Monthly Monday Miam-Miam: Food and Books to Be Thankful for

Only three days until Thanksgiving, and I’m in panic mode.

Last week, my menu was down and my grocery list made. So, late last night, I kicked my feet up and flipped through an old newspaper that was gathering dust on the coffee table. There, I read that you should NOT introduce the same ingredient twice in your Thanksgiving menu. For example, let’s say that you serve a pecan pie for dessert, then you should NOT offer glazed pecans as a snack.

I jumped up!

My menu included THREE dishes with the same ingredient. Not my fault if sweet potatoes are just so yummy. Besides, they are really healthy, as everyone knows.

So, I had planned to serve mashed sweet potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, and a sweet potato cheesecake. With brown sugar and vanilla the sweet potato casserole was acting as a side dish and dessert. Even better, had thought sweet tooth me.

Now, the newspaper article triggered second thoughts. At the same time, I also knew that there is no such thing as a Thanksgiving police. My years in the U.S. have shown me that if there is one day where excesses are allowed in the American kitchen it is on Thanksgiving Day.

Yet, as the newspaper was darkening my fingers, I realized that as much as I love sweet potatoes, as healthy as they can be, and even as crucially important as they are on Thanksgiving the journalist had probably a point. I also had to admit that I follow this one ingredient rule too, when composing menus.

But again a Thanksgiving menu is not any other menu. The cooking and baking possibilities are endless on that particular day, so unlike any other. Especially with sweet potatoes, the choices are just too mouth watering to settle on one meager dish.

With much internal debate, I decided, though, to cut. But how does someone choose mashed sweet potatoes over sweet potato casserole or still sweet potato and carrot purée (a classic in the family) over the sweet potato cheesecake recipe I had just found (I always introduce a new dessert at Thanksgiving)?

A dilemma, made even harder now that I had also bumped into a really cool recipe for sweet potato pie cupcakes that I was sure everyone would love. Okay, don’t get carried away, Mom, my son would say, there will be next year.

In the end, the sweet potato carrot purée won over the mashed and the casserole because it’s a classic. I also learned that traditions matter on Thanksgiving Day.

The good news was that I had to find replacements. So I went for mashed cauliflowers. Very hot this year the cauliflowers AND very healthy too, so all is good on the side dished front. I will have of course regular mashed potatoes because that’s a real classic, too, right? And green beans, of course, even though I still call them haricots verts.

Then, for dessert, I was hesitant between the Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears and the Maple Gingerbread Pots de Crème. I already had a pumpkin pie and since I had to cut my traditional pumpkin chai puddings because of the new rule of ONE similar ingredient I decided to do BOTH the panna cotta and the pots de crème.

We all know that the best of Thanksgiving are the leftovers.

 

Chrysanthemums, mums in the States, symbolize cemeteries in France, but to me they only mean fall

And because we also need food for the soul…

Among the readers of my blog there are many parents and grandparents, thankful to have children and teenagers in their lives, so here are four outstanding books, made just for them. I read them over the last two weeks while I was testing my Thanksgiving menu. They have nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but I find each of them a reason for being thankful to live in a world where there are so many creative, smart, funny, and goodhearted authors.

 

For Little Ones:

I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Even young children can feel overwhelmed. This picture book is perfect when calming a too busy mind is needed. The approachable and yet poetic text offers suggetsions to reconnect with the present when too many thoughts arise. The simple, gorgeous illustrations compliment the text to the perfection. Page after page, the child reconnects with the five senses, with nature, and the present moment. In the end, the young readers will also reach peace of mind, allowing them to offer peace to their surrounding world and ultimately to the rest of the world. The illustrator has illustrated Dot, one of my most favorite picture books, and the bestselling Judy Moody and Stink series.

We’re All Wonders written and illustrated by R.J. Palacio

The phenomenal middle grade novel Wonder triggered the movement Choose Kind. In Wonder, the main character Auggie was born with unusual physical characteristics and his loving mom calls him a wonder. With this picture book the author is reaching to younger readers. The sparse-sober and movingly powerful text shows young readers what it’s like to live in a world in which you feel like any other kid, but aren’t always seen that way. Beyond Auggie’s story, the novel and now the picture book tap into every child’s yearning to belong and to be seen as who they truly are.

