Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lost Bird: Survivor of Wounded Knee, Betrayed by the White Man

Today is the 122nd anniversary of the  Massacre of Wounded Knee, and for that reason I am re-posting a story that I first posted last April, about a  baby girl of the Lakota tribe who was found alive four days after the massacre under the frozen body of her mother.  Her story is one of the most tragic chapters in the saga of what Native Americans suffered at the hands of the White man.

The Story Behind the Photograph

This antique photo is the most expensive and I think the most interesting one in my collection.  It’s an Imperial—which means a giant version of the cabinet card-- and measures  about 7 by 10 inches;  an albumen print mounted on decorative board.  It was taken in Beatrice, Nebraska by a photographer named Taylor.

As you can see, the photograph shows a handsome, stern-looking military officer in a general’s uniform holding an adorable Native American baby.  The officer is Gen. Leonard Colby who adopted this baby and had the photograph taken—as a public relations gesture.

This baby girl was found alive beneath the frozen body of her mother four days after the killing of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 29, 1890, in what came to be known as the Massacre of Wounded Knee.

She was named “Zintkala Nuni” -- “The Lost Bird” by the tribe’s survivors, who tried to get custody of her, but she was adopted –also as a public relations move -- by  Brigadier General Leonard W. Colby, whose men came to the killing field after the massacre was over.

Over the protests of the Lakotas, he adopted the child, claiming that he was a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  He promised to bring food to the surviving tribe members if they’d give him this living souvenir of Wounded Knee. Then he had this photograph taken.  On the back Colby wrote in lead pencil on the black cardboard, words which are now nearly indecipherable:   “… girl found on the field of Wounded Knee…mother’s back on the fourth day after the battle, was found by me.  She was about 4 or 5 months old and was frozen on her head and feet, but entirely recovered.  The battle occurred Dec. 29, 1890, about fifteen miles walking from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.” 

Gen. Colby adopted the baby without even consulting his wife, Clara Bewick Colby, who was in Washington D.C. at the time, working as a suffragette activist, lecturer, publisher and writer.   The well-meaning adoptive mother brought the infant to Washington where Zintka, as they called her, grew up, buffeted by all the current social trends of the time—women’s suffrage, rejection by her own people, exploitation of her background by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, early silent films and vaudeville. 

As an adolescent, longing to return to the West to learn more about her origins.  Zintka went to Beatrice, Neb., to live with Colby, who by then had left his wife and daughter and married her former nanny.  The girl may have been sexually abused by her adoptive father, because she became pregnant under his care and was shipped off to a prison-like home for pregnant women.  Her infant son was stillborn but the girl was confined to the reformatory for another year.

Zintka returned eventually to her mother in Washington, then married a man who infected her with syphilis.  She tried different careers, including working with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which exploited her Native American background.    She tried to work in vaudeville and the early movie business—dressed as an Indian, of course-- and reportedly may have worked as a prostitute as well.

Zintka had two more children—one died and she gave the other to an Indian woman who, she felt, could take care of him better, because she and her ailing husband were desperately poor.

She fell ill in February of 1920 during an influenza epidemic, and on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, “Lost Bird” died at the age of 29 of the Spanish flu complicated by syphilis.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in California.

The only bright light in Zintka’s story is that her bones were exhumed in 1991, seventy-one years after her death, by the Wounded Knee Survivor’s Association, to be returned to the battlefield and buried with great ceremony while news media and hundreds of Native American descendents watched.  A Lakota woman said, “Lost Bird has returned today to the same place she was taken from.  This means a new beginning, a process of healing is completed.  We can be proud to be a Lakota.  To our sacred children, this means a beginning.”

The story of Lost Bird is so steeped in irony that it reads as a fable of the exploitation and torture of the Native Americans by the white invaders.  On her own trail of tears, during her short life, Zintka was robbed of her name and her mother and any opportunity to learn about her own culture.  Despite her adoptive mother’s love and good intentions, she was terribly unhappy—prevented from going back to the West to find her kin and then sexually abused when she did return to the West. She was exploited and stereotyped by the film and entertainment world, eventually to die before she reached 30.

