisco.
Pie Crust Starter
Enough for 4 – 5 pies
Make 1 day prior to making first pie. If you don’t have enough time, put in the freezer for as long as you can before using it. This starter must be used COLD.
6 cups regular flour
1 tablespoon salt
Scant 3 cups Crisco
Keep refridgerated and use very cold
One crust = 1.5 cups of pie starter
Roll on well floured pastry cloth
Prick bottom of lone crust
If no other instructions, bake lone crust at 400 degrees
For most single crust pies, cook bottom ahead of time, but don’t for pumpkin.
Lemon Meringue Pie
Make pie crust ahead of time, preferably day before pie. Be sure to prick bottom and get sides tall enough to go over the top of the dish. Make day before. Can be saved on the counter for 1 or 2 days.
4 eggs, yolks and white separated. Keep only 3 yolks.
1 ½ cups sugar
⅓ + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ cup water
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
½ cups lemon juice
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
½ cup cold water
Egg whites (above)
⅛ teaspoon salt
1) Mix ½ cup sugar & 4 teaspoons cornstarch in very small saucepan. Stir in water, and cook over medium heat stirring constantly. Once entire pot changes color and consistency to translucent, turn off heat and let cool.
2) Beat egg yolks & set aside. Mix 1.5 cups sugar and ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch in slightly larger saucepan ( 2 qt). Stir in water, cook over medium heat stirring constantly until translucent like the first set.
3) Add some of the hot 2 qt pot to the egg yolks & mix. Add back to the 2 qt pot and stir. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter, lemon peel & lemon juice. Once mixed, put saran wrap over top of contents to keep from forming a tough layer.
4) Beat egg whites and salt in large, very clean mixing bowl until soft peaks just begin to form. Very gradually mix in sugar mixture (1 qt pot) until stiff peaks form.
5) Add lemon filling to pie crust
6) Cover filling with meringue, making sure to “seal” the pie by bringing the meringue right to the crust.
7) Bake 15 minutes until peaks of meringue are brown.
Please note that this recipe does have some salmonella risk, since egg whites are incompletely cooked.
From Betty Crocker
Make day before party.
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter melted
1 cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 generous cup pecan halves
1) Heat oven to 375. Roll out pastry.
2) Beat sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt & eggs until well blended. Stir in pecans. Pour into pastry lined pie plate.
3) Bake 40 to 50 minutes until center is set
From Betty Crocker
Stick into oven while dinner is being eaten.
5+ cups peeled, cored apple slices
Sprinkle these with
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup water
¾ cup flour
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup butter
Drop over apples. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Optionals: Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce
Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Bread Pudding
Bake during or after dinner
3 cup dry white bread cubes
½ cup semisweet chocolate pieces
⅔ cup sugar
½ cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups milk
1) Preheat oven to 350
2) Grease a 2 qt baking dish. Place bread cubes in dish. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces.
3) Beat together sugar, peanut butter. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Pour over bread, pressing down to make sure all bread is moistened.
4) Bake 40 – 45 minutes.
From Better Homes and Garden Prizewinning Recipes
4 cups pomegranate juice
½ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Heat mixture until dissolved. Simmer for about an hour, until syrupy. Consider canning in smallest canning jars.
1 ⅓ cup sugar
1 ⅓ cups red wine
1 12 oz package fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
¼ teaspoon dried basil
2 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Stir sugar and wine in heavy saucepan until liquid. Boil about 8 minutes. Add cranberries and boil until they pop. Stir in pomegranate molasses & basil. Cover and chill. Add cilantro before serving.
So. I’ll admit I find it flattering that one or two of you have commented that I am remiss in my updating. It’s true. One day this month is not up to even my appalling standards. So let me give you the quick answer to your many questions.
First, I was treated for pneumonia last Friday and sent home with an actual written doctor’s note saying not to go to work until Wednesday. I took the weekend “off” (no church, not much childcare), but had training that could not be repeated Monday and Tuesday. Also no sick leave left. I love antibiotics and am feeling mostly better, but still am tired and lack stamina.
