Stray Cat Thanksgiving
Baking Bread and Pumpkin Pie
Wonderful Friends and Festivities
Being part of a STRAY CAT THANKSGIVING
At this time of year, my friend Al and I usually find ourselves alone. Our families, those who remain, are spread across the country. Time and distance has separated us from those ties, leaving us with no large holiday gatherings to look forward to.
When we lived in Napa, California; we had become a hub for our friends who found themselves in similar circumstances. Parents deceased and siblings far away, there were always a number of “stray cats;” those who found themselves alone during these festive days.
So, we began to host the “stray cat dinners.” What fun we had! All day long spent in preparation for the arrival of friends. Baking bread and pies from scratch, brewing hot, strong coffee and making sure the fire was stoked to the brim making the house warm and cozy.
One year, soon after finishing the refurbishing of a turn of the century home in Napa, we hosted a great group of neighbors and friends. There were over a dozen of us, all of whom would have spent the season alone. Everyone brought a warm dish and wine and other libation.
The house was dressed in period décor with Christmas music playing in the background and sparkling lights everywhere. Between the dining room and living room, through the wide opening which actually made the two areas feel as one huge space, were garlands of flowers laced with lights, and small, beautifully appointed Christmas trees positioned here and there. The kitchen, returned to exactly as it must have been when the home was constructed, donned wreaths made of natural, seasonal sprigs and fruits which were placed in the corners of the high, beaded ceiling. On the perfectly restored Wedgewood stove were cinnamon and orange peel potpourri pots steaming wafts of spicy scents which permeated the air.
Our Thanksgiving and Christmas times were spent like this, for years, as the welcoming place to go to be with good friends, enjoying good food, wine, warmth and comfort.
Since moving to SE Kansas, we have found ourselves in the position of being the stray cats. With no family nearby and too many responsibilities to allow our leaving for any length of time, we must stay home. Last year, we spent the Holidays with just the two of us and our extended family of furry babies. Though not a bad thing, there was a noticeable lacking of our former happy gatherings at my home in Napa.
Back to the present, and, once again, we were wondering what we’d do this year. Then, out of the blue, came a wonderful invitation from our friend Liz. She was now in the same “predicament,” having chosen not to fly out of state to spend this holiday with her sister and, instead, planned on staying home. She had several friends whom she knew were going to be alone, too. As she thought about it, Liz realized there were more friends who had no family nearby, either. So, she sent out email invitations to spend Thanksgiving at her house.
When I opened that email, I was so thrilled! I immediately replied with an enthusiastic “Yes! We’d LOVE to join you! What can I bring? I’d really like to make home made bread and a pumpkin pie and whatever else you want or need me to contribute!”
Liz responded quickly with a genuine “thank you” and the plans began.
The other invitees were Patsy and Derrill, Loren and Donna, John and then Al, me and our fabulous hostess, Liz. A dinner party of eight! Perfect!
Two days before Thursday, I started preparations for my contributions to our dinner. I went outside to the front yard where Al and I had constructed a very pretty ‘fall display’ which included pumpkins, mums, apples and pears, corn stalks, ‘pussy willows,‘ straw bales, holly berries and more. From this I chose a pumpkin perfect for baking. I took it inside, sliced down from top to bottom several times and separated those sections from the whole. After cleaning out seeds and pulp, I placed them in the oven and baked for several hours. After cooling these pieces, I peeled off the skin and sliced the “meat” of the squash into my blender. Blended to a puree, the main ingredient of a home made pumpkin pie was ready. I refrigerated this for the next day’s baking.
I spent the entire Wednesday, before the 'so much looked forward to event,' in my kitchen, baking the pie and bread and prepping sweet potatos for the familiar candied yams dish. To this day, I am not sure which is a sweet potato and which is a yam but, as far as I understand, they are interchangeable. Having never made this dish before, my efforts were a mixture of "err on the side of caution," to "less is more," and other leary approaches to the unknown. I decided on using fresh spuds rather than the canned ones but had chosen a recipe calling for the canned variety. I had told Liz that making this would be "no problem, it takes 15 minutes to prepare and another 20 to bake." Ha! Little did I know. Long story short; it took 2 hours to steam (slowly) the potatos so as not to overcook them, and another, experimental hour plus to create the glaze. Stirring lots of rich, ingredients together resulted in a syrupy sweet topping with chopped pecans and lots of calories!!
The kitchen was filled with the smell of Thanksgiving…the all too familiar spices of pumpkin pies, cooking yams and the warm aroma of baking bread. YUMMY!!!
I wanted everything to come out perfectly as my part of our dinner.
Patsy made the most delicious cranberry relish, beautiful tossed salad with yellow and red bell peppers, black olives, green onions, romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes and marinated artichokes with the always scrumptious Paul Newman’s Own dressing. Donna brought a delicious apple pie and ice cream, Liz made baked/braised Brussels sprouts, green beans with cashews, a delightful cherry pie and, of course, the main course!
While preparations were underway, people wandered in and out of the center of activity…the KITCHEN! Friendly conversations were flowing, drinks were being poured and we all did our part to make this a great get together. We’ve all heard of that old saying, “too many cooks spoil the pot.” Well, in this case, it just wasn’t so! We worked together smoothly and with ease.
Everyone’s offering was fantastic! A bountiful dinner set before us…and it all was ‘ready’ at the same time.
Smiles were on all our faces! Happiness and friendship was the rule of the day. Delight and joy! Much “ohhhh’s” and “ahhhhh’s” were heard from satisfied diners.
Liz had made what could have been a somewhat lonely, forlorn day a very very wonderful one! As main course was removed - and again, we worked together to clean up quickly so that she didn’t have it all to do by herself - and desserts were served, the conversation continued and laughter filled the room.
What a great day and evening. What fun to prepare delights to be shared with friends.
I hope everyone who is reading this had as wonderful a Thanksgiving as I did!
(I didn't take pictures at Liz's home and the party as I didn't think it proper but, suffice it to say, her home is gorgeous, beautifully appointed; the table was set in such a pleasing way, her home is warm and welcoming and every one looked fabulous!)