Lost Bird’s story has been told by Renee Sansom Flood in the 1998 book “Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota”, and Ms. Flood also spurred the effort to find Zintka’s grave and bring her home.  The author was a social worker in South Dakota when a colleague showed her a faded photograph that set her out on her years of research and writing.  That photo, found by the woman working with Renee Flood in an old trunk in her late father’s attic, was the same photo I own today—with Colby’s writing on the back. Renee Flood became so obsessed with telling Lost Bird’s story and bringing her home to be buried with her people that she had recurring dreams of the little girl until she fulfilled her obsession.
I know that owning this historic photograph is a serious responsibility. I, too,  would like to  spread the story of Zintka’s  sad life.  The story of Lost Bird is a vivid illustration of how a faded old photograph, over a century old, can have the power to move people to make discoveries long after the subject and the photographer are dead.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thinking of Angels and the Children of Sandy Hook

One of the folk-art angels in my house
We need to believe in angels right now.  
This became clear to me on the day after the tragic events in Newtown, CT when I saw that an essay I wrote two years ago, called “A Christmas Eve Thought about Angels”—a post I had nearly forgotten about-- had suddenly become the most popular one on my blog . It was no doubt found on Google by people looking for some consolation—or some iota of meaning—in the Sandy Hook tragedy.  (They didn’t find it; the post was inspired by a visit to a cancer clinic with an ailing relative and was based on a bible verse I had learned as a child: ”Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” )
The Newtown massacre of little children by a deranged young man with too many guns is like a Rorschach test. Because so many details are unknown and so many conflicting versions of facts have been reported, we all read our own fears, theories and suspicions into it.  Because no one knows the WHY of it, or how a loving God could let this happen to innocent children, we keep chewing over every detail, trying to find a pattern or a reason, no matter how bizarre.
I’m as obsessed as anyone. Standing in line at Dunking Donuts yesterday, I started weeping because over the P.A. system I heard President Obama reciting the names of the dead children. 
We desperately want to find some consolation in the hope that the six- year-olds who died are now in heaven, being cared for by angels, and that their loved ones will see them again some day.  This has produced in the past week both eloquent statements and moving art, as well as maudlin poems and saccharine paintings of children surrounded by angels, and statements like “God needed 20 more angels on Friday”—clichés which make some people feel better but infuriate others like Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religious scholar and author of “The American Bible.” Who wrote “My Take: Six Things  I don’t want to hear after the Sandy Hook Massacre.” 
One thing he wrote in his essay was: “In the Jewish tradition, it is offensive to bring up the afterlife while in the presence of death. “  I know this is true, but I was both surprised and pleased while, listening to my car radio, I heard the reply of a Rabbi from Newtown when asked “What did you say to the little girl’s mother?”.  He said:  “I told her that personally I believe that the soul is eternal and that she will be reunited with her daughter some day.”
For myself, I do believe that angels exist and that they can intervene in our lives, although I don’t think they show up as luminous beings clothed in white with wings and halos.  I believe that many people are visited by angels —either loved ones who have passed on but still care about us or, sometimes, as living individuals who step in at a critical moment, then disappear, leaving you with the suspicion you have been in the presence of an “angel unawares.”
I ‘m certain that the bereaved parents of these murdered babies will hear from their lost children in various ways, either while asleep or awake, in the months to come, because the child will come to reassure the parent that he or she is all right.

Christmas, of course, is the time when we talk and think most about angels, from the heavenly host announcing the birth of Christ to the guardian angel Clarence who made his wings in “It’s a Wonderful Life” by stopping Jimmy Stewart from killing himself.

Guardian angels have intervened several times in my family’s life in critical situations.  The first was in 1974 when my husband, Nick, drove from our home in Massachusetts to Manhattan after the Thanksgiving holiday.  He had an ulcer that had perforated and he was bleeding internally, although he felt fine.  Stopping to pay at a toll booth in Connecticut, he was suddenly inspired to put on his seat belt which (in those days) he never wore.  Within minutes he passed out, drove the car into a lamppost on the turnpike, and was taken to a hospital where he had three blood transfusions and stayed through Christmas.

