Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sweet Potatoes, Stuffing - But What's Inside That Pumpkin?

I put a lot of pressure on myself around the holidays. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Passover, Rosh Hashana, or Thanksgiving -- you’ll find me agonizing over menus and shopping lists weeks in advance. In fact, my husband believes it’s possible that I derive more satisfaction from the planning and preparation portion of the experience than from the experience in and of itself.

Why? I couldn’t have told you myself, until I read Joan Nathan’s article in Tablet Magazine. She writes of Thanksgiving meals: “These dishes tell you who you are.”

To come through the force of fusing tradition and a personal touch of creativity to a place where you feel: I am these dishes – if you really took that seriously (which clearly I do), then yes, that’s a lot of responsibility.

It’s also a lot of power. I think about the Thanksgiving dishes I grew up on: sweet potatoes with marshmallows, for instance. For me this dish will forever be tied up in the very essence of Thanksgiving; it is impossible for me to imagine a Thanksgiving without it. I possess the power to similarly influence what my daughter’s quintessential Thanksgiving food associations will be – perhaps even, by extension, her basic understanding of her roots, of who she is.

So who is she? I wonder. We have my American side – the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, butternut squash, stuffing, pecan pie, the pumpkin pie. We also have my husband’s Israeli side – hummus (quite good with turkey actually!), Israeli salad, pita.

Finally, we have the Jewish/religious side, which includes the kosher turkey, of course. I also find myself preparing traditional foods of the Jewish parallel to Thanksgiving, Sukkot – such as a stuffed pumpkin. The common explanation for why we eat stuffed vegetables on Sukkot is based off an image of a cornucopia, of giving thanks for a harvest of plenty. I once heard a spiritual spin on it which has to do with hidden meanings. Think about it: The most important things in life are intangible, hidden from view. Inside of everyone there is a piece of these essences – of goodness and, ultimately, of the Divine. The mysteries of G-d’s grand plan might be hidden from us – but we have this spark in each of us to help us along the way.

In truth, I don’t think it’s just that the dishes tell us about ourselves. We have a hand in curating who we want to be – not just on the holiday table, but in our day-to-day lives as well. This is what we have to be thankful for – and the ability to share it with family and friends, of course.

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