Yes. I know I really botched up the words of that song. But with the odd concurrence of Thanksgiving and the first light of Chanukah falling on the same night, and our first trip back to Rochester since departing for Detroit, my family feels like they are going through some surreal times.
Rochesterians, very well-meaning and sincere, actually said it to me:
“Are you glad to be home?”
The word “home” was not something I expected to hear out of the mouths of my many Rochesterian friends and acquaintances I saw in the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving.
This is a homecoming of a sort. For my kids. Because after I checked off every last detail of what to pack, what to turn off and turn down in our new house. After the kids packed whatever they needed to eat and entertain themselves in the car. After the last seat belt had been clicked and the six-hour trek from Detroit to Rochester lay before us, my children said it:
“We are going home.”
Yes. Rochester is their home. Where they spent the better part of their formative years. It’s where two of three of them took their first steps and all of them lost their first teeth. It’s where their friends live who know them best. Who share some weird private jokes, shared histories, and their own strange way of talking in a fake accent.
For me, Rochester is not home. New York City is home. Or is it? I haven’t lived in the area for almost 20 years.
I am trying to make Detroit home. But it’s tough to make it home when we leave it for holidays. It’s not a home if there are no aromas of turkey and stuffing , and this year, the smell of potato latkes frying in a pan, and the sounds of grandparents, siblings and cousins hanging out in the family room. It’s just a house we live in.
Because home is where you go for the holidays. And if the majority of family do not live in your current city of residence, like the way smaller celestial bodies are drawn to larger ones in the universe, the pull is greater the other way. So home we must go.
Still, Rochester feels a lot like home now that we no longer live here. Yesterday, we spent the day in some old familiar places trying to catch up with as many people as possible. We got hugs everywhere. We are missed. And thought of. I lost track of how many hugs I gave and received. It truly was a homecoming.
But there are places you really cannot return. My youngest wanted to go into his old house. That, we told him, was off limits. He was able to peek into the downstairs family room and said he didn’t like how the new owners painted it blue.
The big kids tried to
loiter in visit their old high school. To them, that was home too. They had it all planned out. They would enter the building in the morning, loaded backpacks slung on backs and blend into the stream of hundreds of other teens before the morning homeroom bell. Either in the library or cafeteria they would study and receive friends, and hugs, during their free periods.
But their old principal, who had known them since their elementary school days, apparently never forgets a face. And, knowing that these two faces had moved to Detroit, he kindly but firmly told them that new high school policy forbids non students to visit during school hours. But he gave them a valiant A for effort.
Sometimes, you really can’t go home.
Everyone in my nuclear family loves LOVES pumpkin pie. And for only the second time in 12 years, my pumpkin-pie eating little family of five will not be going over the NY Thruway and through any tunnels or bridges to New York City. Nope, as much as we love seeing the family and sitting in 10 hours of traffic, this year, we are staying put.
When you are Transplantednorth, there are some disadvantages of being a nuclear family in a town where it seems you are surrounded by friends who all have extended family in town. Come holidays like Thanksgiving, you once again become the disappearing transplant.
I’m not complaining, really. This was my choice to stay “home.” But can a place be home where there are no extended family within 300 miles? The rest of the year, Rochester indeed feels like home. Come holidays, without aunts, uncles cousins and grandparents around, it can feel like how the Ingalls family must have felt on the wild, windblown frontier.
But this is a story about pareve pumpkin pie.
One small advantage of staying put (okay my kids will think a big advantage) is that at our Thanksgiving table, we’ll have pumpkin pie.
As much as she has tried to like it, my mom does not like anything pumpkin. My kids, however, can’t get enough of the orange stuff. I put it in breads, waffles and pancakes. I even made a pumpkin challah just so I can make pumpkin challah stuffing.
But, most of you know that pumpkin pie calls for milk, cream, condensed milk, or some other dairy ingredient. This poses a challenge to Jewish families like ours who observe the dietary laws of keeping kosher.
There are ways to get around the dairy dilemma by finding pareve ingredients.
