2003-10-17

travel food

Travel picnics are one of my favorite things in life.

On the train to the City last week, Richard, Peetie, and I ate strawberries (no grapes at the store), crusty Italian bread, Brie, and Vermont sharp cheddar. We sliced the cheese with plastic knives and licked our fingers clean.

On the way back to Rhode Island, Peetie and I (Richard stayed on in New York) had a breakfast of Greek sweets and breads. We stopped at a patisserie a few blocks south of Penn Station and ordered spanakopita (spinach and feta pies wrapped in filo), kourabiedes (my favorite—almond cookies generously sprinkled with powdered sugar), melomakarona (dark brown sugar and orange cookies dripping with honey), and kataifi (Peetie’s favorite---baklava in a cylindrical wrap).

The kourabiedes fell apart and melted on my tongue with each bite. My ex-boyfriend’s mother would always set some aside when she made them for the restaurant. Angie’s almonds were small chunks we would spend hours slicing while she’d tell me Greek folk tales and morality stories. These almonds were slivers, probably bought prepackaged that way, and the cookies could have used more amaretto, but the sugar spilled all over my shirt the same way it always did with hers.

This past weekend on the drive to Halifax, Moira’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Brady, brought a cold pack filled with snacks. A woman after my own heart, as I had only had time to grab a bag of chips from the kitchen at home. We ate celery stalks stuffed with peanut butter (not GIF, unfortunately, but that would have been too perfect, and I’m opposed to perfection based on principal), cheeses she’d had the forethought to slice beforehand, and grapes (I don’t know how she found them.). She ate soupy, a spicy sausage made in homes all across Rhode Island.

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I was surprised to learn when we arrived in Nova Scotia that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, they seem to be America’s all too perfect cousin that we never measured up to in terms of social standing (although we’re always the life of the party at the World Bank family reunions). Who knew they stole land from Indians once upon a time and since then actually set aside a day to commemorate such theft? After all, they take such high moral ground on everything else like, oh, say, bombing Iraq, and resent us when we tattle on their power grid mishaps (Can you blame us? It’s tough never being good enough when Mom and Dad at the U.N. conference scold us for small trifles, like oh, say, throwing spitballs at the French delegates.).

We ate mashed potatoes, salad (I made a cranberry vinaigrette), sweet mashed potatoes with marshmallows (I made them the way my aunts in Mississippi always do), stuffing, and pumpkin pie tartlets. Moira and I ate a tofu-stuffed tofu with tofu-crusting and everyone else had turkey.

In Corinth, Mississippi, my dad’s hometown and site of the vast majority of all my childhood holiday memories, we ate so much food we started off the day wearing sweatpants. No jeans, let alone dress slacks or skirts, for us; we’re here to pork out and watch college football.

The Menfolk collectively woke up between three and four in the morning, layered on their camouflaged hunting gear, and left until around noon or one, later if someone had shot next week’s dinner. Uncle Don would start the turkey in the oven so we’d wake up with hunger pangs from smelling it in our sleep.

The Womenfolk (thank goodness I’m in that category) and children slept in. When I was small, we’d wake up and start playing Nintendo with bleary eyes, eating potato chips out of the bag and drinking so much Coca-Cola that we’d always run out before the Menfolk returned. Then an aunt or older cousin (often Christie; never my mother, because she was as good as, if not better, shot than the men, so always went out deer hunting with them) would start making the biscuits.

The biscuits were never too soft, never too hard, and they were always made from scratch. No canned whomp biscuits for us (whomp biscuits because that’s the sound they make when you smash the can against the kitchen counter, per the manufacturer’s instructions), at least not on Thanksgiving.

Next came bacon frying. At this point we children would try to maim Christie or whichever aunt happened to be in our way in a desperate attempt to begin eating, despite the fact that our tongues would always get burned from those early morning samples so that we could never fully taste the turkey or honey baked ham later in the day.

After the bacon came the biscuit gravy, made with flour and bacon grease in the cast iron skillet. At the same time Christie (always Christie for this part) would make egg and mayonnaise sandwiches on white toast to shut us up so we’d leave her alone and git. After she made all of us obnoxious cousins our sandwiches, she’d sometimes make grits (all depending on how hard we’d worked her so far on this fine, fine holiday). Last would be eggs (“negs” as Dad says) over easy, but we’d all be too full to do anythin’ but steal bacon and biscuits before they even cooled from being in the oven.

Aunt Geri and Aunt Lin (short for Linda) would be in the living room or dining room in their nightgowns and silken robes smoking cigarettes and telling all of us that we were just darlin’. The two maharajas would talk about everything we were going to have for lunch that day and wonder if Momma Vi (my grandmother) would make her green and orange unidentifiable side salads with real mayonnaise or the lite kind. They’d remind us to save some biscuits for The Boys, as they always called them.

They always made dozens of pies between the two of them. The pies, and usually a cake or two, would be chilling on the front porch, set down on every piece of furniture out there that could act as a shelf (piano, couches, chairs, coffee table). Later we’d put the leftovers, including Momma Vi’s creations, out there to stay cold too (turkey sandwiches for dinner). The living room and dining room were always freezing because of that porch, as someone was always coming in or out to have another helping of a little something.

The cousins would play cowboys and Indians up and down the stairs in between turns on Daniel’s Nintendo (and later Sega). We’d play touch football outside, leaves crunching under our feet, and swing on a rusted swing set that may or may not have been there since my father was a little girl (as he always says). If we were at my great-grandfather’s house (called “Grandaddy’s house”) we’d dredge up mucky leaves from the outdoor goldfish pond and chase each other with our eyes closed.

The Boys (Mom including) were always back by this point, although they napped for a few hours before we were all allowed to begin the paper plate smorgasbord. If the aunts were bored waiting for them they’d load us up to go sale shopping at the local Wal-Mart, where we’d wreak havok, playing hide and go seek in the aisles. Although, come to think of it, this part didn’t start until I was in high school, as bowling was the Cool Thing To Do when I was small.

So, although my Canadian Thanksgiving wasn’t as steeped in tradition or gluttony, I was thrilled to celebrate the holiday at all this year. I had been depressed about missing it, as I’ll be in Montevideo during that time, and I can’t imagine the Uruguayans declaring it a national holiday on my behalf.

Oh, Canada, you’re not so bad after all.

betholindo at 5:49 p.m.

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