Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Second Helping of American Thanksgiving

Writer's note: I started this blog post a month ago, then Christmas hit. Apologies for tardiness in completing it!

It's been exactly one year since I left Vermont, a state I was fortunate enough to call 'home' for five weeks in the fall of 2009 as I carried out my field research on the local food movement taking place in a tiny, down-and-out town called Hardwick. Truly in the 'attic' of America, I came to realize very quickly that Vermont is like no other place I'd ever been in the States. Indeed, it was like no other place I'd ever been in any of my travels. I briefly considered taking up permanent residence in a treehouse I'd discovered while wandering through town, but resigned myself to the fact that I was not meant to live in a tree, particularly in such a northerly climate. So, after a most memorable American Thanksgiving dinner with new friends, I begrudingly drove my Echo north to the Quebec border and promised myself I'd return to this magical place soon.

And I did. I returned just over a month later, just in time to welcome in 2010 (by a mere 6 hours!). I spent 4 days enjoying Vermont again, as 32 inches of snow blanketed the city of Burlington. Then, again, I had to return to Canada. Back to the reality of my thesis and the tremendous amount of work ahead of me.

I determined that I'd be ready to defend my thesis by September and would visit Vermont just prior to my oral examination in order to pick up some bonafide local food for my defense and catch up with the people I'd been so fortunate to meet while living in Hardwick. But, of course, life happens and things like finishing a thesis become secondary to important distractions such as summer patio drinking, Facebook, and the Steak Man (if there were a disacknowledgements section in my thesis, I daresay these three might make the grade!).

September arrived and I was still writing my thesis. I had a minor panic attack. My procrastinating ways were going to cost me major $$. A whole more semester's worth of tuition to be precise. So I started writing frantically and re-scheming how I could best organize my defense date to fit in with a visit to Vermont. As luck and timing would have it, it seemed I'd be ready to defend by the end of November. I smell smoked turkey and a rematch of street hockey?

Yes, that's right, I made it back to Vermont for a second American Thanksgiving with Joe, Maura, Charles, Holly, et al (there were, I believe, 15 of us at dinner). Here's the whole turkey tale:

It was 4pm on the eve of Thanksgiving by the time I found my way into the heart of downtown Burlington. I'd been driving for two days. It turns out PEI is a far distance from the rest of civilization. Why, it's even a 7-hour drive to Maine...and Maine hardly counts as civilization. I was early for dinner plans with Joe, Maura, and Phil, so I did what any Canadian would do with spare time in the States - I shopped. It was great, because the stores were really quiet. Why shop on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when you can wait until Black Friday and risk getting trampled to death in order to save 20% off something that's overpriced to begin with and that you clearly don't need?

I spent the majority of my shopping dollars on food/wine (surprise surprise), and picked up a few gifts including one for me (b/c every girl deserves a little luxury), then met up with my good Vermont friends. We finally sat down to dinner at around 8 (apparently no one likes to cook for themselves on the eve of Thanksgiving) at The Farmhouse, a former McDonald's that had been converted into a trendy resto serving up 'homey' meals sourced from local farmers.I love how in VT, the McDonald's gives way to a super popular restaurant that serves local food. I opted for the pork burger, which was topped with an egg. It was delicious, and the company was great. Joe kept saying 'you must be so excited about your thesis' to the point that I actually became excited about the fact that I had finished writing and was about to defend. To be honest, I'd not really stopped to breathe and take in the fact that I had reached a semi-notable milestone in my academic journey.

After a delectable dinner at The Farmhouse (below, see picture of my meal, a pork burger topped with a fried egg – yum!), we retired to Joe & Maura’s home. Maura had passed up dinner so she could prep for Thanksgiving. Joe and I found her in the kitchen making magic with onions and leeks. More beverages and conversation ensued then it was off to bed. A big day lay ahead.

