“I wanted the room to look like a bowl of summer fruit.” Maya Angelou.
We have hosted Thanksgiving for many years now. I always cook yams on this holiday, and the meal is always served on the parlor floor, despite the kitchen being located on the garden level of the house. We live in a three story wood frame house from the 1890’s, and occupy a sort of duplex consisting of the garden and parlor floors. In the past, we rented out the top floor apartment. At present, our son and his girlfriend live in the top floor apartment and help with some of the house expenses. It is a treat for us to have them there, as we age. They stop in and we share a meal, or we watch a tv show together. It feels good to have them physically close.
Before 2015, the Thanksgiving holiday meal was cooked on the garden level. This past year, my son cooked the Thanksgiving meal, using both his own kitchen in the upstairs apartment, and our kitchen on the garden level, overlooking the garden at the back of the house. Josh did prep work upstairs on the days preceding the holiday. On Thanksgiving the action was in the garden kitchen, where early birds could hang out, help a bit, and talk the day away before the rest of the company arrived for appetizers at about 3 pm, and before the meal commenced at about 5 pm.
Our niece, Mollie, from Providence, Rhode Island, usually arrives early, and is one of our best helpers. Mollie once worked as an assistant to Amy Chaplin, a personal chef, cook book author, and food blogger. Mollie, herself, has worked as a personal chef when spending college summers in Maine, and she also worked for a caterer in Maine, too. Food is important to Mollie, who cooks mostly vegan/vegetarian fare, and makes the best tasting and most beautiful looking cakes.
For our Thanksgiving feast, long folding tables, stored in the basement the rest of the year, are unfolded and line the center of the front and middle parlor rooms on the second floor of the house, as if in a banquet hall. We pretty the Home Depot tables up with table cloths and cloth napkins, in the orange, yellow, and brown colors of the fall season. Needless to say, everything that is served, must be carried up from the garden to the parlor floor level, and then back down again, when evening is done.
Besides family, some friends of our son and his girlfriend joined us, two of which were a couple. Shortly after the holiday we received what they called in the olden days, a “bread and butter” thank you note. This lovely, personable couple, who added much to the lively conversation at the dinner table, thanked us for including them in our family feast and making them feel at home. They had brought such wonderful desserts to contribute to our feast, that we really should have sent them a thank you note, too.
One of the things they mentioned in their note, was what a wonderful, colorful house we had, contributing to the warm atmosphere of this holiday meal. At first I felt a bit taken aback. Was my house so colorful that it was garish? We have a lot of prints on the walls, a lot of patterned quilts on the beds, and the color of our bedroom is quite colorful, a color that I cannot even describe. I was going for an orange for the walls, as the room which gets Southern light is like a solarium, and the orange color would add to the glow of the room. But orange is a hard color to pick. If you go too much in one direction, your bedroom may start looking too much like a pumpkin. Let’s just say the actual color is on the pink side of orange.
Sometimes I see the same color in a magazine, tv show, or movie, so I figure it cannot be that bad. And in all actuality, my husband loves the color, and wouldn’t have it any other way. The color is an unusual pick for a bedroom, where most would want a more soothing color like a blue, to sleep by. But we do a lot of living in our bedroom, one of the sunniest rooms of the house. Besides the bed, we now have two big blue wicker chairs with colorful cushions, taken in from the garden for the winter. There is one chair by each of the almost floor to ceiling windows, providing additional spaces for reading, or watching tv.
The front parlor overlooks the street, and the back parlor overlooks the garden, both playing monkey in middle with the middle parlor space, which normally is my desk area. The three parlors combined feel like a loft space, lit up by the Southern light, which fills the entire space. Once the Thanksgiving meal is about to begin, all of our guests pitch in and help carry bowls, and platters up the stairs from the garden level. Everyone has to first walk through our bedroom to get to the dinner tables. From the connected line of tables, most of our guests could view our colorful bedroom if they just looked in that direction.
Today, in the New York Times Sunday real estate section, there is an article about Maya Angelou‘s Harlem brownstone being on the market. Ms. Angelou had died at the age of 86 in May 2014. I’m sure many of you, dear readers, know of her book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The article about her life in this Brownstone in Harlem, goes on to say:
“Though it now sits vacant, the brownstone once shimmered with bursts of color from the artwork Ms. Angelou had collected, and from her choice of decor. Oversize armchairs and couches in the living room on the parlor level were upholstered in bold shades of lime green, tangerine, grape and yellow–“I wanted the room to look like a bowl of summer fruit,” she said in a 2007 interview….” Well I thought, while reading this wonderful quote, if Maya Angelou could feel so strongly about color, so may I.
