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A Tale of Two Christmas Dinners: Industrial v Homemade
Larry and I live in rather unusual circumstances.
We live with his mom, who is now almost 90 years old and two of his siblings who take care of her. Before we came to live with them three years ago, these three had a ongoing household that also included Larry’s father. When he died in 2017, many things changed, but their household continued on as before in the way the lived and the food they ate. Remarkably Larry’s mom at age 89 is quite healthy—while she has memory problems she has none of the modern industrial diseases of the body. She walks up and back a long driveway every morning to get the paper and every afternoon to get the mail.
They have their ways of doing things and Larry and I have our ways and they aren’t the same. But we all allow each other to “whatever works” as Mom says.
This year what happened for Christmas dinner was that two other siblings who don’t live here decided to send those of us who do live here a preprepared Christmas Dinner from Whole Foods. Because of covid restrictions, we didn’t have a family Christmas as we have had in years past. I was told this dinner was arriving on Wednesday. But generally, I make a Christmas dinner and I still wanted to make it.
Larry and I decided what we wanted for Christmas Dinner and purchased the ingredients.
On Thursday night the Whole Foods Christmas Dinner was heated and served.
When I ate it, I realized an important difference between the Whole Foods Christmas Dinner and my homemade dinner, which became very apparent when I made my homemade dinner on Friday.
The Whole Foods dinner consisted of a turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and a whole apple pie for dessert. Being from Whole Foods, the quality of ingredients was higher than if it was purchased at a supermarket, but it was still notably industrial.
I usually think of industrialized food as being in a package of some sort—a box or a can or an aseptic carton—made in a factory. But even thought this meal was prepared from scratchin the Whole Foods kitchens, it still had an industrial characteristic.
What was industrial about this meal was that it was conceived of and made to a standard that would allow Whole Foods to sell the same meal to many customers. To make doing so efficient and profitable (their major objective) the meal was not particularly interesting or delicious, but rather designed to be standard enough to appeal to a broad range of different tastes.
Each dish was recognizable as what it was supposed to be, but it was just so uninteresting and so institutional.
And this is one of the major characteristics of industrial food. It is made for the convenience of the industrial process and not the delight of the customer. All individuality is put aside and foods are made to conform, so every Christmas Dinner that leaves Whole Foods tastes exactly alike. That’s the industrial way. Everything exactly the same.
I appreciate the gift aspect of it. Obviously the siblings who gifted it wanted their mom and other siblings to have a Christmas Dinner without any fuss. And they did. It was “acceptable.”
But it wasn’t anything close to my own personal idea of Christmas Dinner. So on Friday Larry and I spent the day making the Christmas dinner we wanted to eat. And we did this in my tiny kitchen in the corner of my office and our 24” inch Wolf stove that is temporarily in a storage room that required a walk of about thirty feet to get to. And it was raining all day.
But our Christmas Dinner was one of the best I’ve ever made. I wish I had a photo but by the time we made the dinner it was just too dark to take a photo and I couldn’t stop the serving for a photo setup.
Here’s what we made.
Roast Turkey Breast and Gravy. We bought a turkey breast and just sprinkled a little salt and pepper on top, then just roasted it in the oven at 250 degrees for about two hours. We also bought a turkey wing to make stock and simmered it with onion, celery and carrot starting at about 11:00 in the morning. We then basted the turkey breast with this stock, which caramelized in the bottom of the turkey pan. When it was time to make the gravy, we combined the stock in the pot and the stock in the pan and had a lot of gravy. Usually I make gravy gluten-free but yesterday I just used standard flour. This is a very simple way
My Family Mashed Potatoes. I always have to have my family mashed potatoes which are like a hot potato salad with vinegar, onions, parsley and hard boiled eggs. One of my very favorite bites of all time is this mashed potatoes with turkey gravy. So this is a must-have whenever there is a turkey one the table.
Brown Rice Stuffing. Often I will make gluten-free cornbread stuffing, but I just wanted to be simple with the stuffing yesterday. So I started with brown rice and added everything I would normally add to stuffing: onions, celery, and mushrooms sautéed in butter, fresh parsley from my garden, and classic poultry seasoning. Delicious.
Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole. You know this one. Green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, milk, french fried onions…I know, I know, but it’s only once a year. If I had more time and space, I would have made the green bean casserole from scratch, but everyone loves the standard recipe so I gave in on that one.
Cranberry Sauce with Pomegranates and Clementines. This was absolutely the best cranberry I’ve ever made. Just equal parts of each. The cranberry sauce was canned—but organic—but I transformed it with fresh fruit. So not perfect, but pretty good given the limitations of the day.
So even though two canned foods were used, this dinner was far from industrial because it was uniquely created to suit our own personalities and tastes and preferences. And while others were happy to have the Whole Foods Christmas Dinner, they went crazy over this one. Smiles all around. Mom thought it was “delightful!” Larry’s brother thought the cranberry sauce was so good he wanted to name it with it’s own special name. Larry was just so happy.
This Christmas I learned the importance of Christmas dinner. With the covid pandemic ranging around us and so many things in short supply, to sit down together around a table filled with homemade food—some comforting old favorites and others delightfully new—was the highlight of the day.
I learned too how important Christmas is to Larry in a way I hadn’t understood before. He loves Christmas. During the month of December, we watch every new Hallmark Christmas movie. This year, with the pandemic, Hallmark movies were our experience of Christmas. I learned this year that it’s very important to make Christmas, no matter how spare. For Larry, there needs to be a Christmas tree, Christmas gifts, and a Christmas dinner. Then he feels that Christmas has occurred.
Our Christmas Dinner, made with love and our own hands, was a bright spot in this dark winter.
Please cook. Please learn to cook if you don’t already know how. To know how to cook frees you from industrial food, is an opportunity for creativity, and opens the door to eating in a way that makes your body healthy.
Having the ability to cook, to know that I can take ordinary ingredients and transform them into a “delightful” meal that brings happiness to others and myself is one of my most treasured accomplishments. No other skill comes close in terms of importance to life.