Prepping for Holidays

Sharon June 16th, 2009

Yes, I know it is late June, and the quiet season for most communities in terms of holidays.  And yet, I think it bears talking and thinking about – that we should be thinking now about preparing so that we can engage in basic celebrations of whatever feasts and festivals are important to us.  By this I don’t mean “time to do your Labor Day shopping” or anything along the lines of what most Americans mean when they talk about preparing for “the holidays” – I mean making sure that in the worst kinds of personal or collective exigency, we’d have the basics to make something special.

Think about how archetypical the ability to celebrate in difficult times is – in mainstream American literature, for example, Christmas is the archetypical celebration, but it crosses cultures – there are plenty of stories in every culture about the holiday that almost wasn’t.  Think about the literature of an American childhood – Tiny Tim, Laura Ingalls and the March girls of Little Women are always figured as pulling together a way of making Christmas different, real and special, even in the most troubled of times.  And this is no accident – the ability to celebrate central holidays is proof that “we are all right even if things are tough” – proof to children, certainly, who need stability, but I think proof to adults as well.

When you build your food storage, it should include the components of festival foods – those few special things without which it “isn’t really Passover” (note, the beauty of matzah is that it tastes pretty much the same whether stored for 10 years or fresh ;-) ) or “that we always have on Dia de los Muertos.”  This may involve some recipe triage – can you make good stollen with canned butter, or with coconut oil, which lasts longer than butter?  How long does cranberry sauce store, anyway?  What would you do if you couldn’t get a goose, or a tofurkey or a ham – or whatever the traditional feasting meat is.

You may have to let some foods go – one of the things I learned when I converted to Judaism and began keeping kashruth is that it is surprisingly possible to adapt most recipes to keeping kosher.  Vegans, those dealing with gluten or other intolerances, etc… all find these things out.  They also find out that there are some things that probably they just won’t get.  I can make decent mashed potatoes without butter.  I cannot make really fabulous mashed potatoes without butter, nor can I make my father’s mashed potatoes with carmelized onions and cheese, at least not with a turkey at Thanksgiving.  So I’ve accepted that that’s no longer in my repetoir for Thanksgiving, and while I like the basic mashed pototoes ok, have decided that our family likes roasted potatoes with garlic and chiles even better.  So, mashed sweet potatoes, but no mashed potatoes (they show up as the centerpiece of dinner now and again as a treat, and that’s actually better, since they are so rich – really, who needs that much lily gilding, along with the turkey, the sweets, the pumpkin pie, the roasted onions, the…)

But I think it is important to keep as much basic structure of your accustomed meals as possible – if not the turkey, at least the ingredients of pumpkin pie, if not the marinated brussel’s sprouts, at least Grandma’s marinade, applied to some other available green.   This is the time to invest in the things that make your family identity special – the ingredients for the lasagna you always have, the wine that marks a special meal, the favorite preserve you only bring out at the holiday.  These mark the day as “like the past” and tie us to family and tradition, even if family can’t be here, or we can’t afford to go to them. 

You can endure an austerity diet, a great deal of stress and poverty much better if a few times during the year, there comes a moment of excess – one in which you eat as much fat and sweet as you could want, in which you drink more than you usually do, and in which you feel yourself momentarily freed from your constraints.  In our ordinary lives, where we often can eat and drink to excess routinely, where we are pressured to make the holiday perfect, or spend too much, we can think we’d be glad to be freed from these excesses – and sometimes that’s true.  But the stripped down version, in a stripped down life, one that maintains essentials in tough times, is, I think another thing all together.

My family can’t imagine Chanukah without latkes, or without gingerbread cookies, which come from my own family’s Christmas celebrations, but are now, made in Jewish shapes, part of our Chanukah.  Passover must have matzah, of course, and Sukkot and Thanksgiving both require pumpkin pie.  The sabbath means grape juice (wine for the grownups) and the ingredients of challah.  These are small things to add to my storage – I don’t need a six month supply of cranberry sauce, a couple of jars will suffice.  But they matter vastly in excess of their space – they remind us that the cycle of the year goes on, and that joy goes on, even when it seems most difficult to remember.