At the time I had a newborn and a 3 ½ year old (who woke up at the exact moment of the accident and told me his father was being attacked by sharks).  Between trips to the hospital in Connecticut, I didn’t think about putting up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, when I went to our local tree farm to be greeted by an empty lot except for the most beautiful blue spruce I’d ever seen, marked down to nine dollars.

We were all pretty sure that it was Nick’s mother, Eleni Gatzoyiannis, who had convinced him to put on his seat belt that night. In 1948, in their native Greek village, she was tortured and executed by Communist guerrillas because she engineered the escape of Nick, then nine, and three of his four sisters (a story that Nick told in the book Eleni.)  His mother was still looking after him in 2002, when Nick drove a rented car off the mountain road in his Greek village.  After rolling over, it landed on the only spot where it wouldn’t continue to fall down the mountain into the valley below.

We believe it was also Nick’s mother Eleni who tried to warn us in 1976 of an accident to our five-year-old son, Christos. Five months before it happened I dreamed that, during kindergarten recess, he fell off a rise in Manhattan’s Riverside Park.  I dreamed that his teacher called me, weeping, to say he’d broken his neck.  The dream was so vivid that I woke up Nick who said I was just being neurotic.

The accident happened in exactly the spot I’d dreamed about.  The teacher called me to come at once, but when I got there, my son hadn’t broken his neck, although he was in shock.  When I got him to the hospital I learned that he had two broken wrists, because he put out his hands just in time to break his fall.

When I called Nick at his office, I learned that at 12:15, when the accident happened, he was at a business lunch and had a dizzy spell and thought he was having a heart attack.  Once again, his angel was trying to warn him.

So if guardian angels exist, why did those 20 children at Sandy Hook die, despite the heroic efforts of their teachers and school personnel to save them?  No matter how hard we study the details to find a plan, a reason, a rationale, a motive for this atrocity, we won’t.  But it’s the nature of the human mind to try. 

There’s some solace in learning about the children who managed to survive—the little girl, covered in blood, who emerged from the school to say “Mommy, I’m all right but all of my friends are dead.”  And the six children found sitting in the driveway of a nearby house which happened to belong to a grandfather who was a psychiatrist.  He brought the six children inside, ran upstairs and grabbed an armload of stuffed animals, gave the survivors juice and listened to them say, “We can’t go back to school because our teacher, Miss Soto, is dead.”

It will take a long time for those children to heal, but they will heal, because children are brave and resilient.  It will take the bereaved parents longer—perhaps forever—to heal, but it may be that a belief in angels –or encounters with their own angels—will help them.

One Sandy Hook teacher, Kaitlin Roig, who managed to crowd her class of 15 children into a tiny bathroom and barricade the door, said that the children kept telling her: “I want to live until Christmas.”  Twenty children from their school did not live to see Christmas and their parents are left to deal with the sight of unopened gifts beneath the tree, but for the 15 children in Kaitlin Roig’s classroom, maybe their teacher was an angel unawares.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Hands Tell the Story, or Do They?

I'm in Manhattan for a quick two-day visit and this morning I headed straight for Sotheby's auction house to get a look at the exhibition of "A Show of Hands: Photographs from the Collection of Henry Buhl."
This photograph from the collection is by Herbert Bayer, called "Lonely Metropolitan"

Here's what the Sotheby's catalogue has to say about this amazing collection:

Sotheby’s is pleased to announce the sale of A Show of Hands: Photographs from Collection of Henry Buhl.  The Buhl Collection comprises one of the most significant collections of photographs in private hands today.  Put together with wit, perception, and passion by Henry M. Buhl, the collection shows the hand in a variety of roles—as a vehicle for emotion, an object of scientific study, and a metaphor for the human condition, among many others.  Using hands as a focal point, the collection spans the evolution of the photographic medium, from the 1840s to the present day. 

