Thanksgiving was yesterday and the single thing I am most thankful for this morning is that the day is over. Don't get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving and everything about it. In fact it is my favorite holiday. From the food and festivities to family, friends, and friends who are like family I love it all. But each and every year it is a lot of work. (OK the one year it wasn't a lot of work I was actually in the hospital having just given birth to Sidney so I guess in 2009 it was just a different type of work). Growing up I remember my mom complaining that by the time Thanksgiving dinner was served she didn't have an appetite for the food. Fast forward thirty plus years and I was now in the same boat. After being in the kitchen with the turkey and various side dishes all day, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and eat the food. It was all I smelled throughout the day and when I made a brief escape outside I realized that even I smelled like turkey. Late last night, long after the kitchens were cleaned and the guests had departed, I woke up from a fitful sleep. I was so tired that I just couldn't sleep. And I kept smelling turkey.
This year we had a total of sixteen people at dinner. With ten adults and six kids ranging from ages two through ten it was considerably smaller than last year's celebration which was comprised of twenty-four people (including four Marines who ate a lot) sitting around three tables. This year our guests represented an international cross section and more importantly, were people who we really wanted to share our holiday dinner with. I scaled down the menu from last year; only one big turkey and no ham, one type of dressing instead of two and three different desserts instead of five. In keeping with the American family-style theme we gave our housekeeper the day off and I did all the cooking myself. We even served the meal buffet style in an attempt to keep things simple.
Well, this is Albania so I should know that even the simplest of plans are never quite that simple. I had to scrap my favorite Thanksgiving dishes--fresh cranberry and orange relish, cranberry-walnut bread, and baked sweet potato casserole--since fresh cranberries and sweet potatoes are not available in Albania. The beauty of making multiple dishes is that if one doesn't work out you have a back up. When my one and only bread--- a date and pecan loaf-- crumbled upon slicing, I had nothing to serve in its place. It is a shame that it didn't look better because it tasted so good. As usual Glenn and I debated whether or not we could serve it. I'm of the opinion that presentation is just as important as taste so it shouldn't go on the table. Glenn said it was a family style meal so serving the crumbs would be acceptable. In the end it didn't get served (and its absence actually wasn't noticed).
The dinner itself was a success. It was full of laughter and great conversation and thanks to the presence of the children equally loud and chaotic. (It didn't help matters that my own son was the shrieking ring leader of the bunch who thrived off of being egged on by the others). For some around the table it was their first American style Thanksgiving. For others, it was a repeat event. For Glenn and I, it was reminiscent of holidays at home. It was simultaneously wonderful and sad. We had our traditions and were surrounded by friends but somehow Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without the parade, football games, and yes, as strange as it is, the National Dog Show. In keeping with Brown family tradition however, the men did clean up after dinner while the kids ran amok and the women supervised it all.
Every year I tell myself that the next year's dinner will be quieter and calmer. We'll have fewer guests and less food. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around again, however, I have forgotten the promise I had made to myself and go overboard all over again. Even today, in my post turkey haze (where I've escaped to work just so I don't have to smell turkey), I'm already thinking ahead to next year. Who will we invite to our final Albanian Thanksgiving? What will I serve? Should I try to order fresh sweet potatoes online and see if they arrive through the pouch?
Yes I'm exhausted today and glad Thanksgiving is over but in reality every bit of the chaos was worth it. With the big dinner behind us I can look forward to a relaxing weekend of celebrating Sidney's third birthday and breaking out our Christmas decorations. We plan on putting up our tree this weekend, organizing our guest list for our traditional holiday party and planning for looking forward to our Christmas in Germany. While doing this we will be thinking about and missing our friends and family back home but we are also thankful for the friends and friends who are like family that we have here in Albania. After all, that is what the holidays are really about. And of course we will be eating lots of left over turkey.