We didn’t leave for Charles and Holly’s until 3.00. This gave Joe and I plenty of time to discuss the challenge of making the tennis balls used for street hockey heavier and less bouncy. The previous year Joe’s solution had been to fill the balls with caulk, but, as we discovered, the caulky balls didn’t hold up under constant stick action. The end result was balls leaking with caulk. Clearly, we didn’t want a repeat of this incident. Joe had surmised that the caulk and ball plan could only be executed if there were a way to seal the caulk in and ensure the seal stayed. We tossed around a few ideas, but nothing seemed likely to work, so we gave up and watched some football on T.V. I really think the Americans got the short-end of the stickwhen it comes to unofficial national sports – hockey is way more entertaining than American football.

Just like last year, we swung round to pick up Harold. He came out carrying his fiddle case and big cookie sheet with a huge oval shaped pastry on it. Evidently it was his second attempt of the day at making his father’s salmon casserole recipe. The thing was massive; more than one salmon had most definitely been sacrificed. We arrived at Charles and Holly’s house. The hockey ‘rink’ had been upgraded since the past year with a real backboard to keep Joe’s balls from flying into the street.

The drinking began in earnest. I was briefly reminded of a Sunday meal I’d enjoyed in the south of France with my friend, Sarah, where her boyfriend’s grandfather insisted I do a shot of strong liquor at noon, in preparation for the four hours of eating that would follow. I am simply not capable of such copious amounts of alcohol and food consumption. But I tried my best to keep up with the Americans and, admittedly, did find myself quite enamored with the smoked sausage that Maura and Charles had made at Penny Cluse. Harold’s salmon casserole was also divine, and Joe’s meat dip was also quite tasty.

We wiled away the afternoon eating and drinking, as more and more guests arrived and hugs were doled out. Some of the faces were familiar, others were new. Eventually, driveway hockey commenced. Alas, my game skills had not improved with age and I made neither any goals nor any assists. I did, however, get kudos from Charles for my enthusiasm. Yay for enthusiasm!!!

Dinner was served at six, with thirteen people sitting down around a long table adorned with countless side dishes including creamed onions, sweet potato casserole, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, and so on and so forth. Bellies were stuffed to the brim, then it was back to the drinking.

To be more specific about the drinking, Joe had brought a huge bottle of Whistlepig Straight Rye Whiskey with him. He and another guest were raving about it. It was apparently bottled at a Vermont distillery and had been awarded the highest ever rating for a rye whiskey by the Wine Enthusiast (I have no idea why the Wine Enthusiast would be rating whiskey, but apparently it was a big deal). Now, here’s the really interesting part….apparently this distillery is quite new and hasn’t actually been around long enough to age its own 10-year old whisky….so the distillery purchased the whisky from a producer, then bottled and labeled it with its own Whistlepig label (all legally, of course). And you’ll never guess where that whisky producer was located. Yes, that’s right, the Whistlepig Whiskey was, in fact, from a Quebec distillery. Just one more example of the Americans taking some thing Canadian, relabeling it and marketing it as their own. First it was basketball they claimed as an American sport, then they tried to stake claim on the telephone (invented by a Scotsman living in Nova Scotia), and now they’re staking claim on our whiskey. When will this madness stop???

Joe smashing ice to pair with the "American" whiskey (see photo to right). This picture is just amazing b/c of the transparency of the skillet - it makes no sense.

At any rate, the evening wound down with The Word Game. I won. No surprise there, I was playing with Americans after all.

We made our way back to Joe and Maura’s house, and I went to bed, spent from a most wonderful American Thanksgiving. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how fortunate I have been to have encountered such kind and interesting people on my journeys throughout the years. Vermont has and always will hold a special place in my heart, because it is where I finally came to fully know what it means to be part of a community. That still resonates with me, and as I look to the future, I find myself driven to be a part of building community in the place I’ve chosen to call home – this little island on the east coast of Canada. And I truly hope some of my Vermont friends will visit me on PEI, I am certain they would love it here (in the summer).


Raeanne said...

YUM! I need to make plans to visit Vermont in 2011!

Shannon Courtney said...

Yes Raeanne, it's amazing and you're so close. I think you'd really like it!!

Phil Fiermonte said...

Fabulous-- thanks for the great read Shan. That Joe, whata guy. Come back soon. Philip