As you know if you saw my blog post "Found Art -- A Magical Show of Hands"  back in April, I've been fascinated by representations of hands for a long time and have been collecting them -- especially folk art versions, like the "Hand of Christ".  I don't collect hand photographs--although many of my early daguerreotypes show portraits of people with very strange arrangements of their hands, because early photographers spent a great deal of time posing the hands so they would look graceful and not overly large (or foreshortened.)

Henry Buhl's collection of photographs is going on sale at Sotheby's starting tomorrow, Weds. Dec. 12 , as well as two more sessions on Thursday.  I will not be there--I'll be back in Massachusetts, and the estimates on these photographs range from $500 to tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars--putting them all a little above my collecting budget.

But seeing the exhibit reminded me once again how  hands are so laden with emotion, so revealing of character, so completely charged with  meaning,  that after looking at some of the hundreds in the exhibit I was exhausted and emotionally drained.  (Think babies' hands, dismembered hands, bleeding hands, hands caressing and killing, politicians and street beggars extending their hands, rock fans waving their hands in the air, mothers' hands holding out starving babies, fashion models and dancers' hands--and a lot of erotica as well.)

Well, it was quite a morning, but it also got me to thinking about why hands fascinate me so.  

Because I paint portraits, I often cut out of newspapers images of people in the grip of great emotion,  (because you can't get a model to mimic true emotion and hold it) and I've noticed that when people suddenly see something horrific, they almost always put their hand over their mouth.  Like this:

Getty Images

This happens to be a photo of Princess Maxima and Prince Willem Alexander of the Dutch royal family, reacting in horror in May of 2009 when an attacker drove a car into a crowd of spectators.  But if you come across a news photo of bystanders reacting to, say, a corpse in the street, or a terrible accident, you'll see they all have a hand over their mouth. Why?  Why do we instinctively do this?

from Vanity Fair
And here's another photo that caught my attention.  It's President Obama in the situation room telling his security advisers that he has launched the raid that ultimately succeeded in killing Bin Laden.  Notice that every man among his listeners has his hand over his mouth--not in horror, but what are they saying?  Only Hillary is not doing this, but later, when Obama and advisers are watching the raid live on the screen, she has her hand over her mouth in what looks like horror.

I suggest that in the first photo the men listening--the security advisers--are dubious about the  wisdom of the raid but are not about to say anything.  Or perhaps they're afraid it will fail and don't want to share that.  What do you think this gesture, which is sort of a "I'm-thinking-hard" pose, really mean?

That's all I have to say right now about hands, but seeing the Buhl  collection in person was not only exhausting, it was also inspiring, and the photographer in me wants to try a whole lot of new ways to photograph hands to tell a story.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The “Creative” Elves are at it Again!

 Here in North Grafton, MA, our picturesque and historic New England village, I did a double take over a year ago when I drove by the stately Greek Revival mansion up the street from me and noticed that someone had moved in (it was empty for a long time) and painted the front door a striking turquoise. Somehow the jazzy door made my day.

I kept an eye on the mansion at 151 Worcester Street (Rte 140) as it was decorated for the Fourth of July this summer with red, white and blue banners hanging down the two-storey high columns. Then, in Halloween, when it was infested by spiders bigger than Volkswagens and mummies hanging from the windows, I had to find out who was behind this inspired decorating.  So I knocked at the turquoise door.
 Turns out the mansion has been acquired by a team of young design geniuses who call themselves Bergeron Creative Studios, led by Al Bergeron. They are “a nationally recognized, award-winning branding firm” according to their website ,  who have won all sorts of awards for making videos, creating logos, and doing high-tech stuff for their clients that I’m too low-tech to understand.

Nevertheless Dara King, the company’s Social Media Director, kindly gave me a tour of the offices, filled with antiques and ultra-modern furniture and fixtures they’ve designed themselves.   I noticed that the color turquoise has been strategically used on the front stairs and on details of the colonial moldings.

