What's Worth Keeping?

Bare Bones Issue #3, Nov 2020

Reimagining Thanksgiving

Like so many aspects of 2020, this year’s Thanksgiving has a different tone than most: more inward than social, more introspective than celebratory. The absence of travel, parties and neighborhood football games opens up space to reflect on what a year it’s been, and what the future may hold. At the start of the pandemic, Indian writer Arundhati Roy sounded a powerful opening note: “Pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew.”

This season of gratitude is also a season of grief

We typically think of crises as unforeseeable, but the crises of this year have been anything but. The pandemic did not create economic inequality, white supremacy or the toxic political discourse our country is reeling from; it only heightened their brutalities, making them impossible to ignore any longer. The cherished American myths of superiority and meritocracy, of being a city on a hill and a beacon to the world, have come crashing down in truly spectacular fashion. 

So this season of gratitude is also a season of grief, a time to return to the roots of our discontent and mourn what’s been lost: precious forests lost to fire, precious relatives lost to COVID, precious fellow humans with darker skin or shallower pockets fighting just to survive in a land of plenty. It’s a time to unearth the beliefs, identities and habits that constitute our lives, to ask why? and to what end? and what harm might this cause? It’s a time to face our brokenness, our hypocrisy, and the horrors of our own history, allowing the guilt and shame and confusion to wash through us, but not drown us.

Here at Bare Bones, we’re returning to prophetic voices of the past for guidance, like writer James Baldwin, who insisted again and again during the calamitous post-Civil Rights era that we resist easy answers and confront the interior chaos caused by racism; that we interrogate the gaps between who we say we are and who we wish to be. We’re calling up friends, both Native and white, to ask how – and whether – they’re observing the colonialist holiday we call Thanksgiving. We’re returning to the hearth of our own pre-colonial, Celtic heritage to learn how our ancestors restored and renewed themselves.

Roy concluded her essay by calling the pandemic “a portal, a gateway between one world and the next,” and positing a choice: “we can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice, our dead rivers and smoky skies, or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

 In this season of gratitude and grief, we’re asking, what’s worth keeping – and what can we let go?

Inspiration:


DISH

Decolonizing our meals means paying attention to what foods were here before Europeans arrived. Consider working with cornmeal instead of flour, purchasing hand-harvested wild rice, and swapping out breads for winter squashes and sweet potato, white sugar for maple syrup.

Whether or not you celebrated Thanksgiving, you’ll likely have plenty of root vegetables sitting around the kitchen. For a tangy take on these seasonal beauties, whisk up a dressing of miso and maple syrup with rice wine and sesame oil, and drizzle it over roast carrots, parsnips, brussels, or squash.

Got leftover squash or sweet potatoes from your feast? Take a page from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, and turn those roots into a comforting soup with apples and cranberry sauce. Toss them in a deep, heavy saucepan with sunflower oil, shallots, squash and apple and sauté until the shallot is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the apple cider and stock, increasing the heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. With an immersion blender (or, working in batches, with a blender) purée the soup and return to the pot to warm. Season to taste with maple syrup, salt sumac, and serve with a dollop of cranberry sauce.

Squash and Apple Soup with Cranberry Sauce from, From “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” by Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Photo by Mette Nielsen.

Click here for full recipes: Squash and Apple Soup, and Maple-Miso Viniagrette.


SIMMER

So, what is Thanksgiving? How do we reimagine and reanimate gathering during this year of hardship and divisiveness? Sorting through these questions affords an opportunity to create new tradition. To learn and to gather inspiration, we called up cooks and friends we admire to see how they’re tending their hearths and dreaming of the future. Excerpted here, you can read the full write-ups of each conversation here on our Substack website.

Potawotami Chef Loretta Oden is considered a founding mother of contemporary indigenous cooking. Oden’s Corn Dance Cafe in, Santa Fe, N.M. was among the very first to feature a menu of seasonal, indigneous ingredients, and through her PBS series, “Seasoned with Spirit: a Native Cook’s Journey,” Oden introduced the American public to the Native American culinary landscape, covering the overlooked riches and stories of our shared history.