9 Responses to “Prepping for Holidays”

  1. Jennon 16 Jun 2009 at 11:10 am

    It might also be worth considering starting new traditions. Yes, old traditions and continuity are important, and I would never suggest giving them up, and the important things that go along with that. But, I can also see the value in creating new traditions and celebrations that rely on foods that are readily available and can be stored now, so that there can still be traditions that are easily maintainable in the future, when others might be more difficult.

  2. Shambaon 16 Jun 2009 at 12:05 pm

    First, I must add more pumkin pie ingredients (sweet potatoe pie would be a good substitute) to food storage.

    Second, you’ve reminded how much I enjoy cranberry sauce, Sharon.

    Peace to All,

  3. Lorrion 16 Jun 2009 at 12:21 pm

    *How* do you make good mashed potatoes without butter? DFH is lactose intolerant & I need to learn your trick, or one similar, so that I can make these from scratch again.

    Excellent post! I’ll remember this as I plan the winter’s pantry this year.

  4. NMon 16 Jun 2009 at 1:34 pm

    I don’t know Sharon’s trick for good lactose-free mashed potatoes, but am lactose-intolerant myself, and have two suggestions.
    One, to imitate regular mashed potatoes, though not quite as good (but good enough to keep me happy): Earth Balance margarine and Silk soy creamer (plain flavor). Also, I add salt to the potato cooking water. Still have to salt them when you mash them.
    Two, very different, very good: Add garlic cloves and fresh rosemary sprigs to the potatoes as they cook (and salt). Drain potatoes as usual, remove rosemary twigs (the leaves will have fallen off), add olive oil and salt, and mash.
    I also use the soy creamer in pumpkin pie, in place of the evaporated milk my mother’s recipe calls for.
    But no soy – milk or creamer – in pancakes, ’cause in my recipes, it makes them heavy and flat.

  5. Teartayeon 16 Jun 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I just wanted to say, that I currently don’t always get enough fat* and it is entirely true that having several times a year when you get more than your fill… it really /does/ changes the occasions from stress (I see my family stress about making the holidays “perfect”) to a marvelous treat, regardless of the details.

    I think holiday staples will be my next “to think about” items to store.

    *I get enough sugar; I work at a chocolate shop! ;)

  6. Sarahon 16 Jun 2009 at 2:18 pm

    This won’t really help with the whole “sourcing it local” thing and makes a very different type of mashed potatoes, but replacing the cream in a mashed potato recipe with coconut milk is divine. “Vegan” seems to be linked in people’s minds with “low-fat”, when there are actually a fairly wide variety of deliciously fatty things you can make without any animals whatsoever :-)

  7. Heatheron 16 Jun 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Good post! Only thing I’m curious about is why you don’t have butter at Thanksgiving, unless you’re avoiding dairy. It stores quite well in general, if not as well as some oils, but certainly for a few months — longer in the freezer. And while perhaps more important things need to go in the freezer, a pound or two of butter doesn’t take that much space. We hardly have milk at all in the winter (although we can still get it semi-locally — western Mass. has a group of dairy farmers who work together), but I’ve always thought of butter and cheese as being things that kept pretty well and therefore make good winter staples.

    Or are you thinking about if people didn’t have freezers anymore? That would make things more challenging, esp. if you didn’t have good storage systems or live in a place where it never gets very cold, or something….

  8. Sharonon 16 Jun 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Well, we don’t have butter at Thanksgiving because we keep kosher – meat and dairy don’t mix, and we still like turkey. As for keeping butter – it is pricey and not something that keeps that long, except as ghee – my assumption is that if people are really stuck relying primarily on their staples, they will be using something more shelf stable than butter. But maybe not.

    Mashed potatoes without butter – very good with roasted garlic, carmelized onions and olive oil. Just not as good as the ones with cheese and butter, but quite respectable.


  9. knutty knitteron 17 Jun 2009 at 12:24 am

    I only add salt and pepper to mashed potato. Nothing else at all normally unless I add a little fresh crushed garlic as I mash. The heat cooks it enough and that adds zing.

    For a treat I add finely chopped parsley, grated raw onion and grated tasty cheese with a little cayenne. There are never any left overs when I do this!

    viv in nz

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