Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving

It's that turkey time of the year in America. It's taken me a decade and a half and now, I am finally resigned to having my once-a-year-big-bird in November instead of at Christmastime.

Probably because I did not grow up here, I'm not always loyal to the traditions. That of watching the Macy's parade, having turkey at 4pm, then settling in to burp and fall asleep in front of a football game on TV. In fact, I whisk my family off to Europe every few years - it's the perfect four-day long weekend devoid of airport chaos because most travelers are heading to the domestic terminals instead.

Yet, Thanksgiving is a time for gathering and is a cherished moment for me for one particular reason. It brings out the warmest welcome in America because we invite or get invited to celebrate this festive holiday that unites all Americans. Whether it is the tailor from Turkmenistan, the driver from Afghanistan or the nanny from Honduras, almost everyone will be joyfully sitting down to a family dinner of turkey with all its trimmings.

In my first year here, I trooped along with the church's singles fellowship to a home in Teaneck, New Jersey. In fact, whenever we drive by Teaneck, I would reminisce about my first Thanksgiving. I had been invited by a lovely Lebanese couple who generously took in the singles with no nearby relatives. It's a constant theme year after year. We throw open our home to others, come one come all, so that no one has to be alone that night. My husband and I have, over the years, invited friends over for fellowship and dinner. This year, we have added on a family newly arrived from Sweden and another family from New Mexico by way of England. And to illustrate how transient it can all be, we may never be in touch with those we once broke bread with for years to come. I don't think I would recognize half the girls I rode in the car with back in 1996, but that is not to say I would ever forget that one truly enjoyable evening around a warm fireplace.

I take pride in cooking the meal but have given up on apple pie. Comes to show, I am never going to be a true-blue American because I fail so miserably with that one all-American dish. My recipes vary from year to year, mostly from the free booklet that Williams- Sonoma distributes annually, as well as the November issues of Gourmet and Bon Appetit...alas, those publications are no longer the way they used to be. I must say my favorite recipe has always been the turkey with butter seasoned with maple syrup and coriander.

Friends offer to bring something. One year, a friend was tasked with bringing the seasonal cinnamon ice cream from Haagen-Dazs. He took my instructions "Enough for 20" so seriously that he came the night before hauling an industrial-sized canister of ice cream - we had to clear out the freezer to squeeze the tub in.

Shopping for groceries during this mad rush allows one to witness the quirky, cantankerous Seinfeld characters in the city. Many years ago, I shopped at Fairways on the Upper West Side the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Crazy shoppers were having trolley wars and fighting for the elevators, yelling at one another with their pseudo-intellectual sarcastic remarks. Then, there is always the debate about what type of turkey.....free range? (tough and gamey)....organic? ($5 per pound, but is organic gonna save my health just one night?)....frozen Butterball (cheap and still quite good). Each time I select the bird, I would inevitably recall my childhood. My father once drove home with a boxed up live Christmas turkey and let him go in the backyard. The turkey squawked and gurgled the whole night, my mother had to isolate him in the bathroom at the back, only to have the bird dirty the entire floor with 'wet mud', whatever it was.

Yet for all my years of roasting a turkey, I have only done this once for my father. The following year, he exclaimed that my sister's new concept of deep-fried turkey was more impressive. Back to roasting, my sister gave me a fool-proof tip which I use to this day, "Bacon on the breast and butter under the armpits." Puzzled friends would say, "Um, excuse me?" Sounds raunchy but it will give you a moist bird.

Happy Thanksgiving.



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