Thanksgiving — that most American of holidays — is a day for tradition and reflection on all our blessings. We asked six Columbians — longtime residents and transplants from other countries — to share their holiday customs and reflect on the reasons they have to be thankful. (We’re thankful for their stories.)
Former University of Missouri basketball coach
Hometown: Shelbyville, Missouri
My first head-coaching job at the University of Northern Iowa is the Thanksgiving that sticks out most prominently. It was not just with our family; we had ballplayers and staff. My wife, Virginia, and I agreed that the team would come to our house. She worked and worked, and prepared this beautiful dinner like we were going to entertain not just a ball club or a basketball team, but royalty. That’s the way she entertains.
There would have been 12 players and our family — so around 20 people. At that time, I was 26. She was 24 with three children. (We’ve been married 56 years; that’s hard work also.)
So they came and she had all the turkey, the trimmings the dressing — we always have baked oysters to go with the dressing — the mashed potatoes, the cranberries, all that. The team came in, they sat down, and in 10 minutes, probably, they consumed everything. And I’ll never forget this: Virginia said, “Oh, my word! Everything’s gone.” I said, “They loved it!” It was a wonderful success, but to her, all this work disappeared in 10 minutes. She almost cried. But that was our first Thanksgiving meal with a team, and that’s still kind of memorable.
Our family always included our ball club. There was always somebody there — somebody who played for me or worked with me during 40 years of basketball. If kids didn’t have a way to get home, then we always made sure there was a place for them at our house.
For 14 years, we’ve been free from sports. It’s all family now; we have three children and eight grandchildren and there’s in-laws, so sometimes it’s a gang — and it’s just fun.
If the numbers are great, then there will be two or three pies. Usually we’ll have pumpkin pie and whipped cream, maybe a little pecan. When we had small grandchildren, you make what they want and then you have four pies.
I am thankful for so many things. First of all, I’m thankful for an extended life and great family, people I’ve met by association through my marriage and through my contacts and through my position. I’ve seen poverty in India, Mexico and all different countries; I’ve been in the Oval Office. It’s all about people. So my blessing is that of a wonderful marriage, a wonderful family and a great blend of people. I’m just thankful for that.
Director of the Columbia Art League
Hometown: Preston, Lancashire, England
The first year I was in the United States — 2005 — was also my first Thanksgiving. I went to my husband’s family house — my future-in-laws’ house, really, because he wasn’t my husband that first year. There were seven of us altogether: Tom and me, his parents, his sister, her future husband and his grandmother.
Because we’re a small family, and everybody lives in Columbia, we see each other all year. We don’t have the kind of Thanksgiving where people descend upon Columbia once a year from far away and that’s our only chance for a family gathering. So, for me, it’s just like going over to my in-laws’ house for a regular family get-together, rather than being a momentous once-a-year dinner. It doesn’t feel hugely significant — more of a chance to hang out, eat good food, watch the football and drink wine.
Thanksgiving doesn’t really have much significance for me as a holiday. When you don’t grow up with a tradition, it’s something you observe almost as a bystander rather than something you inherently feel. But it’s a nice day, and I love eating good food.
We all sit around a big table. My mother-in-law creates beautiful table decorations, usually with a centerpiece of autumnal colors. There’s one really cute piece of tableware that she gets out every year: a gravy boat in the shape of a turkey. Her mother made it; it’s the traditional item that always gets remarked upon.
I love turkey. In England, you eat turkey at Christmas; but we generally don’t eat turkey for our family Christmas meal. So Thanksgiving is when I get my turkey fix.
I’m thankful for my fabulous family that has adopted me so completely and given me a new home here in Columbia. And for my fabulous husband and how wonderful he is and how lucky I was to bump into him — it was so random that we met at all. I feel incredibly lucky every day — being healthy and living in a great city, being part of an awesome community, and running the Columbia Art League. It’s not in every country or community that you would be accepted so fully as an outsider, which makes Columbia special and a great city in which to live. I don’t ever see us ever leaving, Tom grew up here, and Columbia will always be home. For me, it’s amazing to have stumbled upon such a great community.
Joni O’Connor’s Cranberry Relish
Courtesy of Diana Moxon
1 small package cranberry or cherry Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup pineapple juice (from drained crushed pineapple; add water to make 1 cup)
1 cup ground raw cranberries
1 orange, peeled and cut into small segments
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup celery, finely chopped
½ cup English walnuts, chopped
Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water. Add sugar, lemon juice and pineapple juice, and stir until dissolved. Chill until partially set. Add remaining ingredients and chill until set.
I do the cooking on Thanksgiving. I don’t stray too far from the classics. In keeping with our personal ethos, we’ll try to get as many ingredients as we can locally. In November, there are sweet potatoes and squash, Brussels sprouts, and all the cool-weather greens are in season. Turkey we get locally. I don’t get a heritage bird, but I’ll get a broad-breasted white, and I usually order it ahead of time so it’s ready for Thanksgiving.