 

For Middle Graders:

Yvain, The Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Andrea Offermann

There are authors who never disappoint you because they write in a niche, so you expect their next book to please you as much as the precedent. And there are authors who surprise you each time they publish a book because you never know what it will be.

M.T. Anderson is of the latest category. He’s everything but predictable. He writes all over the spectrum and beyond. Though, each of his books being excellent, you are guaranteed to find a gem, whether for a child or a teen.

His latest caught my attention, not only because I am from France but also because I’ve really enjoyed learning about the Middle Ages when I was a kid.

This graphic novel is an adaptation of one of the first Arthurian epics, Yvain, le chevalier au lion written by Chrétien de Troyes, almost eight centuries ago. In fact, most of the tales we tell of King Arthur are derived from Chrétien de Troyes’ epic poems.

The text for this novel has been of course translated from Old French. And I must applaud the author for his impeccable research.

The illustrations are also absolutely terrific. The artist is from Germany and her work is stunning. Since I grew up in France and am accustomed to depictions of medieval scenes I was amazed by the accuracy of the costumes and décor at large. Impeccable research on the artist’s part too.

I recommended the book to my daughter, currently searching for material for seventh and eighth grade students studying medieval times across the world, because it is a highly accessible and thus enjoyable read, due to the striking artwork but also to the text filled with wit.

Doesn’t mean that it’s not deep. The middle ages were neither a peaceful period of time nor exactly feminist. However, it is interesting to note that it was not unusual for women to play crucial roles back then, as it is the case in this tale. In my French Friday post about the French écriture inclusive reform, I mention that women didn’t use to be as invisible as they became starting in the 17th century. In the medieval times, the feminization of professions such as poétesse for poète existed. We still have so much to learn from our ancestors 🙂

As a side note, I will add that I am familiar with the geographic area where the Knight of the Lion and the Arthurian tales take place in Brittany. I didn’t grow up very far from there, and my family vacationed several times near the forest of Brocéliande.

Reading this graphic novel was traveling along memory lane on several levels.

 

And last but not least, another gem for Middle Graders:

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

The author, who writes young adult fiction under the name A.S. King, is my all time favorite for her work in teen literature. So I was curious to read her latest novel, since the protagonist is an eleven-year-old sixth grade boy.

Obe Devlin’s nose bleeds often and at the most awkward moments, which triggers real embarrassment. Obe and his family live in the smallest house that’s left from the much larger property that his maternal great grandfather owned one hundred years ago. But as his mom put it, “he drank 175 acres of the Devlin land.”

And now the much smaller patch of land where Obe, his parents, and high school sister live is surrounded by lots of similar looking houses, built on his former beloved cornfield. The creek, which Obe cleans diligently, still runs at the bottom of his family’s property, but the woods now belong to the kids living on the other side. This separation is the consequence of an orchestrated fight between Obe and his longtime best friend Tommy. What happens during this fight is crucial to the plot of the book and moreover to Obe’s development, so I hate to reveal it. Let’s say that it ends the longtime friendship. Obe has, however, a new friend and fifth-grader Annie is as loveable as him.

When Obe meets the most unusual animal that doesn’t look like any other, he instinctively protects this creature that only feeds on plastic, either found in the creek or left behind by the crew workers who continue to develop the area for still more house building. Obe’s world has changed so deeply since the bulldozing of his land started that the strange and quite unattractive, stinky animal he names Marvin Gardens, for the Monopoly game he plays with his father and sister, becomes his secret friend.

Skilled as she is, the author manages to squeeze one hundred years of American immigration, real estate, banking, and housing development history in barely more than 10 pages, all printed on gray paper and woven through the book which tells of Obe’s current story. These pages, short chapters all titled One Hundred Years Ago, illustrate the deep and frighteningly inevitable weight of wars, government’s decisions, and greed on people’s lives. A real tour de force since the novel remains seamless and highly readable despite these brief flashbacks in times.

It’s impossible to resist Obe. The eleven-year-old demonstrates loyalty, wisdom, and a sense of purpose that few adults believe young kids can possess. Of course, Obe is also caught between his desire to remain a child and the pressure of his ex best friend and the new kids to act as teenagers. In the end, Obe makes the hardest choice each of us has to make: being oneself.

