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Cooking With Myra: Be thankful for what you have

Nov. 22, 2011 at 5:22 a.m.

Stuffed Pumpkin with Wild Rice, Mushrooms and Cranberries

Stuffed Pumpkin with Wild Rice, Mushrooms and Cranberries

1 pie pumpkin cut in half through the stem

¼ cup butter

1 onion, finely chopped

3 oz. pancetta, chopped (or bacon)

8 oz. mushrooms, quartered

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup brown basmati, wild rice mixture

2 ½ cups chicken stock or water

Chopped parsley to garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the fibers and seeds on both halves. Put in a roasting pan and smear with 1 tablespoon butter. Season with salt and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in saucepan and saute onion until soft. Add the pancetta, mushrooms, and the rest of the butter and saute until the mushrooms turn brown. Stir in the rice to coat, season with salt and pepper and slowly add stock or water. Bring to a boil and cover with lid. Lower heat and cook for 15 minutes. Leave the lid on for the full 15 minutes.

Add cranberries and gently mix. Spoon the rice stuffing mix into the pumpkin. Cover with foil. Return to the oven for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Garnish with fresh parsley. The flesh of the pumpkin should be tender. Continue to roast if the flesh is not soft. The top of the pumpkin will be golden. Serve this as a side dish. Each pumpkin half will serve 4 adults. This recipe will serve 8.

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.

- Cicero

By Myra Starkey

I cannot remember my first Thanksgiving, although I know it was surely filled with friends and family.

In our family, the holiday traditions are almost sacred, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, and being part of the family means being present and involved in this yearly congregation of the relatives. There could hardly be an acceptable excuse short of death for one's absence. During the holiday season, I have always been surrounded by family, and for this, I am truly thankful.

I was blessed to grow up in a town where one set of my grandparents lived. Maw Maw and Paw Paw lived just 15 minutes from my house, and my sisters and I spent a lot of time there. They were my father's parents, and my dad was an only child, so my sisters and I had them to ourselves.

On most Sundays, we ate lunch at my grandparents' house immediately following church. We all attended Trinity Baptist Church in downtown Lake Charles, and they lived just minutes away. Somehow, my grandmother could prepare a piping hot meal within minutes of us arriving from church, and this was before the invention of the microwave oven.

Maw Maw started the meal preparation the night before, and sometimes we got to spend Saturday night at their house. She allowed all three girls to take part in rolling dough for pies or rolling dumplings for chicken and dumplings or flouring chicken for frying.

She would put on her apron and then put an apron on each of us. Of course, on us, these would hang to almost our feet since we were little kids. And we would have to stand on chairs to reach the countertop. And we probably made a mess. We might have slowed her down a bit, but she never seemed to care. It was as if there was nothing more in the whole world that she would rather be doing than cooking with her young granddaughters.

Those Sundays around the dining room table were taken for granted when I was a child. I remember sitting in the oak chairs on top of encyclopedias, so I could reach the table. My grandmother would often use her good china with a blue and gold edge. My parents and grandparents would linger long after the meal was over just visiting and catching up on the activities of the week before. My sisters and I would leave the table and go play hide and seek in the back part of the house. If the weather was good, they might let us run around outside among the hydrangea bushes, which were large enough to either hide in or to use as a "safe base" if we were playing tag.

Even the average Sunday lunch was special, but holidays were all the better because they seemed to call for a gathering of relatives from far and near in one place. Holidays are sort of like family reunions except that it's only for your closest relatives, and it's pretty much the same group every year unless there is an occasion of a marriage, birth or death.

Thanksgiving would generally take place at my parents' house, with my mom preparing the turkey and the relatives filling in with all the sides.

My father had the kind habit of also inviting many non-relatives to the event. These were people who he knew would otherwise be alone on that day, and to him, it just didn't seem right that anyone should eat by themselves on such a day. It is hard to feel as thankful on Thanksgiving when one dines alone.

Our house would be filled with so many people, they were sitting on floors, on the stairs and on the porches. My mom would say that my dad would bring them in from the "highways and the hedges." I think our count one year was 75 people. I remember that my father would treat these strangers like family the best he could.

My mom hated to use paper plates, so we served on real plates, and everyone took turns in the kitchen washing dishes after the meal was over. Many folks stayed to watch football in the afternoon, or take short naps before eating one more time prior to their trip home.

I think I may have taken those childhood holiday meals for granted, since I now realize how difficult it is to get everyone together at the same time. It is sometimes hard to enjoy the moment of such events like Thanksgiving when so many other things compete for our attention.

I found myself stressing over the Thursday meal while shopping early on Sunday evening with the throngs of other mothers and grandmothers, who would be preparing their special feast. I had to stop and remember that the food is not the most important part of the day. I do really enjoy the meal and fellowship, but the reason for the holiday is to give thanks to God for all he has given us, as our health and good fortune is often beyond our control.

Most everyone will bake a turkey or a ham, or continue some other family tradition on Thursday. I found a recipe for a beautiful stuffed pumpkin filled with wild rice that I thought would be a great side dish this year. I'll add that to the green beans with bacon, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, fresh cranberry sauce, homemade rolls and pumpkin pie. I am making myself hungry just thinking about the meal to come.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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