Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving American (?) Style

Today is American Thanksgiving.  In recent years Thanksgiving has become the eve of Black Friday, an all out sale extravaganza that marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  Traditionally, however,  it is a day to give thanks for all we are grateful for.  There are so many things I am thankful for- my family, friends, and as I age, my health- these are just a few of the things I must not take for granted.

Living overseas, Thanksgiving has snuck up on me this year.  When Glenn and I were first talking about this year's impending holiday, we realized that it would be the first one since we have known each other where we weren't doing the multi-family shuffle up and down Interstate 95 (another thing we are thankful for- not having to spend hours upon hours stuck in traffic).

For me, Thanksgiving has always been about family, friends, and friends that are like family.  Since we will be without our blood family this year, we decided share our American Thanksgiving with our adopted Albanian family- those people we see on a daily basis who make our lives possible.  What started out as an invitation the the Americans and Albanians in both of our offices has morphed into a dining extravaganza for 25.  We've included our housekeeper and our nanny and their respective families since none of what we do would be possible without their dedication and hard work.  Our two "adopted"  Marines from the Embassy's Marine Security Guard contingent were invited along with their co-workers and a smattering of girlfriends.

So how did we do this?  With the support of GSO and the previously mentioned housekeeper we crammed three dining room tables into our representational space.  The intermittent, and notoriously unreliable mail pouch came through with my "last minute" linens order.  Glenn discovered his crafty side as he went to work (under my supervision) putting together homemade turkey, wheat sheaf,  and pumpkin shaped place cards to keep the seating under control and eliminate any language barriers.

I began crafting my menu a month ago with an execution strategy that would put military planning to shame.  Turkeys and ham were purloined from the military commissary in Kosovo while sweet potatoes were brought back from Naples, Italy by traveling friends.  A lack of pecans and fresh cranberries in Albania resulted in the traditional pumpkin pie becoming a maple-walnut pie (Walnuts must be bought whole here then shelled)  and imported cranberry sauce from a can.  Pumpkin pie was made from my precious stash of canned pumpkin that I had packed into our consumable goods.  To accommodate all tastes and dietary restrictions, new dishes were added and some seasonings toned down.  Traditional recipes from both my family and Glenn's were included on the menu.   I added a few new dishes that will become part of our little family's tradition.  My mother spent one day of her visit making seven pie crusts which greatly expedited the production and baking of desserts.  The entire family learned the best techniques for roasting and shelling pounds (or kilograms) of fresh chestnuts.  A borrowed turkey roaster and my trusty crockpot allowed all the items to be cooked and served hot.

I began the actual cooking process a week ago, freezing and storing things as I went.  On more than one occasion I questioned my sanity at the wisdom of this whole event.  In the end, however, I believe it was worth it.  Our guests came and ate and shared our holiday with us. Yes, it was crazy and a bit chaotic but isn't that what the holidays are really about?  What better way to introduce such an American holiday to Albanians.

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