“Let’s not debate cultural appropriation when it comes to food…This is our shared history and bounty.” - Potawatomi Chef Oretta Oden

She still celebrates Thanksgiving, and in her teaching and writing on food history, emphasizes cultural exchange, not appropriation. As descendants of white settlers, we ourselves try to be mindful of the power dynamics within cultural exchange, and to not conflate exchange with theft. But Oden tends to bristle at contemporary debates around cultural appropriation: “Food is food. Food is nourishment and caring; its universal. These ingredients have been around the world and back, and everyone uses them. This is our shared history and bounty.”

Denise Alden of Eagan, Minn. surprised herself when she decided in late summer that she wouldn’t be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. “I’m a person who loves to cook. Thanksgiving is my Super Bowl! It was so startling and surprising to me,” she says.

“I practice gratitude every day, and it doesn’t have to be associated with this made-up day that supports a rotting foundation.” - Denise Alden

Alden co-facilitates Hey White Lady, a “racial work out space for white women to leave denial and enter into anti-racism,” along with Kristen Froebel, a longtime friend (and long-ago music teacher and babysitter of the Dooley boys!) She says the manufactured tradition of Thanksgiving, especially the “obscene fairy tale laid over it about Pilgrims and Indians,” has felt less and less aligned with her values as she walks the path of anti-racism.

“I get it, traditions are comforting...but I practice gratitude every day, and it doesn’t have to be associated with this made-up day that supports a rotting foundation,” she says. The absence of all that baking and cooking has opened up space for her to reflect on the “comforts and shackles of tradition,” and learn more about Native lands she lives on near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers – and, Native land reclamation efforts like Makoce Ikikcupi.

When we asked legendary cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas what she’s serving for Thanksgiving this year, she paused a long moment and replied, “Memories, my dear. I’m serving memories.” Having recently moved from a sprawling farmhouse to an apartment in Duluth, she kept her meal simple – small turkey breast, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie – leaving plenty of room for the loaves of limpa rye bread she’s cooked daily for friends and neighbors. “In baking bread, I revel in memories.”

Bea’s 31st book, Soup and Bread was recently reissued in paperback - check it out!

Learn More

Read the full write-ups of our conversations here on Substack.


SHOUT OUT

Appetite for Change, a non-profit, in North Minneapolis, brings people together with food to create health, wealth and social change. Because COVID put its several community programs on hold, AFC launched a Meal Box Program, an initiative that offers 16 weeks of fresh and nutritious meals for households throughout the Twin Cities. Every Monday, boxes of fresh produce grown on the Northside are delivered to 300 homes, along with locally-sourced proteins and condiments, and printed recipes inspired by AFC’s Community Cooks gatherings. Each box includes ingredients to prepare two nourishing meals for a group of six or twelve – chimichurri chicken, Asian-style lettuce wraps with tofu and fresh herbs – plus fun food facts and cooking tips. The Meal Kit Program is a collaborative effort of partners Appetite for Change, East Side Table, M Health Fairview, The Food Group, Local Crate, The Good Acre, and Transforming the Table.


LONG SHOT

Slow Money, like the slow food movement, prioritizes health, the environment, local economies, and equity over convenience and ease. Guided by a vision presented in the book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered, by Wood Tasch (Chelsea Green, 2008), it has inspired a network of regional stakeholders working to increase the flow of knowledge and capital into the local food system. The Slow Money Minnesota chapter convenes gatherings where farmers, food business owners, and entrepreneurs connect with interested investors and philanthropists. Practically speaking, this provides small, independent, and especially BIOPC farmers the financing they need to thrive when they are shut out of traditional lending sources. 

Money to Grow is a slow money impact investment club, modeled on Maine’s very successful No Small Potatoes Investment Club. 

