Improving on tradition?

I am not the type to follow rules. Whether it is my writing, photography, quilting, or societal bullshit, I am a free thinker who makes her own path (most of the time).

So, it is with recipes. I almost never follow a recipe or the instructions on the box, except when I made the vegan nut loaf yesterday. But that was because I had no idea what I was doing or how to improve it.

I inherited several cookbooks, including a ringed binder of family favorites from Alan’s first wife, Telsa. I tried a couple of his favorites from them. Apricot chicken I had to change because I could not find the dried onion soup it called for in the store. Instead, I substituted onion gravy pots.

But the tipsy gateau I made exactly to the recipe. At least the first time. Then I started to experiment. I found these dried cake rusks at the ethnic shop, chocolate ones. I had to give that a shot. Everyone loved it. The problem with this gateau is that sometimes the cream cheese mixture will not set, so I added a thickening agent from the Polish shop. I do admit that I messed up the last batch with way too much booze last time. You really can have too much of a good thing sometimes.

Somethings are sacred though, right? Like my Nanny’s macaroni and cheese pie. I grew up with it almost every Sunday dinner. Boil your macaroni. Then layer it with cheese. Mix eggs, evaporated milk, salt, and pepper. Pour that mixture over your layers and bake until golden brown. Simple, straight forward, and delicious.

Yes, sometimes it did come out too dry. If you did not add enough milk to the eggs, they overpowered the cheese. Of course, if you added too much milk, it was runny and would not firm up. But you learned from those mistakes and did not do that again.

This Thanksgiving I was scaling back. These Brits just don’t know how to eat like Americans. And I hate putting food in the waste bin, even if it is recycled into compost by the council.

Another thing I remember about Nanny’s Sunday dinners was her telling me about the starving children in Africa who would be happy to eat those green beans on my plate if they had them. I don’t use guilt like that on my children because it did a real number on my head. That need to finish everything is a contributing factor to my obesity.

So, this Thanksgiving I was scaling back. I was not going to make as much food. I began by scaling back portions. I did not buy those disposable tin dishes in the larger sizes. (Also better for the environment.) Instead, I used almost every single glass casserole dish that I own.

But I also scaled back the menu a bit. I kept to the basics. Turkey, ham, mash, dressing, and vegetables. And that nasty box of vegan nut loaf, of course. I was not going to make Nanny’s macaroni and cheese pie this year at all.

Then, I heard from a couple of people who we don’t usually see at our Sunday F4 events. They would be joining us as well. And being Nanny’s great-granddaughter and a true child of the South, I panicked. The worst of sins is to run out of food and not have enough for your guests.

So, back came that old favorite, macaroni and cheese pie. The other good thing about it is that this dish is one of the few things on that extensive menu that PanKwake will eat. Actually, after making all that food, I had to order pizza for her and her friend. Oh, the joys of picky eating and autism.

As I was running low on those casserole dishes, I allotted the largest two to those items that PanKwake did eat: chocolate brownies and mac-n-cheese pie. But there is a significant difference in portion size with those pans, so I consulted PanKwake. She chose the largest of all my dishes for the coveted macaroni and cheese pie. It was a good thing she did.

Anyway, when I went to the fridge in the basement for more cheddar cheese, I noticed a couple of tubes of Philadelphia cream cheese that were approaching their date. And this light bulb went off in my head. Wonder what would happen if I added one of those to Nanny’s recipe? So, I grabbed a tube and went back upstairs.

I heated the cream cheese in the microwave enough to soften it to make it easier to mix into the egg and milk mixture. I did everything else just like Nanny taught me, just like I had for over thirty years since I had my own family.

When I brought it out of the oven on Wednesday night (this is one of those things you can cook ahead of time), it was more golden than usual. I thought, ‘Maybe this did work?’

But yesterday? Wow, just look at what our guests did to that macaroni and cheese pie. There is nothing left of it. The only dish that had absolutely no leftovers whatsoever. And everyone just kept going on and on about how wonderful it was. And these are friends who have had it before. The decision was unanimous.


I had improved on tradition.

I joked that Nanny’s bones were spinning in her grave. That I had dared to break with tradition. To tamper with her ‘perfect’ recipe.

That is the thing though – if humanity is to survive, if we are to save the planet that we have destroyed, then we have to stop following the same old recipes that we have for the whole course of written human history. The recipe of a few greedy men at the top commanding the rest of to war in order to conquer new lands and peoples.

We need to remember and incorporate the traditions of those other people at that first Thanksgiving. We have to adopt more of their ways of living with the natural world around us, in harmony with other creatures.

Yes, it is ironic and horrific what would happen to those honored guests at that first Thanksgiving. There is no excuse for the greed and hubris that drove the white men to steal land, enslave people, and destroy our planet. But we have a choice now. We don’t have to continue that tradition.

Today is another American holiday or maybe that is Holy day. Black Friday. And we worship our god of greed this day more than any other.

That was another of the traditions from my childhood. As soon as we were finished eating Thanksgiving dinner and cleaning up the kitchen we went to bed really early. Because the next day K-Mart opened early. We were always there by six a.m. By the time I was a teen, they had started to open at midnight.

They had blue light specials every fifteen minutes. And they always took me. Because I was little and fast. The moment a new special was announced I was instructed to race across the store to it. I could get there before the adults and save their place in line. I could also slip between people to grab stuff. I have seen my Gran-gran come to blows with a woman over something. That too is my heritage. Our collective heritage.

I am not saying it is wrong to give presents to those we care about. Especially our children. But what is wrong is buying without considering the true costs of something. To purchase things we don’t really need because they are on sale or worse yet to impress others.

Besides the best presents are always those made with love.

Just like that first Thanksgiving was a celebration of partnership and friendship that led to an abundance. We too can find that once more with one another and with this wonderful planet that had nurtured life for billions of years. We must do that before it is too late.

And oh, no, not that much will make it into the food bin this year. Between leftovers, making things into a turkey pot pie, taking a few wraps to the camera club, and feeding the homeless, I have it covered.

Need, not greed must become our new tradition. 

And this year, I am once more making gifts for our friends – linen produce bags to replace those nasty, non-recyclable, plastic ones.

What will you do this Black Friday?


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