I do a lot of the prep work ahead of time, so it’s not really a big ordeal. The sweet potatoes are already roasted; they just need to be glazed. Any vegetables that can be prepared ahead of time are. The potatoes are already peeled and cut up. Turkey’s brined, the cranberry sauce is made; all that stuff’s taken care of.
I’ll start in early morning. I like the smells of the kitchen. My kids, Elizabeth and Harry, like helping in the kitchen. There’s always something for them to do — they can peel a potato or sort things. I never chase them out of the kitchen.
On the table, there are tablecloths and nice dishes and wine glasses, but it’s pretty informal and casual after all that. It’s civilized. We’ll decorate the table with stuff we find on one of our walks in the woods or things we find in our yard — pinecones or those pods from locust trees. Our dinner-table conversation most often includes a discussion of what we’re thankful for. We try not to get too far away from the meaning of it, especially since we have young kids around.
We’re building traditions. We try to get out and play; we’ll go for a walk around the block. You’ll get two-thirds away around with a 4-year-old and then you end up carrying him. We’ll talk about the things we see, the way people’s houses are decorated, the way the leaves are turning colors.
The kids are so young, and I do think it’s a legitimate reminder that we should be thankful for all that we have and that we’re pretty fortunate. I’m thankful to have such a great family. I’m thankful to be healthy. The restaurant business isn’t the get-rich business, but there’s always a good meal on the table. I’m thankful I’ve been able to be successful in business. We’re proud of what we do. We’re able to do it within our ethical framework. Those are the big things.
There are many days of thanks in the Indian culture throughout the year. For example, this year the harvest is great, but we pray that the harvest be even better next year. We are used to celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving in India — but the style and the way that people do it here is somewhat different.
Thanksgiving is a combination of Indian and American. My wife, Kavita, prepares a host of dishes. We don’t make turkey but all kinds of other things — cornbread, some kind of Indian-style salsa, Indian bread, three varieties of flavored rice, four or five different vegetables. There is a vegetable curry that my wife makes with cauliflower, tomato and onion. My daughter, Sumidha, is very fond of preparing desserts; the desserts tend to be American — tarts and cakes. Pumpkin pie is a must. The kids use Cool Whip, but I kind of refrain.
We don’t eat meat, but we enjoy the rest of the stuff. We make a number of items with good protein content — dried fruits, cashews, and spices — to substitute the real turkey.
Our table is very nicely decorated with a beautiful, embroidered Indian tablecloth. And on that particular day, my son, Nahush, and my daughter, Sumidha, change the photos on the walls. So you can see the festivity feeling is there.
Festivity — regardless of what faith or religion you belong to — always takes people to the next level. We are blending well with the local culture, and we have embraced local culture in a spectacular way. So if somebody asks me, “Kattesh, do you celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas?” I say, “Of course!” I enjoy multiculturalism and multidiversity.
Celebrating a particular day in the year — anywhere — with the idea of thanksgiving is tremendous. I think it’s important the way we spell it out in the United States — the day itself is gratitude: we are thanking the forefathers for everything we have now. We have much, but we also have dues to pay. We understand that.
I’m thankful for everything that constitutes me with a family. I’m thankful because somebody came to this land, they refurbished this land, made it livable. They made this land attractive for someone to come 15,000 miles from India. I don’t know whom I should thank for that, but it’s a big thank-you for all that’s happened in this part of the world. In particular, in this thanksgiving time, Kavita and I are delighted to thank Wynn Volkert, emeritus professor of Radiology, and Robert Churchill, former dean of MU’s Medical School, who recruited us to the University of Missouri 22 years ago. I owe so much to them who allowed me to advance my career here in the United States.
Spinach Paratha (Spinach-Based Indian Bread)
Courtesy of Kavita Katti
3 cups whole wheat flour
1½ cups fresh, raw spinach, finely chopped
1 medium-size potato, boiled and mashed
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
⅛ teaspoon asafetida (available locally at A&Y Global Market)
¾–1 cup water, as needed
1–2 tablespoons oil, as needed
Additional ¼ cup whole wheat flour for dusting
Mix 3 cups flour, chopped spinach, mashed potato, paprika, salt, cumin seeds and asafetida in a bowl. Add water and knead to make a soft dough (similar to pizza dough). Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 balls; dust with flour. On a floured flat surface, roll out each dough ball into a 6- to 8-inch circle, similar to a pancake in shape. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Once it is hot, add a little vegetable oil. Place a bread circle into hot skillet. Cook one side of bread until bubbles form, and then flip it over to cook the other side. Cook until both sides are lightly browned.
Serve spinach paratha with applesauce or tomato ketchup or mango chutney. They can also be stored in zip-close bags and frozen for an extended period of time.
