This year the newspapers are full of the news that Thanksgiving is dead -- and it is dead in ways both good and bad. The holiday that Thanksgiving used to represent has come under criticism -- this idea that the first settlers shared a peaceful meal with the original inhabitants of our land is no longer tenable in the more politically correct environs of our times. On the other hand, the more honest version of the Thanksgiving story has erupted simultaneously with the emergence of "newer and better" shopping hours, with one retailer after another opening earlier and staying open later on Thanksgiving day.
For me, Thanksgiving is a holiday that speaks of family dinners, reunions and traditions, but it also marks the beginning of a holiday season of renewed grief and remembrance, as I think about those who are no longer here to share in our lives and experiences. Thanksgiving marks the time of long lines at the store, frenzied trips to the mall, frantic attempts to recreate idyllic times of peacefulness and joy in the home, and the beginning of Grief Loss seminars at churches and synagogues.
Thanksgiving used to be the time when I would call my brother, Kelly, and we would reminisce about my mother -- especially my mother's cooking and how she nourished and sustained us. In a strange way, when my mother died, I envied my brother's inability to cope, as I saw this as evidence of his love for her, while I slowly learned to adapt to a world that continued without her.
Kelly devoted his time (and career) to cooking, and gave customers at his restaurant recipes he had inherited from our mother. Every day he spent cooking a literal and edible remembrance honoring all those days in the kitchen we had spent with her as children. Visiting my brother at work was to receive a feast in her memory, and to eat his love for her in bites.
When he suddenly died, people's remembrances of my brother intertwined recipes with stories, and I recognized many of the foods they spoke about from my childhood. One of them, from his fiancé's mother, was my mother's chicken dish, stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon. My mother had taught us how to make this meal when we were teenagers, and wanted to cook something for our step-mother when we went to visit her and my father. That recipe was a symbol of love, and selflessness, all wrapped up in bacon.
Losing my brother was like losing my mother all over again, and all the recipes that came with them. I inherited the recipe box, but sadly, I am vegetarian, so many of the recipes have begun to resemble a museum of my childhood rather than a Eucharistic resurrection of meals gone past.
Thanksgiving may be dying, but I still have my own daughter to pass along these recipes and stories, and traditions I want to share with her. In a time of changing traditions, it is important to remember the most important part of the Thanksgiving story -- the people, and how food brought them together, and helped them to overlook their differences -- and how, even after death, memories live on through our shared tables of food.
Stuffed Chicken wrapped with Bacon
from the kitchen of Arden Griffin & Kelly Cann
8 boneless chicken breasts
1 pkg of cream cheese
1 bunch of scallions (or you can use chive cream cheese), chopped
¼ t. Garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Chili pepper (optional)
16 slices of bacon
1 small onion (approximately ¼ cup), finely chopped
2 T butter, melted
Directions: Pre-heat oven to 325.° Butter a large baking dish (glass is preferable). Pound chicken breasts until they are flat. Put aside.
In small mixing bowl, mix cream cheese, scallions, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and chili pepper (if using).
Make eight cream cheese balls, wrapping the chicken breasts around each ball, securing with two strips of bacon, and then a toothpick.
Baste with melted butter and bake for 45mins, or until done.
* For a creamier version, mix ½ cup cream, ½ cup chicken stock, ½ cup sliced mushrooms and 3 T parmesan together, pouring over the stuffed chicken before baking, turning and basting regularly.