Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

thankful

the feast!

So Thanksgiving happened, and it was a grand success – or at least good enough to eat the leftovers in two days. It was quiet and cozy, just like it always is at home. We had just four people around the little dining room table – Asa, Elisabeth, my friend Michelle, and myself of course – which is just how I like it. I didn’t even mess up the turkey roulades, though there was a brief panic moment when I opened the package from the butcher to find an in-tact chest cavity (complete with aorta!) instead of the neat, boneless breasts I’d been expecting. Luckily, Fali (what a name for a butcher!) is a lovely man and was perfectly willing to chop it up for me when I went back to see what could be done. And even though I accidentally got fava beans instead of green beans, and I ran out of time before I could do the gravy, and a million other little things, by the time we were all sitting together it just didn’t matter.

I have to say, I was initially expecting some serious homesickness on the day. In the week leading up to our Friday night feast, I was aching to get back to Portland, if just for the holiday meal. I went through most of last week in a bit of a daze. See, I may joke a lot about my love of Thanksgiving stemming from my inner fat kid, but if I’m honest (and a little sappy) it’s more the family time I’m in to. The dinner is great, sure, but I wouldn’t mind giving all the food away in exchange for wine-soaked bickering with my mom over dirty dishes, a knowing smile and roll of the eyes from my dad when I ask him to run to the store for the fifth time, and my sister sneaking a taste of the desserts when she thinks I’m not looking. That’s Thanksgiving to me – loud, bustling, dirty, imperfect Thanksgiving, and I didn’t think any imitation I could slap together here would stand up to the real thing.

Of course, my holiday wasn’t anything like my family’s version. That experience is unique to that specific group of people. I couldn’t recreate it in any other setting. But what I got was just as good. I don’t think I realized before we all sat down to the huge meal I’d made on my own, in my host mother’s kitchen, just how much this place feels like home. Asa and Elisabeth are my family now. This third-floor walk-up apartment on the river is where I live. I haven’t lost my roots back in Oregon, but after almost three months in Sevilla I feel like I belong here. And that’s never been clearer to me than when I was shoveling my second helping of stuffing into my mouth. It was the most American meal I’ve had in months, but it was my meal, made in my adopted home in my adopted city. I’ll never be all Spanish – you can’t change where you’re from – but this place is part of my DNA now.

A while ago, Asa, Elisabeth, and I were browsing the fish selection at a market on Calle Feria. Asa asked one of the vendors about his salmon, and the woman behind her in line began giving her all sorts of suggestions. “In Spain, we traditionally like to grill them a la plancha,” the woman said, somewhat bossily. “If you want to experience real Spanish culture, that’s how you should cook  them.” Of course, Asa didn’t need this woman to tell her that – she’s lived in Spain since she was nine years old. But later, as we sat down to salmoneta filets for lunch, Asa just shrugged it off, smiling.

“You can’t get rid of who you are,” she said. “I’m Swedish. I was raised in a Swedish household. No matter how long I live here, people will be able to look at me and know I’m not Spanish. But who says that’s a bad thing? We all have our roots.”

That’s how I feel about my life here in Sevilla. I will never fool these people into thinking I’m a native. Even if I live here for forty more years, I’ll still have a faint accent. I’ll still love stuffing and pumpkin pie and wearing hoodies when it’s cold out. But I can make myself a part of the landscape here. And on this Monday evening, just a few days after Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the opportunity.

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tradition eats turkey on thanksgiving

bon appetit 1999, from tomfolio.com

My family is definitely non-traditional. In my lifetime, we have lived in four houses in three states, all in completely different areas of the country. My father has been a doctor, a lawyer, and some sort of business consultant (sorry Dad, I really have no idea what you call it) – and that’s just in my lifetime. My mom is a lady badass in the traditionally male-dominated field of medicine. My 13-year-old sister is into photography and writing fan fiction about talking cats (or something). We’re just too busy for big holiday traditions. To be honest, we sort of just shrug off Christmas most of the time. We don’t have a secret fruitcake recipe, passed down from generation to generation. We don’t do big family holiday get-togethers with kids’ tables and white elephant gifts. We don’t do blazing fires and chestnuts and caroling and hot cocoa. Sometimes Addie and I make weird gingerbread houses – Christmas in the Ninth Ward is a memorable example – but usually we just hang up a couple of dusty stockings and wrap presents in Wheat Thins boxes.

But what we lack in Christmas spirit, we make up for in Thanksgiving obsession.

I don’t think anybody in the world loves Thanksgiving as much as I do. I’m not sure how we as a family got so into it, but I know it has something to do with my mom, a Bon Appetit subscription, and her college roommates. Still, it’s grown to epic proportions in recent years as my interest in cooking has taken hold. This is a take-no-prisoners, no-dish-left-behind sort of deal. One year, when the last Thursday in November turned out to be the coldest, rainiest, windiest day yet, my mom spent 10 hours on our deck, smoking the turkey on a charcoal grill. We ate around 11 that year, but it was the best turkey EVER.

So this is serious. Planning begins the moment we wake up from our Halloween candy-induced sugar comas. We pull out every November issue of Bon Appetit since 1987 and lay them out on the floor, flipping through page after page of potatoes, stuffings, and pies until a menu takes form. We don’t mess around either – there might only be five of us around the table come dinner time, but there’s at least ten dishes in front of us. And an extra batch of stuffing in the freezer for later. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

And as that night is rapidly approaching, I’m finding myself a smidge homesick. I’ve been abroad for Thanksgiving before, but last time I was on a beach in Uruguay, eating barbecue with no idea what day it was. South American summer tends to make you forget it’s late fall back home. But here, the weather won’t let me forget that I ought to be thinking about whether to brine or dry rub my bird this year.

Luckily, my host family is as interested in having a taste (or twelve) of this amazing American feast as I am in cooking it. This Friday night, I’ll be serving up Thanksgiving Lite for a group of Swedes and Spaniards. It’ll be my first time cooking Thanksgiving alone, but I’m confident I can do it. To see my menu, read on!

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