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Giving thanks

There's something about the Fall season that seems to appeal to most of us. It is a season in which that which we nurtured and tended over the spring and summer months, now comes to fruition. Those who are fortunate to have a garden are now enjoying various root vegetables and their rich colours: ruby red beets; sweet, juicy carrots; potatoes, both white and sweet; large yellow onions; dark green (and incredibly abundant!) zucchini; yellow spaghetti squash; and orange pumpkins.

For those of us in the more northerly regions of Canada, the weather has already transitioned from summer's heat and humidity to coincide with the return of school and routine. When my own children were small, Fall was hands-down my favorite season. As much as I loved summer's lovely long days and late evenings, the breakdown in familiar routines and structure always kept me feeling a little off-balance. New clothes, shoes and backpacks, the smell of freshly sharpened HB pencils and fresh lunch boxes without the odour of old bananas: even now I can actually smell these memories. For me, September is when I want to get organized, stop bad habits, and start doing things I want to do. Do you feel the same way?

In Canada, we give thanks for our bounty much earlier than our American cousins. Because Canadian harvest season is generally earlier than that in the United States due to our shorter growing season, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament selected the second Monday in October for our Thanksgiving holiday. But did you know that the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday can trace its roots back to even before those first Pilgrims arrived to the New World?

Native tribes of the First Nations held their own harvest festivals long before the first European explorers arrived. One of those early explorers, Martin Frobisher, gave thanks in 1587 for his crew's successful journey and survival through the Northwest Passage in the high Arctic. Records from Samuel deChamplain in the 1600's, and later with early Canadian settlers in Nova Scotia indicate that those hardy, brave folk celebrated Thanksgiving throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The concept of giving thanks for the land's bounty became so entrenched in our culture that in 1879, Canada's Parliament proclaimed a day for giving thanks for "the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed", thus formalizing our turkey day.

And so, this weekend is when Canadians gather to prepare food and give thanks. It has been a difficult year, perhaps one of many such years, for many of our countrymen and women. For many people, economic and security concerns have weighed heavily. Throughout our country and indeed, around the world we are witness to daily examples of suffering, conflict, and low levels of compassion and tolerance. And in this digital age, it can be very difficult to stay balanced and reasoned, particularly when so much of the mainstream and social media seems to thrive on drama, discourse, and controversy.

And yet, here we are, about to gather with family and friends and give thanks for what we do have. Even in difficult times, we are so blessed. This year we were so fortunate to have our cousin Debra and her friend Beryl over from the U.K. visit. Our parents are all in reasonably good health. Our children are all healthy and working. We are well. Just being here is a blessing. Two of my most cherished blessings, our grandsons Max and Jack, are captured in twin photographs on our dining room wall. Born only four days apart, these little cousins are both now three and a half and are busy little boys with engaging personalities. I hope that all of you who will be joining me on Monday (or celebrating on Sunday) will give some thought to what and for whom you are grateful.

This week, I have received a few requests for family recipes, mostly from family and friends who won't be able to join my table this year. I thought this forum would be the perfect way to share. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

This first recipe is an adaptation, courtesy of my newest sister-in-law, Cassandra (I will soon find out which of my relatives read my blog!) Cassandra uses buttermilk in her biscuits and they are amazing.

Buttermilk Baking Powder Biscuits

1 3/4 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

2 T. baking powder

1/3 cup cold butter cut into small pieces

3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450F. Mix dry ingredients together in medium bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is mealy. Stir in buttermilk. Knead lightly on floured board about 10-12 times. Cut with 2 inch round cutter; do not twist the cutter (sharp edges help the biscuit to rise). Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Serve hot with lashings of butter. Mmmmm.

My mom's marshmallow pumpkin pie is a light, delightful confection. It can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until serving time.

Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie

1 baked pie shell, cooled

1 package miniature marshmallows

1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup whipping cream

In the top of a double boiler, combine marshmallows, pumpkin, spices, and salt. Heat through until marshmallows are melted and mixture is well combined. Cool 1 hour. Beat whipping cream until stiff and fold into pumpkin-marshmallow mixture. Put into baked pie shell and decorate with whipped cream.

For the pumpkin pie purists, here's our family recipe:

Pumpkin Pie

1 unbaked pie shell

2 eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 2/3 cups evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 425F. Prepare pastry. Whisk eggs; beat in remaining ingredients. Pour into pie shell. Bake 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350F. Bake until knife inserted in centre comes out clean, about 45 minutes longer; cool. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Our Thanksgiving table is not complete without my sweet potato casserole. My kids have been known to have a serving at dinner and again for dessert. There are never any leftovers.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 cup melted butter

1/3 cup milk

1 cup white sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup butter

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9X13 baking dish.

In large bowl, mix sweet potatoes, 1/2 cup butter, milk, white sugar, vanilla and eggs. Spread in prepared dish.

In small bowl, mix together brown sugar and flour. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly, then add pecans. Sprinkle pecan mixture over sweet potato mixture. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown.

My beloved grandmother, Judy Fitch, introduced me to her zucchini bake. Again, few leftovers with this, and it's a great way to use up this prolific vegetable!

Zucchini Bake

5 eggs

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 T. parsley flakes

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2/3 cup parmesan cheese

1 1/4 cup chopped onion

3 3/4 cup grated zucchini

1 1/4 cup tea biscuit baking mix

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat eggs in mixing bowl until frothy. Mix in vegetable oil, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir in remaining ingredients in order given. Pour into shallow greased 9 inch casserole dish. Bake 35 minutes until knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

As always, I want to share a recent picture of our youngest horse, our colt Whiskey. Isn't he gorgeous?



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