Posted by: Sue Spencer | November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving at Melrose

For various reasons, we decided we needed a quiet Thanksgiving this year.  Most years, we’re happy when guests join us around our table, but this year it was “just us” – five sisters (Catherine Grace, Helena Marie, Emmanuel, Carol Bernice, et moi), Suzanne and Bill, and of course the animals:  our dogs Simon and Lady, our cats Buzz and Smooch, and seven Muscovy ducks.

In our planning, the question came up, “Should we purchase an organic turkey or not?” Our friends at Organic Connection still had a few turkeys left.  Should we make an exception to our usual vegetarian practice, just for the holiday?  We quickly decided to stay vegetarian, and to prepare the meal as much as possible from our garden produce.          

There were other complications with our menu planning, but they’re constraints we’ve gotten used to over time.  Two members are on gluten-free diets.  Two cannot touch liquor, and avoid it in food even if all the alcohol has been boiled off.  One avoids onions, and another can’t eat anything in the brassica (cabbage) family.  (So much for the bumper crop of kale we had this year.) Meanwhile, some of us are watching calories, although that sort of thing tends to go by the boards on holidays anyway.

We have plenty of pumpkin and squash, in many different varieties, so Sr. Carol Bernice, our pie specialist, volunteered to make pumpkin pie – with a wheat-free crust, of course.  Sr. Emmanuel offered to do something with potatoes.  She was thinking of twice-baked, but then Sr. Helena Marie asked if she could do something with boiling potatoes – one of our bags of red potatoes was beginning to sprout – and so her thoughts turned to potato and parsnip casserole.  Sr. HM said she would do vegetables – collard greens, and green and red brussels sprouts, fresh from the garden.       

Meanwhile, I found a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that I wanted to try – it was for Winter Vegetable Pot Pie, and would use many things from the garden – butternut, onions, shallots, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and herbs – plus some celeriac from the local farmer’s market.  There are some obvious redundancies here (squash, parsnips, and gluten-free pie crust), but on holidays I tend to adopt the Mae West principle:  “too much of a good thing is wonderful.”  

Bill offered to cook Thanksgiving breakfast for all of us.  Sr. Catherine Grace promised to make a special cake for Sr. Dominica, who is in nearby assisted living and whose profession anniversary would coincide with Thanksgiving.  At some point I discovered that Suzanne loves pecan pie, and decided to make “Jewels of the Season Tart,” from a South African Buddhist cookbook (!).  It features pecans, macadamias, hazelnuts, and crystallized ginger – a departure from our usual “locavore” practice, but one we make from time to time, on special occasions.     

Cooking began Wednesday.  Two of the sisters had a meeting in Manhattan, but the rest of us got busy!  I spent the day (a) harvesting root vegetables in the rain, (b) prepping them – always forget how long that takes, and (c) doing R & D on the gluten-free pie crust. Finally settled on a basic Joy of Cooking recipe, substituting garbanzo/fava bean flour for wheat, and canola oil for shortening, and adding a couple of teaspoons of Xanthan gum to the mix.  It was somewhat difficult to work, but the results weren’t bad – actually, they were pretty good!

Thanksgiving morning dawned warm and sunny; in fact, it reminded me of the November mornings I knew living in L.A.  We began at 8 with Lauds, our regular morning service of chanted psalms and prayer.  We then had a few hours before Eucharist to do final prep work and enjoy Bill’s festive breakfast – a fritatta, bagels, homemade granola, and strawberries from our freezer with homemade yoghurt.  At 11:30, Suzanne presided at Eucharist – which of course means “thanksgiving” – and led a reflection on Matthew 6:25-34, “Consider the lilies of the field…”    

Our Eucharistic meal led right into our Thanksgiving meal, one example of the seamlessness of our ritual life and life on the farm.  After service, we adjourned to the kitchen to finish preparing, and at 1:30 gathered in the Great Room for hors d’oeuvres. This proved so comfy that we decided to stay there for the main meal, too, sitting by the fire and enjoying the fruits of many months’ labor.

Mid-afternoon we walked across the road to have our pie and coffee at Suzanne and Bill’s.  The planned part of the day ended with a visit to Sr. Dominica; we brought Communion in addition to her profession cake, and sang Thanksgiving hymns in four-part harmony.    

All in all, a satisfying Day of Thanksgiving.  And you know, we really didn’t miss the turkey!







  1. Sue:

    My parents sent me the address of your blog and I took a peak. Fascinating.

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