today, the globestumbler is busy applicating to universities to become a doctor of words or letters or performance or art. therefore, i have taken over once more to talk to you about food. a few days back there was a holiday that revolves around food. perhaps you’re familiar with it.
thanksgiving day is a historical hotbed of debate. particularly of note are the controversies around origin and imperialism. the ‘schoolchildren’ version of thanksgiving is that it was a harvest celebration where pilgrims, from the mayflower, in funny (and historically inaccurate) hats had a big dinner with native americans because they were good pals. this story leaves out the later ideas of manifest destiny and genocide that lead to the modern united states. in contemporary understanding, pilgrims and puritans all over had various days of thanksgiving after harvests or particularly beneficial occurrences (like landing alive in the new world) and that it wasn’t standardized until well into the twentieth century. incidentally, the day after thanksgiving is native american heritage day, something often overlooked due to black friday, the cult holiday of mammon where worshipers stand in formation outside of businesses until the hour of midnight and then enter frenzy.
for much of my life, thanksgiving was something of a pilgrimage. most of my extended family lived far enough away that i didn’t see them regularly, but close enough that we got together three or four times a year- thanksgiving being one of those times. the fourth thursday in november came with the novelty of traveling to the big city of chicago for three days. the night before thanksgiving we would arrive and have a pizza dinner (always and only at aurelio’s) with most of the family we would be spending the next day with. thanksgiving day the whole family would be at my grandparent’s house in elk grove village, cooking for twenty five (and growing every year) or watching football.
as our family expanded and relocated, there were splinterings. thanksgivings became more diversified. they occurred in several households, often with a communal post-dinner pie gathering in one location. each group of the family improved in their own way on cranberry sauces, turkeys, and pies. the food changed, and the locations changed, but the day was always about seeing family. if only for laughter, music, and pie. dutch families are like corporations in that way: they grow, divide, create new and exciting foods, and repeat. now my aunts, uncles, and parents are grandparents in their own right. i watched the traditional turkey in the midst of thirty relatives transform into a brined, buttered piece of culinary art (i’m looking at my fancy siblings here) and the sights out the window change from the huge pine tree my cousins and i would play ‘lost children’ behind to the firepit my friends and family would gather around and at which we would talk for hours. last year the window became a computer screen through which i joined the globestumbler’s thanksgiving feast in boston. i realized that the day had no particular place or taste. thanksgiving was about the people.
how, then, were the globestumbler and i to re-create this celebration while we were thousands of miles from friends and family?
we looked around and decided that the best way to cook up a holiday was to follow a recipe. the recipe for an out of country thanksgiving is as follows:
- activity that will consume most of the day and require getting up earlier than reasonable to be accomplished by a midday feast.
- hearty food that will fill any empty spaces felt below the neck, including: gravy, mashed potatoes, bread, and buttered vegetables.
- alcohol. because there’s nobody more thankful than someone with a little beer or wine in them.
- connection in some way with the people you love.
for me, the thanksgiving activity had to be cooking.
i love to cook (as should be readily apparent in my previous posts). i woke up at seven, an ungodly hour in greece as witnessed by they couple dozen people i passed still drinking and frolicking from the night before, and went to the grocery store to get what i could for traditional vegetarian thanksgiving. i returned an hour later with mixed results. shiitake mushrooms were nowhere to be found, canned pumpkin was a nonentity, and sweet potatoes were equally unforthcoming. however, what i did find for ingredients made up for the gap by being particularly sentimental. the white wine i found for cooking came from a winery we had recently toured with good friends. i didn’t know what type of flour i was going to be cooking with, but i knew the greek dictionary on my phone called it ‘fibber’ and i was excited to be eating pie made of lies. the apples for the pie came from an old man who looked like my father and gave me a free quince.
the globestumber’s thanksgiving activity was a tradition of hers long before we ever met. she woke up and began to write thank-you notes to our friends and family. this was no small feat, as she went into detail about why they were significant and how important their friendship was over the last year. every year the list has grown, and for the first time it took longer to thank everyone than it did to cook. when i got back with the ingredients and started to roast the garlic for breadbiscuitrolls (we ended up cooking fourteen bulbs of garlic in our thanksgiving dinner, another new record), she was thanking our friends who live abroad in time zones closest to ours. as i was struggling with the shells for pie, she took a break from thanking our family who live in the eastern time zone to bail me out. by the time i was mashing potatoes and pouring the porcini mushroom gravy into the pot pie, she was beginning the long list of friends in the states. as i pulled our feast from the oven, she was only halfway through. it wasn’t until we were in the gap between dinner and dessert that she finally wrapped it all up.
in all, we managed to make thanksgiving from scratch. we had each other and spent the day doing what we loved: reaching out to the people we love and cooking. it was in a warm glow of dutch apple pie, beer, netflix, and this love that we ended our first family holiday abroad, connected to our loved ones with phone lines and held in text boxes.