When I complimented Al and Dara on the Halloween décor, they said in unison “Wait till you see what we do for the holidays.”  So last Sunday I was there to watch the unveiling as their photographer, Dan Vaillancourt, recorded the scene.  They had personally built, painted and lighted all four Nutcrackers, each of them eight feet high. Rudolph was peering out the attic window and providentially, just as the photographer snapped the photo, Santa Claus and his reindeer were out on a practice run silhouetted by the moon.
  Al Bergeron setting up one of the nutcrackers
When the Worcester Telegram and Gazette published photos of the Halloween décor in October, Al was quoted as saying, “The Creative Mansion is an iconic and well-known landmark – our seasonal decorations are one way we can give back to the community.”

Another way is by collecting toys for needy kids and Dara wanted me to pass on the word that the Creative Mansion is a drop off for Toys for Tots during this holiday season.
 Taking a final look at their work
Having the Creative Mansion nearby has really enlivened the neighborhood, as every night passers-by are honking their car horns and waving to signal their approval. Not since MGM used Grafton’s village center as the set for the film “Ah Wilderness” in 1935 has there been so much excitement around here. 
"Warning:  contagious ideas beyond this point."
Personally, I can’t wait to see what the Creative Mansion gang will do for Valentine’s Day.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Cemetery Called "Hope"

Tonight is the last meeting of a class I've been taking at the Worcester Art Museum called "Documentary Photography", taught by Norm Eggert -- the same teacher who taught the "Night Photography" class I took a while back.

Tonight we present our final project, and I decided to do mine about Hope Cemetery in Worcester, MA, where the family of my husband Nick is buried--especially since I've been there recently for the funeral of Nick's sister Lillia and her 40-day memorial service in November.

Here are some (not all) of the photos I'm submitting for the project.

A Cemetery Called Hope

Hope Cemetery is the place where my body will be buried.  I like visiting and photographing cemeteries because they’re filled with virtual symbols of love, expressed in the words engraved on the stones, the flowers, candles, flags, toys, burning incense, balloons, statues, birthday cakes, prayers, rosaries,  letters, even bottles of whiskey and un-smoked cigarettes left by visitors on the graves.

All these things are an expression of the hope that one day we may be reunited with our departed loved ones.  No one knows if that’s true, but that’s why “Hope” is an appropriate name for a cemetery. 

The most moving tributes are those left on the stones in the “Garden of the Innocents” bearing the names of infants who died shortly after they were born.  Often these stones are the only record of these babies’ existence.  Although the burials are paid for by the city if the parents can’t afford it, some of these bereaved parents come to their child’s grave for decades and always leave a toy, flower or polished stone to mark their visit.    

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

 I usually write about frivolous subjects, but I can’t do that today after reading about the abduction, torture and execution of 36-year-old Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the mother of 3 children and the former mayor of the small town of Tiquicheo, Mexico.

She was living in Morelia, Mexico on November 12 and was driving her daughter to school when her van was blocked by another car. Attackers pulled her out and began beating her in front of passers-by.  She begged the attackers to spare her daughter and went willingly into their vehicle so that they’d leave the girl alone.  Five days later farm workers found her body in a roadside ditch.  She had been tortured, beaten and burned.

This was the third assassination attempt on Maria—the first two happened while she was the mayor of Tiquicheo and defied the drug family, “La Familia Michoacana” which controls this area of Mexico.  The current drug wars account for at least 50,000 deaths so far—some say it’s double that.   Headless, mutilated bodies turn up in the state of Michoacan almost weekly.  This past weekend 19 bodies were found in the northern border state of Chihuahua.

Maria Gorrostieta was a doctor who studied medicine in Morelia.  She was elected mayor of Tiquicheo as a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2008.  In October 2009, her car was attacked by gunmen and her husband, José Sanchez, died.  Maria was seriously wounded, but defiantly returned to work. Three months later, she was attacked again on the way to a meeting.  The gunmen fired 30 bullets, which wounded Maria’s brother and a reporter.  The  three bullets that hit Maria caused serious wounds that left her in constant pain and forced her to wear a colostomy bag.  In the photo above, she bared her scars to the cameras and said, “I wanted to show them my wounded, mutilated, humiliated body because I’m not ashamed of it, because it is the product of the great misfortunes that have scarred my life, that of my children and my family.” (Like the US press, I cropped out the wounds to her stomach, because they were so grisly.)