Mayor of Columbia
Hometown: Desoto, Missouri
We have a very traditional Thanksgiving, as many people do. We try to round up as many family members as possible. My wife inherited her grandmother’s beautiful oak harvest table from a farm near Atlanta, Mo. We can seat 18 people around that table, so that’s where we have Thanksgiving dinner. I will always pledge to not eat too much, but I always fail to uphold that pledge — I think that’s fairly traditional for all of us.
We wake up pretty early — 6 or 7 a.m. We’ll peel the potatoes. I’m always impressed by how many potatoes it takes to feed that many people. My wife, Suzanne, and I cook together. Well, she does most of the turkey, I do the potatoes, and I’ll carve the turkey.
The food is placed on the table and attracts people, which is funny because by then we’re not even hungry because we’ve eaten all the hors d’oeuvres.
As the kids get older, it’s become more complicated because my son works in New York City, and he doesn’t get home for every Thanksgiving. My daughter lives in Denver with her three children and husband, and they don’t get home for every Thanksgiving. Adult children often try to split up their obligations between two sides of the family, each with their own traditions. And so, we’re like most families, where the children have to compromise as to which year they’re coming to Columbia and when they’re not. This year, they’re coming to Columbia.
During the off years — the years that people don’t come to Columbia — we have actually gone to New York for Thanksgiving. There, because people live in apartments, they go to restaurants that produce a traditional Thanksgiving meal. It’s abundant food, but it’s just not the same as when you do it in your own home.
We have gone to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The balloons are above the crowd, but you’re usually looking from a crowd 10 or 15 deep. It’s kind of interesting to go the night when they’re blowing them up on a side street off of Central Park West.
I’m thankful that my wife and I have been blessed with a long marriage and healthy children who are doing pretty well and grandchildren who are doing pretty well. And, you know, it doesn’t get better than that — when you’ve got your health and you’ve got your family doing well.
Columbia City Planner
Hometown: High Level, Alberta, Canada
Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, and we don’t have any family nearby, so we don’t really celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving anymore. We usually celebrate American Thanksgiving with friends who invite us over; there’s no shortage of people who will take us in. It’s part of our custom, I guess.
In Canada, we have the same reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving. The biggest difference has to do with the date and the fact that American Thanksgiving is so close to Christmas. We don’t really have a holiday season in Canada — we have Thanksgiving and then a few months later we do Christmas. But here, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the festival season. For me, Thanksgiving is an excuse to have fun. Since I’m not an American citizen, the patriotism isn’t there for me.
In general, I think Americans do up their holidays way bigger and better than Canadians. Canadians have kind of a subdued culture; we’re more easygoing and more introverted. We just don’t celebrate as big as Americans do.
I only knew about Thanksgiving through media; there were always Thanksgiving episodes on TV. I remember seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and thinking it was so odd that Santa Claus came at the end.
One year, in early December, we celebrated “Hallow-Thanks-Mas” — a friend of a friend came up with the concept. We blended three holidays into one, a random mismatch of a good time. Last February, one of my friends randomly held a Thanksgiving dinner in February; made a huge spread, tons of food and had a ton of people over. That’s how our friends do it; it’s not so much the tradition.
My wife is a professional triathlete, and we pretty much pig out. Eat whatever you want. The last couple of years it’s been eat, relax, play some games, go for a run, go for a bike ride, do whatever. Go for it. I’ve volunteered at Columbia Track Club races or participated in running events. I’m thankful for health, good health. I’m thankful I’m healthy.
Joyce’s Pumpkin Pie
Courtesy of Steve MacIntyre
16-ounce can pumpkin, puree
¾ cup loose brown sugar (scant)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons treacle (or molasses)
1½ cups cream
¼ cup brandy
Prepare crust using Kurt Ebert’s shortbread pastry recipe and line a 10-inch fluted tart pan or pie pan that has been oiled with cooking spray. Form a high fluted edge. Chill.
Mix sugar and spices together. Add to pumpkin puree. Stir in eggs, syrup, cream and brandy into pumpkin mixture. Gently pour mixture into chilled, unbaked shell of Kurt’s shortbread pastry and bake at 375 degrees until set, about 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve pie topped with whipped cream.
Kurt’s Shortbread Pastry
Courtesy of Steve MacIntyre
2⅓ cups powdered sugar
2⅓ cups bread flour
2⅓ cups pastry flour
2⅓ cups corn starch
2¼ cups unsalted butter, chilled but not frozen
1–2 drops vanilla
Sift all dry ingredients together and blend well. Incorporate butter using mixer and dough hook. Stop when the dough forms large chunks that readily stick together to form a smooth dough. Do not overwork dough or it will become crumbly and impossible to roll out. Chill dough at least 30 minutes before use. If frozen, allow dough to thaw overnight in refrigerator before use.
Spray interior of pastry pan with cooking spray. Roll pastry to approximately ¼-inch thickness on a chilled marble slab. Line pastry pan with dough. Don’t worry if pastry breaks; simply press broken pieces together. Do not use liquid for patching.
This dough freezes well.