The fund aims to support greater diversity in the Minnesota farming community by making loans accessible to emerging farmers who are under-resourced and have faced barriers to accessing loans from other sources. It is intended to advance organic, sustainable and/or regenerative practices. 

In short, it adheres to the call to “put your money where your mouth is.”

Learn more:


NOTE FROM A FRIEND - Paula Foreman

We featured bean farmer Paula Foreman in the September, 2020 issue of Bare Bones, and she was kind enough to send us her brilliant, witty reflections on making Thanksgiving anew in 2020.

Like so much else in the altered universe that is 2020, Thanksgiving is getting a makeover this year. At the start of a holiday season that is predicated on gathering together, we're asked to keep our distance. There will be less of a reason to dress up a little on Thursday, and I won't be making Fritz Mondale's killer turkey dressing. We won't carry armloads of food into my sister's spacious kitchen, where the efforts of the oven, four stove burners and a crock pot coat the windows in savory steam. 

Part of my brain is singing glory hallelujah

You should know, before you send a reformed Grinch to take me for a sleigh ride, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Free of the gift pressure of Christmas, Thanksgiving allows the pleasures of food and company to shine. It is also an agrarian feast day; a metaphor for the season of relative rest that my fellow farmers earn when the harvest is in. Food and our gratitude for it shape this holiday's sacred traditions. 

Past efforts to update our family Thanksgiving have fallen flat, like the year I provided the turkey I helped butcher. The fact that the bird did not come from a grocery freezer fueled a few E. coli concerns. Turns out that not everyone is a fan of a few visible pin feathers that are hallmark of a hand-plucked turkey. 

Because it's just two of us here for dinner this year, I mark my official coming out as a turkey agnostic. Risking the kind of contempt reserved for a vegan at a barbeque, I think turkey is a waste of plate space. At holiday dinners past, I'd add a nugget to my plate mostly to preserve tradition and to avoid offending the cook. I tolerate it best landfilled under a hill of mashed potatoes and a lava flow of gravy. Same with the venerable green bean casserole, the best part of which is the top veneer of fried onions. Judging by the way the remainder of the can vanishes, I'm not alone here. 

Our dinner plans call for lamb shoulder roast tucked into a deep bed of my farm's borlotti beans, slow braised into decadence, flanked by carrots grown by my friend Michele, so sweet that it would be a sin to shellac them in brown sugar; and a bipartisan meld of Minnesota wild rice and Wisconsin cranberries. 

We will set an extra plate at our round oak table, to embody the hospitality we are unable to extend in person. 

Certainly I'll reflect on rituals that are worth keeping, and why. I'll especially miss the annual exchange between my mom and I over cranberry relish. She says she doesn't remember. I don't want her to. It's our thing.

"You like cranberry relish, don't you?" 

No, Mom. I can't stand the stuff. 

"Since when? I thought you liked it." 

Every year. 

Some stories are well past their expiration date, about how we can't be friends if we don't see eye to eye. We can do better, and it can start at the dinner table. Maybe no one's changing the world from the warmth of a well fed dining room, but it sure sets a good example of how to behave beyond the door.

For pure unadulterated divisiveness, you can't do better than my family's holiday tradition of smoked oysters and pickled herring. Worse than politics. The dissenters can barely breathe in the same room with the dead fish people. 

How’d you ever make it into this family and not like smoked oysters? You're crazy. 

Who's crazy? You're the one whose breath smells like a fire in a bait bucket. 

I'll miss this demonstration of family affection. Next year when we are allowed within insulting range of each other, I'm bringing extra oysters.

Again we'll needle and bicker until dinner calls. Stand in a circle holding hands, sit down to a table filled with lamb, beans, garden carrots, and that green bean casserole. 


That’s it for Issue 3 of Bare Bones! Send ideas, questions, and pitches to hello@bethdooleyskitchen.com. And if you dig what we’re cooking, go tell all your friends!