What is pareve? Not many know. It is so esoteric, the word does not appear in the WordPress spellcheck.
It’s a term meaning food that is neither meat or dairy. It’s neutral. Like Switzerland. Does it taste as creamy and delicious as real cream? No. But, I’d rather have an imitation dairy dessert any day than serving a Tofurky at my Thanksgiving feast!
Here is the recipe. I based it on a recipe used from Martha Stewart Living, I just replaced the dairy ingredients with some stuff called Coffee Rich, found in the frozen section of most grocery stores. For those of you in upstate New York, I found this chemical-laden substance at Tops, and not Wegmans this year. But I still love you, Wegmans.
All-purpose flour, for surface
- Pate Brisee for Traditional Pumpkin Pie
- 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
- 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 Cup Pareve Nondairy Creamer, like Coffee Rich
- Ground cloves
- Whipped cream, for serving
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll pate brisee disk 1/8 inch thick, then cut into a 16-inch circle. Fit circle into a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold edges under. Shape large, loose half circles at edge of dough, then fold into a wavelike pattern to create a fluted edge. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes. Cut a circle of parchment, at least 16 inches wide, and fit into pie shell. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. – Buy a premade Pareve piecrust. Bake until edges of crust begin to turn gold, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
- Meanwhile, whisk pumpkin, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, creamer, and a pinch of cloves in a large bowl.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 50 to 55 minutes. (If crust browns too quickly, tent edges with a strip of foil folded in half lengthwise.) Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (preferably overnight.
Thank goodness for Thanksgiving. The long weekend affords most of us a breather from modern life’s breakneck pace. We pause to focus on coming together with family and friends, preparing a meal, tossing a football and sleeping late in your own bed.
But, if you are like my family – transplants – Thanksgiving means hitting the road. Or, heaven forbid, the airports. That is the only way the family-coming-together aspect of the holiday happens for us.
In our case, traveling is not as idyllic as over the river and through the woods. It’s more like Down the Thruway and over the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island We Go. Where there are hardly any woods left to go through.
For eleven years now, we have traveled to see our family every Thanksgiving but one. This is another consequence of being Transplantednorth. If you leave the area where one’s family roots are still entrenched, the roads are rarely traversed the other way. It’s just expected. We are the only part of the family “upstate.” We left. Everyone else still lives Home — the New York Metro Area. Or, in a term I only learned when transplantednorth – “downstate.”
And on Thanksgiving, just as the larger planet pulls on its smaller orbiting moons, down the Thruway we go.
One especially hectic year, we stayed in Rochester for Thanksgiving. The weather was beautiful – warm even — and we spent a relaxing weekend feasting and playing into the evening at the Brighton Town Hall playground. I prepared perhaps the only Thanksgiving feast I will ever make. I made the turkey on the barbecue. I made a chestnut stuffing ala Martha Stewart. Everything tasted delicious. But the lonely looks on my childrens’ faces taught me a lesson: Thanksgiving tables are too empty without grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
So, after traveling for 11 years with two and then three kids in tow, I have become thankful for a thing or two on what I have learned and would like to share them with you, especially if you are a novice at parenting on the go:
- I am thankful that cries for Sippy cup refills and diaper changes have been replaced by three contented souls in the back who can pass snacks to each other, operate the remote to the car DVD player, and participate in family sing downs and games of 20 Questions.
- I am thankful for every rest stop we have discovered between here and there, especially to kind workers who have supplied us with buckets, hoses and slop sinks for carsickness cleanups. Really, if you do have a kid that gets sick in the car, find a truck stop like the Flying J Travel Plazas that have showers and washing machines. The folks there are all too kind to help you in your distress.
- I am thankful that we finally come “home,” we have relatives who bound down steps and out into driveways to greet us, no matter the lateness of the hour.
In our 11 years of travelling down to New York City, here are my family’s dos and don’ts when traveling the Western New York-to-New York City Route:
- DO strap everything down very carefully. On our first trip back to Rochester, on a windy, windy passage of Route 78 in New Jersey, our Peg Perego Stroller came loose and flew off our roof rack. One minute, there it was, and then it was on the side of the road, thankfully killing or injuring no one in its catapulted flight.
