Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. It always gave me a bit of a kick to walk into the local supermarket and see the special shelves set up, all laden with everything a person could need for Thanksgiving Dinner. It meant that the long, dreadful Arizona summer was over and that the good weather was on the way—the cool, sunny days and the wonderfully chilly nights. The locals would be digging out their sweaters while the Snowbirds—winter residents from chillier parts of the US, would be wandering aimlessly down the aisles, trying to get the measure of an unfamiliar store. Another bonus was a four-day break from work, which, since my employers were tight-fisted when it came to leave, was very welcome. The best thing of all, though, was spending the day with family.
But, family aside, the centerpiece of Thanksgiving is the meal. It was fascinating to see the amazing variety of dishes people would serve—some delicious, some so horrifying in concept that I couldn’t bring myself to even try them. More on that in a moment. We always opted for a very traditional dinner, which my Dad would cook, with some contributions from me (my homemade turkey gravy). So, when it was time to sit down for dinner, after a long afternoon watching television, drinking wine and smelling enticing aromas from the kitchen, we’d sit down to: turkey, roast potatoes, green bean casserole, other vegetables (I can never remember because I was all over that green bean casserole) and my dad’s homemade sage and onion stuffing. Mum would always have a tin of yams all to herself, because the rest of us weren’t keen on those. Then, of course, there was my excellent turkey gravy and the wobbling tower of cranberry jelly. It was all wonderful. This mammoth plateful was followed by a choice of pumpkin pie or apple pie. Pumpkin pie for me every time. I remember having Thanksgiving Dinner at my sister’s and, afterwards, we went to her friends’ house for dessert, which turned out to be a selection of half a dozen pies. My head just about exploded from trying to decide which to go for. I needed a block and tackle to get me down the drive and into the car after that.
There is one Thanksgiving standard that never made it to our table, for which I am truly grateful. That was the abomination that is the sweet potato casserole. I know it’s very popular but I’m picky, I don’t want dessert on the same plate as my main course. The combination of canned sweet potatoes, canned pineapple, pecans and marshmallows just horrified me. It was almost as bad as the childhood memory of Jello salad with shreds of carrots suspended in coloured gelatin. I can still ‘feel’ those bits of carrot, so at odds with the Jello.
So, I guess, being a bit too fond of food, it’s often food that brings back memories. The sight, the smell, the taste can be so evocative. This little excerpt from ‘Orion Rising’, I hope shows what food can do.
The doors swung open, releasing a draught of damp, humid air.
“Good, eh?” Clarkson chuckled.
I stood on the threshold and stared into the long, cavernous space, at the tidy rows of green—more living plants than I had seen in my lifetime. Half a dozen workers in overalls moved between the rows, adjusting lights, pruning, watering.
“Bloody hell.” I recognised the scent of life, of rich soil and hope. Something inside me lifted. I stared at the man beside me and couldn’t say any more.
“You really don’t say much, do you? Hodgkins did say something to that effect.”
Someone carefully placed onions into a basket—big, round white bulbs with thick, trailing stalks. The aroma erased the memory of last night’s canteen meal.
“A lot of hard work. It’s completely self-contained. Everything this place needs is provided by the station. If all goes well, we’ll have enough food to feed thirty staff for a good number of years—as long as you don’t mind a vegetarian diet.”
“No skin off my nose.” I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten anything that wasn’t tinned, preserved, freeze dried or pickled. Most of the green things had disappeared before I was born.
We wandered along a broad aisle, past beds filled with onions, leeks and, beneath sunlight array, a forest of tomatoes. The vines bent under the weight of the ripening fruit. Clarkson paused to admire a bush heavy with small, ripe tomatoes. They gleamed like rubies in the soft light.
“Here, try one.” He pressed a small fruit into my hand and took one for himself. I watched him pop it into his mouth. One cheek bulged while he slowly savoured it. I bit into mine and felt warm juice trickle down my throat. The tomato was sweet and tasted of summers I’d only read about. I was torn between gulping it down or trying to make it last.
Clarkson reached towards another vine, where the tomatoes were plump and smooth. “These are even better.” He took a bite and handed the rest to me. “Plum tomatoes.”
He watched me while I bit into it. All I could do was nod and try not to let the juice run down my chin. “Jesus.”
I nodded and dabbed an errant drop at the corner of my mouth. “Very good.”
“You’ve never had tomatoes before?”
“Only out of a tin. It doesn’t taste like the same thing.”
“When you’ve settled in a bit, you can come to dinner, in my quarters. I think I can get a few of these.”
Blurb for Orion Rising:
Michael and Paul fight to survive in a land frozen by endless winter. Will the ice between them thaw once and for all?
Michael Wright has given up thinking he's anything more than a number-cruncher. When he's summoned to verify the outcome of renowned meteorologist, Paul Clarkson's latest research Michael is happy to escape the drudgery of a grey cubicle at the Met Office.
At Station 17 he finds himself working side by side with a brilliant scientist and charismatic man who stirs a lot more than respect. The attraction is mutual but, after a few snatched hours of passion, internal politics and a vengeful adversary tear them apart.
When Michael returns to Station 17 two years later he discovers that the world isn't the only thing that's changed. Paul is forbiddingly distant and the fire that once burned between them has turned to ice. The violence of deadly storm reignites their relationship - but will the disastrous aftermath of another destroy their love once and for all?