Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thanksgiving Cometh Early

Good grief, its Thanksgiving already?
I love Thanksgiving.  From the food and festivities to the friends and family who sit around our dinner table, this day is my single favorite one of the entire year.  Growing up in my family it was the "it" holiday, far surpassing Christmas as a day to enjoy.  As if the day wasn't already special enough, Sidney was born on Thanksgiving Day 2009 adding a whole new meaning to the term "being thankful".  For our first Thanksgiving in Albania we went all out with food and friends. It hindsight it was a bit much so last year we "downsized" to a more reasonable yet still festive gathering.  And because Thanksgiving and its accompanying turkey, fixings, and pies are the quintessential American meal, we've often replicated the typical Thanksgiving feast for representational dinners over the past two years.  This means I've roasted a lot of turkeys during my time in Albania. So because of turkey fatigue, this year I vowed to go very simple and cook a single turkey for a small gathering of our closest friends for Thanksgiving.  That was my plan and I was sticking to it............until things changed.
Last winter I had the opportunity to be profiled in (Albanian) Living magazine, the equivalent of Martha Stewart Living, where I shared our American Christmas traditions.  When the magazine approached me this year to talk about Thanksgiving, I immediately jumped since the offer was just too good to refuse.  This is my favorite holiday after all!  The wheels in my head began to work overtime right away.  But that is when things got interesting since the first matter of business was to procure the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast, the turkey.  Having vowed to not over-do it with turkey this year, our usual stash of Butterballs imported from Kosovo via Germany and the United States was depleted.  Turkeys are popular in Albania at New Year but difficult to find during the remaining months of the year.  However, a couple of phone calls later and I found a friend who knew someone who knew the meat buyer at a local grocery chain who would in turn be able to special order a fresh turkey for me and import it from Italy.  (It may sound confusing but the whole process was just so Albanian).  The only question I was asked was "how big" to which I responded "as big as you can get".  The old adage of being careful for what one wishes for certainly applies here since the following week a 30 pound turkey arrived on my doorsteps. Yes, 30 pounds.  Let's just say that birdie was so big that I questioned whether or not it would even fit inside my American-sized oven.  Fortunately it did.  Just barely, but it did.  I stuck it in the freezer and continued with my planning.
After series of phone calls and reschedulings, list making activities and shopping trips we were good to go.  I hauled out all of my Thanksgiving decorations and dishes.  To make it authentic, we invited close friends to join us for a mock holiday dinner that would capture the essence and spirit of the American Thanksgiving tradition.  I picked a menu.  And then revised it a time or two.  Because the beast of a bird was now frozen, we set about defrosting it in the refrigerator days before the big meal.  Much to my surprise I was able to find most of the ingredients I needed in a single store.  Three days before the dinner I started cooking and now I was a bit anxious about how my food would look.  I rarely worry about taste but when the meal is being photographed appearance is what it is all about.  Pie crust, always the bane of my cooking existence, and I fought a battle and this time I won.  The plan was to have the photographer arrive a few hours before dinner to start take pictures of the preparations and to stage the food.  When our guests arrived we would sit at the table and have mock toasts and pretend to eat.  After the photographer departed we would finally be allowed to dig into our food.  All of the logistics worried me and I was particularly concerned about the food growing cold while the pictures were taken.  Glenn assured me that everything would work out yet still I worried.
The day of the dinner came and in typical fashion, things just fell into place.  Thanks to Glenn, the monster bird was stuffed and in the oven at the correct time.  Because it was so big it took longer to roast than I had anticipated but that was actually all right.  Since I didn't need to have all of the food ready to serve at the same time I didn't have the usual pressure of getting my timing just so.  I was actually relaxed in the kitchen (which in itself made me a bit nervous!).  We staged the food and took pictures in a leisurely fashion. I explained the American Thanksgiving tradition and used Google to pull up pictures of traditional Thanksgiving symbols looked like.  By the time our guests arrived we were ready to move onto the toasts.  We briefed them on the plan then we sat down and gave toasts.  Sidney, always a wild card in any planned activity, was a ham, cooperated and smiled nicely for the camera.  Glenn donned my apron and carved the monster bird.  All went well.  When the crew from the magazine packed up and left I reheated a few dishes, Glenn poured more wine and we ate.  Despite the messy kitchen, at the end of the night I felt that the evening was a success.
So I have one Thanksgiving down and (somehow) another one is still to come. I'll be blogging about my actual recipes in my food blog during the month of November so stay tuned.  By the time the magazine article is published we'll still be finishing up the leftovers of this turkey and I'll be planning another Thanksgiving dinner.  I'll be hunting for another (smaller) turkey and searching out my other key ingredients.  And I said I was only hosting one dinner this year?  I foolishly believed it but Glenn knew better!  Maybe next year it will be true.

Monster Bird

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