- If you are traveling with very young children that might become carsick, but may not alert you at the most opportune time that they will become carsick, DO pack a puke kit. This kit includes a roll of paper towels, a bottle of Lysol all-purpose liquid cleaner, and a change of clothes that is easily accessible.
- If traveling with those same small children, DO invest in one of those Art Cart on the Go Tables that can be placed over a child’s lap. The Art Cart has legs that double as side pockets that keep paper, crayons and markers handy. Or, in the worst case scenario, those pockets also can come to the aid of the carsick child. I speak from experience.
- For a meal break, DO stop in Scranton or Dickson City, Pa. It is exit 191 A or B on Route 81. Home of The Office, it is a great little town to stop for meals. If we hit Scranton for lunch or dinner, we eat at Tonalteca. The place is clean, the decor features hand crafted carved booths from Mexican artisans, and there are plenty of choices for vegetarians. The guacamole is outstanding. And, for those of you who get stir crazy in the car, they play great salsa music in the bathroom. If they have the security camera going by the sinks in the ladies room, they might have footage of me doing some salsa steps I learned in Zumba for all I know. Anything to work off that guacamole.
- DON’T stop in the Poconos for any reason. There really is no place to stop. The gas stations for bathrooms have nothing more than outhouses or bathrooms around back that you have to carry in those huge keys for admittance. And, if you see a billboard for The Cheesecake Factory, don’t believe it. No, it isn’t The Cheesecake Factory, the upscale eatery. It’s just – a cheesecake factory. So, unless you want to sit in your car with your family consuming a cheesecake for a meal, ignore the sign and keep driving.
- DO find the small village of Whitney Point along Route 81 and stop at Aiellos Italian Restaurant for the best pizza you can find in Western NY. And I am not saying this is good pizza for Western New York. I mean, this is thin-crust Brooklyn Pizza that somehow found its way to Western New York. And, the quaint restaurant in the back will be decked in its Christmas decorations this time of year. You won’t want to miss out on this.
And as for traffic…..
- DON’T be anywhere near Binghamton or Syracuse on Sunday afternoon if you can at all avoid it: college kids coming back from Thanksgiving break.
- DON’T go near the Delaware Water Gap if you don’t want to get stuck in traffic during peak hours
- DON’T go over the George Washington Bridge or traverse the Cross Bronx Expressway. Ever.
Safe travels to you and a very happy Thanksgiving.
By now, in Western New York, the fall foliage has long reached its peak of yellows and reds.
Now, when I look up at the massive sugar maples in my neighborhood (the ones that are covered with snow in my homepage picture), sadly the branches are mostly bare. The only color they will be covered with over the next four months or so, is white.
Wherever you are living now, I bet you are thinking: how to get rid of all the leaves? Rake them? Mulch them? Sick the leaf blower on them?
But before you rake, blow, or mow every last leaf away and before the snows fall, admire the carpets of red and yellow that lie at your feet.
Then, save a few of nature’s castoffs for craft supplies that can last the whole winter through. Here’s how:
- First, find a preschooler to help you with this task. They are low to the ground and can teach you how to appreciate the simple, beautiful perfection that is found in one leaf that is the color of fire.
- Then, show that preschooler a telephone book. Theirs will probably the last generation that will actually come in contact with one of these volumes of bound, thin yellow paper volumes. None of them I bet ever had a parent use them as a makeshift booster seat or a stepstool. Show them that these yellow or white clunky books were once used by people to look up numbers for plumbers or dog groomers but now come in handy for pressing leaves.
- Next take a few of your leafy treasures and pat them dry with a paper towel, and place them between the pages of the book.
- While the leaves are drying and pressing, read to them a wonderful book like Leaf Man, by Lois Ehlert to get inspiration as to what to do with all those pressed leaves.
Our preschool class used leaves to represent the feathers of turkeys in our thanksgiving cards, like this:
Send me your comments and pictures about what you made with your leaves.