After the second attack, she considered quitting but did not.  “It is not possible for me to surrender when I have three children whom I have to educate by setting an example,” she said, “and also because of the memory of the man of my life, the father of my three little ones, the one who was able to teach me the value of things and to fight for them.”

During her time as mayor of Tiquicheo, Maria had a police escort, assigned to her by the government, but her protection was pulled after she left office.

As the press reported after her death, two dozen mayors have been murdered in Mexico since the government’s war on the drug cartels began six years ago. Not surprisingly, few men are willing to run for office, but  Maria Gorrostieta was one of seven women who dared to serve as mayors or police chiefs because no man could be found for the office.  Two of these women were assassinated, a third was kidnapped and is feared dead, and a fourth left her job and fled to the United States.   Now Maria Santos Gorrostieta has joined the list of martyrs, as she knew she would.

Morelia, where she died, was the town where I stayed in February of 2011 while touring with author and chef Susana Trilling of “Seasons of My Heart” to meet indigenous chefs  of the Purepecha Indians and to visit the nearby nature reserve of the Monarch butterflies at La Rosita

Morelia, at the very center of the drug war, is a beautiful city with fascinating history but it was nearly empty of tourists when I was there, even though we students of Susanna Trilling  never felt in danger (because we weren’t.)  But the signs of the drug war—armed citizens and conspicuous groups of armed Federal police—were everywhere.   People of means hired body guards, changed their route to work daily and feared constantly that their children would be kidnapped and held for ransom.

It breaks my heart to see Mexico-- where I have traveled so often, seen so much beauty and fallen in love with the people--suffering from this cruel war which the government seems unable to  stop, but it breaks my hear even more to see women like Maria die horribly and leave their children orphaned every day while the country and its people suffer terribly and the drug lords just get richer.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Amalia Accessorizes

Always precocious, Granddaughter Amalía, almost 15 months old, announced her early entrance into the Terrible Twos with a complete melt-down screaming tantrum while riding in rush-hour traffic through downtown Miami several nights ago.  The reason for the tantrum: she hated the shoes her Mommy had put on her (black Mary Janes.)  The only solution was to hide the offending shoes and let her go barefoot for the rest of the night, since alternate shoes were not available.

After three children and one grandchild, I realize that a baby’s personality is the result of nature, not nurture.  Just as my daughter Eleni got blue eyes from her mother and the won’t-eat-cream-sauces-but-loves-spicy-foods gene from her father, Amalía was born with the expert-at-accessorizing, crazy-about-shoes gene from her Mommy. 
 As soon as she started walking, around ten months old, she insisted on having a purse slung over her arm every time she went out.  If there was no purse handy that coordinated with her outfit, anything that resembled a purse—say a spare shopping bag with handles—would be drafted into use.
 Another essential accessory, one that didn’t even exist when my kids were young, was the cell phone.  Toy cell phones didn’t entertain Amalía for long—she quickly learned how to snatch Mommy’s phone when she wasn’t looking to call Yiayia and Papou.  If they didn’t answer, she’d leave a voice mail (“Hola!  Hola!”)
 But THE accessory, the one that fascinates Amalía wherever she goes, is shoes (which she calls “patos” for “zapatos” since she’s speaking more Spanish than English at the moment.) Even at eleven months old, as we sat in the airport to fly to Greece for summer vacation, Amalia walked around to fellow passengers checking out everyone’s footwear.  This man on the left below offered to trade shoes with her, but she realized her shoes wouldn’t fit him.  The silver pair in the middle photo served well throughout Greece and the pink ones with flowers are the ones she wanted to wear in Florida instead of the solemn black ones that brought on the fearful tantrum,
 Below you see her in the late, lamented “Hello Kitty” sparkly silver shoes that were such a hit in Nicaragua, but one of the pair went AWOL in the new H&M store in South Beach Miami.  The lone survivor will be decking my “shoe tree” come Christmas.
 Halloween, when she wore a ladybug costume, posed a perplexing accessorizing challenge.  You can see that she’s not sure the black cat purse was the right thing for a ladybug ensemble, but the ladybug shoes (sent by her honorary Yiayia Eleni)  were perfect.  The distressed look on Amalía’s face is because  she HATED the antennae on the ladybug costume, (Why do my parents want to dress me like a bug?), but her cooperation was won when baby-sitter Maria José bribed her with a cookie.

