The Many Dimensions of Thanksgiving

By Mike Waters


The cultural tapestry of the Bay Area is rich and varied and contains cross-sections of the many peoples and cultures that make up our America. Living here, we are privileged to have immediate access to a myriad of perspectives on the holidays we celebrate. Thanksgiving is one of those holidays; it has a multidimensional story that is complex — and important to weave into our general understanding of our world and each other.

Thanksgiving has it all: family, friends, food, and of course… football. But, I struggle with it. Its literal history is linked to the beginnings of this country when the original peoples of “Turtle Island” were not really thanked and a meal was not actually shared. During the modern celebration, I hold a space of gratitude for and pay homage to those peoples who came before us and cared for this land.

One tradition unique to San Francisco and one that gives us the opportunity to pay homage in community is the Indigenous People Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz. This one-day event commemorates the 1969-71 occupation of Alcatraz by the “Indians of All Tribes.”  To give you an idea of how early the ceremony starts, ferry tickets go on sale starting at 3:00 a.m. and run until 6:00 a.m.*

I’ll be honest with you, this is just too darn early for me. But, I go, in spirit.

Several thousand First Nation peoples and spectators attend the gathering each year. The dances before sunrise honor the ancestors as well as represent the various cultures present. Speakers cover the sovereign rights of Indigenous Americans. The ceremony is meant to counter the mainstream story of Thanksgiving by retelling the experiences of colonization and how First Nations everywhere have defended and continue to assert their cultural rights.

At a more reasonable hour, but still early in the day, Ernesto, the kids, and I love to sneak into San Francisco where it is so deserted, you can hear a pin drop. We enjoy feeling like we have the City all to ourselves. We go to Land’s End and take in the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Often the weather is actually warm, the last gentle sighs of “Indian Summer,” which makes sitting at Ocean Beach a rare pleasure.

We end our day at a Perez-Arana family gathering where each of us brings a dish to share — our communally-prepared meal. This year, it’s our job to bring the ham!

Whatever your feelings are this holiday season, and however you choose to celebrate, I wish you love, light, good food, family connections, and community!

— Catherine Baldi


*Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz is open to the public. Details:   

Creating the Setting for Thanksgiving
By Laura Martin Bovard,

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There’s so much pressure to produce all of this food; plus, the worry over who’s coming; who will sit next to whom or who won’t; how the house will look, etc. While all of the details need attention, we can also take a wider view and ask: How do we create the memory of what we want this experience of Thanksgiving to be, for our family, our friends, ourselves?

Here Are My 5 Tips to Help Make Your Thanksgiving Amazing — for You and Your Community

1. Set the table first thing in the morning.
I always set my table first, even before I start cooking the food. Doing this allows me to linger on the process and expand my enjoyment in creating the setting for our dining experience. Also, allowing the house to be beautiful long before my guests arrive nourishes me as I work on putting the other elements together over the course of the day.

2. Bring the outside, in.
When setting the table, using elements from the outdoors for centerpieces is always a great strategy; place a tree branch, with fruit or seed pods, or dried leaves, as a centerpiece.

3. Try Tradish with a Modern twist.
When a table is set beautifully, it makes people feel special. Here’s a fun, easy way to play with the traditional tablescape that gives your dinner a Modern chic vibe: Start with a white tablecloth. Get a roll of black paper to place down the center as your runner. Decorate with white pumpkins, bleached deer antlers, and turkey feathers.

4. Set an extra seat for a mystery guest.
Setting an extra seat is like welcoming a surprise, telling the Universe you are open and flexible, allowing for spontaneity. Or, fill that seat! Is there someone new you could invite? Or someone on your guest list whom you could encourage to bring a friend?

5. Ask a question.
Creating community through beauty is one of my favorite acts, connecting through thoughtful questions over a beautiful meal is another. Thanksgiving is the perfect time, of course, to ask your guests what they are thankful for. Try this: Put out rustic carved-wood pencils that look like twigs, with beautiful cards for writing answers. Collect the cards in a large glass bowl or vase before the meal begins — and then take turns passing the vase, picking and reading cards out loud, during dessert.

Bonus Tip: Break your own rules — or mine.
I used to think I had to make every single thing, to set every flower with my own hands. Today, I don’t exert as much control, and I like it that way. I let it be what it’s going to be. Whatever you do, what your guests will remember is the love you put into welcoming them into your home.

Holiday Recipes From Local Chef Hugh Groman
Featured on:

Smoked salmon wrapped around fresh goat cheese

6 oz fresh goat cheese

1/2 lb. smoked salmon, thinly sliced

1 bunch fresh chives, sliced thin

1/2 bunch fresh tarragon

black pepper to taste

(serves 12)

Slice salmon into 1/2-inch strips.  Scoop 1-1/2 teaspoon-sized balls of goat cheese. Wrap with strips of smoked salmon. Coat both exposed ends with sliced chives. Top with ground pepper and 1 leaf of fresh tarragon. May be made one day ahead.

Frittata of yams and aged cheddar with brown butter and sage

10 large eggs

3/8 cup heavy cream

2 oz unsalted butter, heated until starting to brown. Add sage and saute until just leaves just start to crisp (better to undercook than overcook)

1/3 bunch sage leaves, chopped into large pieces

1 lb yams, peeled, sliced, and roasted at 400 degrees with olive oil, salt, and pepper until cooked through

1 large red onion, diced, and roasted at 400 degrees with olive oil, salt, and pepper until cooked through and lightly caramelized

5 oz aged white cheddar, grated

1 oz grated parmesan cheese

1 stem rosemary, picked and chopped (optional)

3 stems fresh thyme, picked and chopped (optional)

1/4 bunch of chives, sliced thin

1/2 teaspoon salt (for eggs)

black pepper to taste (for eggs)

pinch of cayenne pepper

Crack eggs and mix with cream, brown butter, sage, salt, pepper and cayenne. Use a 13” by 9” (size approximate) baking dish. Sprinkle grated cheddar on the bottom. Layer in roasted yams and roasted onions. Sprinkle herbs over top and pour egg mixture over all. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in 375-degree oven about 20 minutes or until eggs are set. Let cool and cut into bite sized pieces to serve. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Crab salad with parmesan and thyme on baguette crisps

8 oz fresh crab meat picked over to remove any shells

1/4 cup mayonnaise, or to taste

2 sprigs fresh thyme, picked and chopped

1/3 bunch fresh chives, sliced fine

1 oz grated parmesan, or to taste

Salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, to taste.

1 baguette sliced thin (1/4” thick), toasted with generous amount of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper in 325-degree oven until just starting to turn golden (about 15 minutes)

Combine crab, mayonnaise, thyme, chives, parmesan, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add more salt if needed. Put a dollop of crab salad on each baguette toast and serve. Assemble crab toasts no more than 1 hour before guests arrive (and better right before they arrive) to keep baguette toasts crisp.

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