This weekend was Mocksgiving 2011. My tally was two pies, two other desserts, one 22 pound turkey that took an hour and a half longer than it should have but was perfect, five pounds mashed potatoes, 4 large butternut squash halves, five loaves of bread, one canned batch of cranberry sauce (particularly good) and stuffing. 28 adults, 4 children and 2 babies partook of the feast. The furthest visitors came from California this year.
I was explaining Mocksgiving to someone this week, and they said, “Oh, it’s like a feast!” And I had an epiphany. It is a feast! That is why I do it, because to serve a feast to the ones you love is a great gift. It is an abundance and overabundance of good things, a cornucopia of friendship, an overflowing of plenty and dishes that include butter. It’s funny that I never thought of it quite that way, but it is an apt description of what I was doing, and of why I do it every year.
Also, the friends I always borrow plates and silverware from actually brought us eight brand new settings all our own this year. Heh. Yeah, I guess that does make sense. But it was TRADITIONAL, darn it!
I probably say this every year, but this was one of the loveliest Mocksgivings yet. Other than the stress of a tardy turkey, it seemed much mellower than than some have been. There were more board games than usual. The night ended in a fantastic series of Werewolf games. There were more new faces than usual, but also a delightful balanced of the familiar Mocksgiving faces. The weather cooperated. It was great.
So now I’m through the five parties in two months section of my year. Phew! Better yet, I’ve posted my photos of this weekend! The random black dog was an assignment for Grey’s classroom – Dudley visits the around the class and we journal his adventures with our Kindergartners.*
Anyway, happy Mocksgiving!
*No one warned me how much homework *I* would have once school started! Also, I would like to protest that it is unfair to go after my neighbor the graphic designer and her “Dudley at the MFA” spread.
Autumn is my favorite season. The crispness and crackle in the air makes life feel more vibrant and immediate. I love the start of school and the apples and colors on the trees. Autumn is a time of itchy feet and revealed horizons and sparkling skies.
It is also, without a doubt, my busiest time of year. And I have a hunch that this will only get worse as time goes on. The busy season really starts with my birthday on September 23rd, which almost always coincides with Must Watch Baseball. Then in the first week of October, my eldest has his birthday. I get a week’s reprieve in which to go apple picking and make apple butter before my husband’s natal day arrives, followed a week later by my youngest son’s. And two out of seven years, the child’s birthday does not fall on a weekend. This means that I really have to do things on two days that week, because how lame is it to have your birthday and no cake? Almost as lame as having your birthday party and no cake, that’s how lame. So…. two cakes.
Three days after Mr. Thane’s birthday is Halloween, aka my worst holiday. (I am totally a “Let’s go to a store and buy you a costume” kind of Halloweener.) Of course, if the Sox are in the playoffs, my evening schedule also involves finding ways to sneak in the game because (as Sox fans are so keenly aware this year) we don’t make the playoffs every year. (This year the complicating role of baseball has been played instead by knee surgery and twice-weekly physical therapy.) Less than two weeks after Halloween, I host a Thanksgiving type meal for around 30 people – all sitting down to eat simultaneously.
Immediately after Mocksgiving (or preferably prior), it’s time to start with the Christmas cards. I usually do about 80. I almost always write a personal note. It is meaningful and important to me and takes nearly two months.
Did I mention I have a full time (plus) job, and two small children and a house to keep and (now) cookies to bake for the PTO bake sale at the Halloween xtravaganza that happens a week before Halloween, thereby narrowing my window for successful creation of costumes? Also, are any of you dying to buy raffle tickets to the cash raffle at said Halloween party?
Also, the inexorable exhortations of my soul require autumnal reading of ghost stories and preferably a good spooky game of Cthulu.
So if I’m running around like a one-legged mother of a six year old (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?!) on a hamster wheel until New Year’s…. well, you know why.