 One day in Miami Beach, when one of her Mommy’s strappy green flowered espadrilles broke,  there was an emergency stop at a Parade of Shoes store and Amalía thought she’d died and gone to heaven.  Aisles of shoes, and most of them within reach!  She raced up and down, dragging shoes to show Mommy, sure she would buy them all, but in the end, everything was returned to its spot in the display.
At Thanksgiving at Yiayia and Papou’s house in Grafton, MA, Amalia got her first taste of frosty days and Mommy-and-me knitted dresses and tights from Hanna Andersson.  She made up for the lack of a matching bag with a little yoyo that came out of her holiday cracker, and she even  seemed happy with the afore-mentioned black Mary Jane shoes, because they looked like Mommy’s. 
 Next accessorizing challenge: Christmas.  I have a feeling she’s not going to agree to the reindeer horns.  But she did see some gold, fur-lined boots at Target...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pie Panic and Sneaky Shortcuts for Thanksgiving

Just got back from Miami last night with daughter Eleni and granddaughter Amalía in tow.  Now it's Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, and I'm already a day behind in my annual pie-baking marathon  (The pies pictured above are from LAST Thanksgiving, when I was much more organized.)
For 42 years I’ve been doing Thanksgiving—streamlining the procedure drastically every year because I’m lazy, and my Greek relatives still don’t realize that my special cornbread stuffing comes out of a package (slightly doctored up.)  They spend days making their Greek stuffing, which includes chestnuts, hamburger and a lot of other things.  Amalia's honorary Grandma, "Yiayia Eleni Nikolaides, will be making it for our table this year.  Of course everyone prefers the Greek stuffing, but I still make my cornbread stuffing, because it’s “tradition.”  

Every Thanksgiving I try a different apple pie recipe in the hopes of finding the prize-winning Apple Pie that will bring tears (of joy, not sorrow)  to my family’s eyes.  This year, because I'm back at Weight Watchers' meetings, I'm doing apple pie with a lattice crust and the low-cal Apple Pie Filling I got off Weight Watcher's web site.  You can serve it with no-cal frozen whipped topping (which has no ingredients that ever came near a cow) or, for the more reckless, with vanilla ice cream.

For those who say "calories be damned",  a fabulous Chocolate-Kahlua pie has somehow become a staple of our Thanksgiving. It, too, can be made way ahead. When I make a pumpkin pie—which is really fast and easy…(just take the recipe off the pumpkin can)—I decorate the top with a circle of candy corn left from Halloween. Or Cinnamon Praline Pecans.This year I'm trying a recipe for "Maple Pumpkin Pie with Cinnamon-Maple Whipped Cream" that I cut out of the local paper.  Don't tell Weight Watchers.

 I’ve streamlined the Thanksgiving-cooking process so much that it’s embarrassing. Nowadays magazines and ads on TV make much of the young wife and mother terrified by the complexities of roasting a turkey and serving Thanksgiving dinner to a crowd. I think the whole thing has been vastly over-complicated by the media.So I’m going to share some sneaky shortcuts for a super-easy Thanksgiving, including how to keep children amused (although my children are all grown up now—but still coming home for the holiday.)

The Turkey—don’t stuff it!
 A turkey roasted with the stuffing inside takes much longer and then you have all those risks of food poisoning if you leave the turkey & stuffing un-refrigerated long after taking it out of the oven. Stuffing baked in the turkey comes out soggy. I prepare my stuffing on top of the stove and serve it in a covered casserole. And if you have vegetarian guests, as I often do, you can serve them vegetarian stuffing. 