I thought back to my first apartment at 31 Jane Street, across the street from the Corner Bistro, a bar that to this day serves one of the best burgers in the NYC, long before umami burgers became all the rage. It was a little, “L” shaped studio apartment. But in my mind, there was a living room, a dining room, and a bedroom, as well as the requisite tiny galley kitchen off of the dining area, and bathroom off of the entrance to the apartment.
My “dining room” was located close to the windows, and next to the kitchen. It consisted of a big long wooden table that my mom had bought for me at the yearly Bloomingdales furniture sale. At the store on the sale day, my mom had stood in front of the table to protect it from any other potential purchasers, until a salesperson came to complete the sale.
The “L shape” of the studio apartment was my “Living Room.” It had a sofa on the floor which I had made myself, sewing the wide wale, rust colored corduroy fabric on my Singer sewing machine from a Simplicity pattern. I then stuffed the pieces of the sofa with materials ordered through a mail order company listed on the pattern, and tied the pieces together with material and buckles purchased at a notions store. The rest of the “L” housed an upright player piano without the works inside for playing scrolls of music by itself, which I had bought by calling a phone number on an ad attached to a telephone pole on the streets. The “L” also had book shelves made of standards and brackets, that my dad put up for me on the day that I moved into the apartment. In every place I have lived in since, I would replicate such shelves, having learned from him to see that the standards were plumb and how to drill into a wall and use anchors to hold the screws. Finally, hanging on a wall in the “L” was a print, by the artist Will Barnet, called “Dialogues in Green,” print 141 of 200. I had taken drawing classes with Will Barnet at the Art Student’s League in Manhattan. What I remember most about Mr. Barnet was that he was an exuberant instructor, who had you stand in front of an oversized drawing pad held by an easel, and draw using your whole body, not just your hand, so that drawing the model became a form of dance. I saw this print in a gallery on 6th Avenue in the Village that I would often visit just to browse the prints, and fell in love at first sight. The gallery owner allowed me to pay $25 dollars a week, for 10 weeks in a row, until the purchase price of what I remember to be $250 was paid off. The print was then mine to carry home.
The part of the studio apartment where my bed was located was “the bedroom.” The bed consisted of a mattress on a metal frame on rollers, which annoyingly would always roll away from the wall, which acted as a headboard. I could not afford a real grown up bed, and did not own a wooden bed with both head board and foot board, until well into my marriage. The bed faced the windows, from which there was a fabulous view, this building being much taller than most in the Village. I could see the sun rise every day from the windows. This being the early 70’s, I had tied dyed my own curtains, and the prominent color of those curtains was orange with bits of yellow in the swirls of the tie dyed pattern. The morning sun would come in and light up the entire, little, but mine, all mine, studio apartment. Upon waking up in the morning, I would look at the light in the apartment, colored by the curtains, and think, yes, orange is my favorite color.
Thank you Maya Angelou for all you have done and written in your lifetime. And thank you for your wonderful quote, “I wanted the room to look like a bowl of summer fruit.”
This being a food blog, dear reader, I should leave you with a recipe. I am going to include one that my family expects to see passed around the dining table on Thanksgiving, “Roasted Yams with Citrus and Coriander Butter.” Thank you, Mollie, for preparing this dish for Thanksgiving 2015.
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
- 1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 3 pounds long narrow yams (red skinned sweet potatoes), unpeeled, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into ½ inch thick slices
- 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
- Stir coriander seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until darkened in color and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Cool sees; grind in spice mill or enclose in plastic bag and crush finely with mallet. Place seeds in small bowl. Mix in butter, sugar, orange peel and lemon peel. Season butter with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.)
- Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Spray heavy large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss yams and olive oil in large bowl to coat. Spread yams in single layer on prepared sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate on sheet.)
- Drop butter onto yams in small dollops. Roast until heated through, glazed, and browned, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes (or 25 minutes if refrigerated). Season with salt and pepper. Mound in bowl; sprinkle with parsley.