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Celebrating Thanksgiving with the foods & plants of the Americas

Celebrating Thanksgiving with the foods & plants of the Americas


Thanksgiving Dinner

New World Foods: Thanksgiving Dinner

Many plants we take for granted that originated in the New World have become such important food staples and have affected nearly every culture’s cuisine. So much so that we often forget that foods we associate with different countries had their origins in the Americas.

The same can be said for many ornamental plants now grown in gardens around the world.

So, I think it would be fun this Thanksgiving to look at some of the foods we eat for this holiday and the plants we use to decorate our homes, all of which makes this a truly American holiday and tradition.

The feature of the Thanksgiving Day Menu is, of course, the turkey. The largest game bird in North America, the turkey did not originate in Turkey, as some believe. So, how did it get its name? The Spaniards came back to the Old World with numerous plants and animals, including the turkey. At that time, many goods came to the rest of Europe via Constantinople, a major distribution center that was strategic in its location on the trade routes between Asia and Europe. The North American bird we now know as “turkey” eventually worked its way East and was distributed to the rest of Europe through Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. Because almost anything coming out of Constantinople in Turkey would have a tag of “Turkey” attached to it, like Turkish rugs, etc., the name attached to the turkey by the English was Turkey coq, later shortened to turkey.

If we proceed down through the menu, probably the most universally featured side dish on the Thanksgiving Dinner menu would be mashed potatoes.

Although we often associate potatoes with the Irish and Ireland, potatoes actually originated in South America. They are an important food staple around the world, so much so that the country of Ireland adopted the potato as its own, both to its benefit and its downfall. The potato was such an important crop that it allowed the Irish to thrive and helped to contribute to a population explosion in Ireland. The Potato Famine of the mid-19th century, which was brought on by Potato Blight,  so obliterated the crop that many in Ireland moved to North America in a vast migration that left more Irish in the US and Canada than in Ireland itself.  So, if you have Irish ancestors, when you sit down to grub on those mashed potatoes, consider how you and your family have come to celebrate an American holiday this Thanksgiving.

Another featured item on the menu is the cranberry. Whether in relish, whole sauce or jellied, cranberries are  purely North American in origin. Previously, cranberries were pretty much used only around the holidays. With the many health benefits as an antioxidant and a urinary tract cleanser,  the cranberry is a staple as juice or a food source year-around.

Candied, mashed or baked or in a pie, sweet potatoes are another staple on the Thanksgiving menu.

A distant relative of the regular potato, sweet potatoes also originated in South America, but in the more tropical, frost-free regions. Columbus found the local Native Americans growing them in the Caribbean islands he discovered, so they were already spreading from their countries of origins even then.

Other items commonly found on the Thanksgiving Day menu include green beans or corn prepared in different ways. Often the corn is prepared in a casserole also featuring another New World food: diced sweet  peppers.

Of course, Thanksgiving would not be complete without the traditional pumpkin pie. Pumpkins, a member of the squash family, are also a very American food.

Now, the decorations at the Thanksgiving table might include pumpkins and various leaves in arrangements including the leaves of the sugar or red maple, various gourds, cattails.  And if you are lucky,  the arrangement might also include American Bittersweet, which is a plant so rare that it is on the endangered species list.

Another plant that you might find around this time of the year is the Thanksgiving Cactus, a relative of the Christmas Cactus that originated in Brazil.

So, there you have it!  Celebrate the food and plant contributions of the Americas this Thanksgiving, and a Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much!

I have a facebook page. Noticed a theme going on there lately about positive vs negative outlooks and happiness in general.

It seems that for many of us, we never understand that the world doesn’t pee on us to be peeing on us. There isn’t a perpetual storm cloud hanging over our heads. It is not that someone else or fate or God, whomever, has pre-determined what will be our lot in life.

Now, I’m not talking about the disabilities that many people have to cope with. Even then, speak to many disabled people, and they are more apt to count their blessings than curse their state.

It’s all about mental attitude. I know, beat me over the head with a dirty broom, but it IS true that it is all about your perceptions of a situation: Is the glass half full or half empty? How a person sees it determines how they accept the curve balls that life will undoubtedly throw in their direction. And getting back to that, no, this is not a contradiction to my second paragraph. Most stuff that happens to us is a result of our own actions or lack of the same. Other stuff is random. It’s a non-discriminatory roll of the dice if a tornado hits the house, etc. But how we choose to react to events and how we roll with the punches depends on our outlook.

Now, no one wants a tornado to rip a home and its memories apart. But, let’s just say that two of your neighbors both took a direct hit. While both of them will mourn the loss of their homes and irreplaceable possessions, the neighbor with the positive outlook will also be grateful that no one was hurt and will also have the attitude that they will start over and while it will be a challenge, it will also be a new adventure: New house, new possessions, etc.

The neighbor with the negative outlook will gnash his teeth and wail about how this load of crap was tossed on his head of no doing of his own. Well, yes, but it’s the same load of crap that the neighbor behind him also experienced. The difference is in how he handles it. The negative person stews about it. The positive person cuts his losses and rolls up his sleeves and sets about doing something about it.

I know we have all met someone who, at first glance, doesn’t stand out.  Maybe they are plain, maybe they are overweight. But they have a zest for life, and that draws people to them. Spend five minutes in their company, and they start to look beautiful to the eye as well as within. They have a personal radiance and happiness that shines like a beacon. And they make you feel good about yourself, too.

That brings me to my next point:

Happiness does not grow on trees–we’ve all heard that before. Again, throw a shoe at me for saying it! But, it’s so true. Happiness comes from within. Each one of us is responsible for our own happiness. If we don’t love ourselves first, develop that strong sense of self and the happiness that comes from that, how can we expect others to be drawn to us??

Many of us have a fear of being alone. We all are alone whether we realize it or not. Married, single, living with a roommate, we are still alone in many ways. We share moments with our loved ones and friends, we may share a bed at night with a lover or spouse. But, we are basically on this trip alone. How to overcome that loneliness? I believe that by learning to enjoy the solitude of being by youself comes from liking yourself first. Once a person develops a strong sense of self and loves himself first, loneliness is usually not an issue. Granted, you may not have someone to cuddle with on a cold night, but you will have people who remain important to you and who will gravitate towards you and be there for you even if they aren’t sharing the same space.

For years, I had a little signature tag with the saying, “Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much”. You see it everywhere. I also have a wall plaque over the entranceway to my dining area visible from the living room with that expression on it. It’s not just a cutesy expression, either. Those three short phrases sum it all up for me.

Life is too short to be unhappy and to piss and moan about it and to think the world is peeing on my head. I don’t know about anyone else, but I refuse to go down that path: Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much!.