The directions are on the back of the Pepperidge Farm Corn Bread Stuffing package—Melt 6 TBSP butter in a saucepan, add a cup of chopped celery and a cup of chopped onions, cook for 3 minutes. (Then I throw in sliced mushrooms and maybe this year chopped apples and cook some more. You could also add chopped chestnuts or pecans and crumbled bacon or sausage.)

When everything is softened, you throw in 2 1/2 cups water or broth (if you’re not going for vegetarian) and stir and you’re all done.

As for the turkey—I always get a fresh turkey, even though it costs more, so as not to have to defrost it for days and then find it still frozen in the middle on Turkey Day.  I get my turkey from a local butcher called Sir Loin's and I always quiz them when I pick it up to make sure that the turkey had a happy, cage-free childhood and adolescence and was dispatched in the most humanitarian way--not that that  frees me from the annual lecture from any vegetarian guests. I generally cut an onion and a couple oranges in half and put them in the cavity before putting the turkey in the oven. Put a tent of aluminum foil over it as soon as it gets brown. Every half hour you should baste it with pan juices (You poured broth into the roasting pan at the beginning.) . For the last 15 minutes I baste it with Maple Bourbon Glaze which also gives a nice color.

Green Bean Casserole and Candied Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: I don’t make them. I came to realize that nobody eats them. What I do make is: Parmesan Potato Casserole which is mashed potatoes in a casserole dish with a lot of butter and cheese, cream and eggs stirred in and then you bake it with some cheese and parsley on top. I cook Wild Rice mix straight out of the Uncle Ben box. Artichoke hearts alla Polita with peas and dill. Corn and red pepper casserole. Brown and serve rolls –cook them in the oven after the turkey comes out. (Don’t forget, the turkey needs to sit for a half hour to soak up the juices.) Stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer.

Gravy—open a can.
 I’ve tried about a million “No fail turkey gravy” recipes over the years and I manage to fail every time. Gravy is a big nuisance right at the end of the cooking while everyone’s waiting to eat. What I do is open a couple cans of store-bought turkey gravy, chop up some of the neck and liver of the turkey (which have cooked in the roasting pan alongside the turkey), add a nice splash of some liquor—like sherry—or you can throw in some of the pan juices. Who’s going to know that it came out of a can?

Orange-cranberry relish—you can make this up to a month ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. Everybody loves it and it makes even the driest turkey taste better. Pick over and grind in the blender a one pound bag of cranberries. Grind up a couple oranges—pulp and rind. Mix together with two cups sugar or more. Chill in the refrigerator--the longer it sits the better it tastes. I always make a double recipe.

When the kids were little I would have them cut with scissors a jagged edge for hollowed-out orange halves to make little baskets to hold the cranberry relish—I’d put the baskets surrounding the turkey. Or nowadays I surround the turkey on its platter with green and purple bunches of grapes. 

Pie dough—Pillsbury refrigerated. I don’t have the magic touch for “from scratch” pie crust that grandmas always brag about, and I’ve never had any complaints. When I do some clever crimping around the edge, the pie crust looks completely homemade and tastes fine.

Placecards and menus—Making the placecards or favors is a great way to keep children busy and out of your hair. I used to have mine make favors/place cards that were turkeys fashioned out of (store bought) popcorn balls with a ladyfinger for the head and neck, three toothpick legs to stand, red or orange cellophane tied around the popcorn ball and gathered for a tail.—The three-legged turkey was then stuck in a large flat cookie, where the name would be written using those cake-decorating tubes. The kids really got into making these “resemble’ the person it was for. Now we have creative young guests, Sophie and Natasha Butler-Rahman, making the place cards for Thursday  (Last year they even made those holiday crackers that pop open to reveal goodies inside.)

The centerpiece is always the same—I have a basket shaped like a cornucopia, filled with various fruits, nuts and some fall flowers that have survived in the garden. Couldn’t be easier. Candles in candleholders.  Also I've acquired a bunch of rubber turkey finger puppets which Amalia has already commandeered.  And yes, everyone has to tell what they're thankful for.

I always print out on the computer a small decorative menu for each plate so people know what they’re eating. What they won’t know is how easy it was, unless you tell them.