The book pays also homage to good teachers, to strong moms, to cool loving big sisters, to girls with ambitious dreams, and boys with big hearts. I LOVED every word of the novel.

P.S. As a child, the author has also witnessed the bulldozing of a beloved cornfield in southeastern Pennsylvania where she grew up. If you’ve also seen a place that was home demolished for development intentions the novel and Obe’s emotions will deeply resonate, I guarantee you.

And even if you lucked out, you’ve still be eleven once, and you’ll find yourself tearing up, laughing, cringing, and everything in between as you’ll live with Obe for 240 pages.

As I read this book, I was back to the own fields of my Normandy childhood, thousands miles away from those of Pennsylvania, and yet knowing exactly how Obe felt facing daunting changes.

This novel alone deserves a whole blog post and I will introduce it again early December when I write about books as holiday gifts.

From my kitchen to yours, I wish you all a very happy, peaceful, and loving Thanksgiving Day and extended weekend.

Regardless of the state of our country and the world, it is okay to be merry on Thursday and absolutely mandatory to be thankful for the lives we have and the people in these lives. Life is not always easy and living feels sometimes daunting, so I am thankful for my family and my friends to pull me through, whenever it gets harder.

I’m certainly thankful for you who visit me in my small home that is my blog. Due to the holiday, I will skip my weekly French Friday post and see you the following week.

PERFECT Leftovers from my very recent birthday!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving dinner menu. Sounds wonderful. Your book suggestions and reviews are tempting too. Wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thank you, Joan. The books are all excellent. I particularly love Me and Marvin Gardens. Very powerful and yet approachable read for middle grade readers.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family as well. I’m sure your menu is wonderfully yummy!

  2. You always have interesting books to suggest. I’ve read many after reading your thoughts on them, but this time of year, I don’t allow purchases for myself. I made a list of the ones I like and we’ll see if the library can help 🙂
    I’m curious as to why you’ve written haricots verts are French, I mean, I know that’s what the French call them, but beans originated, are native to, North and South America.
    I love sweet potatoes and when my MIL makes them, I always have a taste, but then I pray it stays down, for I am allergic. 😦 😦 😦 Oh they’re so yummy and healthy, too! It’s not fair, lol!
    Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears sounds like heaven on earth, Evelyne, and I bet your Thanksgiving feast will be wonderful! Enjoy!

    • I’m glad to have offered you some book suggestions, although there are so many more to read that it’s hard to narrow choices to only a few.
      Thanks to your comment about haricots verts I realized that my wording was unclear, so I rephrased it. I only meant that’s how I still call green beans 🙂
      One of my daughters used to avoid sweet potatoes until she discovered that it was gluten in fact that she had to stay away from. Which is easier at least on Thanksgiving Day. I only substitute regular flour with gluten free and the result is as good.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Joey.

  3. I was relieved to see a pumpkin pie on the menu. Some things are simply tradition and must be on the table. I like sweet potatoes, but I prefer “regular” mashed potatoes. My wife bakes a mix of sliced white and sweet potatoes, a dish her mother always made. It’s a staple at Thanksgiving, regardless of the rules.

    In any case, I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

    • I ADORE anything pumpkiny, so there was no way to go without a pie. I prefer sweet potatoes but my husband loves regular, so I always have mashed potatoes, often with butter infused with sage to add some flavor. Oh, now I feel like eating 🙂
      Love that you are honoring your mom with a dish she used to make. Because regardless of what we eat on Thanksgiving, it’s always about sharing a meal someone has prepared and gratitude for the people in our lives, including the absent.
      So Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family as well, Dan!

  4. Happy Thanksgiving, Evelyne! I’m envious you’re celebrating, while here – ho, hum – it’s just another work day. : ( I honestly didn’t know the never-use-the-same-ingredient more than once rule. For me, your sweet potatoes are my pumpkin: pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies. I need to make them all to really consider it Thanksgiving. Wishing you and a your family a wonderful day!

  5. Both versions of your menu sound delicious Evelyne. I hope you had a great day and that by now you’re enjoying some fabulous leftovers!

    • Thank you, Andrea. We had a lovely Thanksgiving and now that the extended weekend is almost over I realize that the leftovers are gone too!
      So maybe I should have stuck with both menus 🙂

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