Thanksgiving 101

One evening we were sitting around with our Portuguese pals after a feast of Sapateira (a stone crab dish), Lulas (Squid), and various adult beverages, the subject was holidays. Our pals were fascinated by Thanksgiving, but just didn’t grasp the concept. We tried to explain what a typical Thanksgiving was; Macy’s Parade, huge amounts of food, bickering families and football. No religion, no celebrating the overthrow of government, just a holiday remembering a bunch of English people landing somewhere in Massachusetts and being really hungry so the Native Americans shared their food and way of living only to be rewarded by death and destruction. For some reason they just didn’t get it. To help them understand this most important U.S. holiday, we invited them to a real down home American Thanksgiving Dinner. No bacalhau allowed, in fact nothing Portuguese allowed, except wine; we aren’t crazy we welcome Portuguese wine to wash down the cranberry sauce and green bean casserole.

When in the U.S., I bought essentials for the dinner such as jellied cranberry sauce (my favorite) and Knor Turkey Gravy Mix (my dirty gravy secret) and tiny marshmallows in case we needed them for a sweet potato dish. The citizen made the list of what we would need and translated the ingredients into Portuguese. We shopped for two weeks and needed two taxi rides home instead of the bus because we had bags and bags of everything to remake dishes from family memories and recipes from the internet. For the poultry seasoning I was able to use the herbs from the garden. It was so cool to be able to go to my terraco and cut my little herbs instead of going to Publix and grab a jar of it when I already had three jars of in the cabinet, this happened every year in the States.

I was tasked with making a Pumpkin Pie from something other than pumpkin from a can and crust from the freezer section and I was terrified. A practice pie needed to be made. I am not a very good baker. Set me up with dinner for eighteen and as long as someone else does the dessert…fine. But, pies are not my piece of cake. I roasted the pumpkin, mashed it by hand, made it into a puree and made a really nice crust. With no electronic devices except a stove. It was good, really good. My excuse is I brought my Grandmother’s big mixing bowl and rolling pin with me to Portugal and before I started I sent up a request that she help me out with it. Thanks Lillian, but I always was her favorite.

The turkey was pre-ordered and we picked it up the day before. The turkey lived outdoors a few kilometers from our house and had a nice little life before it became dinner. The butcher hangs out at the Asia Bar and we know him, but we didn’t realize that until we picked up the turkey. So this was one of the fancy organic free range turkeys that cost me seventy dollars my last Thanksgiving in the U.S., but here it’s a normal everyday turkey and was thirty dollars for fifteen pounds of lusciousness. It took me about an hour to pluck the stray feathers off with my tweezers, you know what I always say, “a nice glass of vinho branco (white wine) makes work a pleasure.”

We were ready. In my heirloom pearls and velvet dress (because in America June Cleaver wears pearls for Thanksgiving) I greeted the guests. The citizen made apple cider from twenty five beautiful apples, simmering them with spices and putting the entire batch through cheesecloth. It was warming on the stove as a welcome drink for our guests on a cool evening. With a shot of brandy and a dollop of whipped crème, it was Americana through and through. They hated it. The cheese balls disappeared like an army of mice had invaded and the candied nuts (mind you all of this is made from scratch) had them addicted.

Thanksgiving lesson, eat, eat

Seated around the table, the fifteen pound stuffing filled turkey proudly in the center, surrounded by a good assortment of the type of side dishes you would see on every table in America, our Portuguese friends were hungry and confused. Jazz in the background (very American), everyone began to dig in and ask all sorts of questions. They could not get over that it wasn’t a religious holiday, it was just some strange made-up holiday that only the U.S. has, but you get four days off and have great food and party like crazy with your family and friends. They bought into the concept big time. I have learned living here that Portuguese have to be the best holiday-makers on earth, so a four day holiday would be very appealing, even if they had to drink a hot apple beverage.

Instead of asking for gravy, we passed the molho de carne, everyone had seconds of the peru (Carlos likes the dark meat, Ana and I like the wings) but all in all it was pretty darn American. Rita did bring a cheesecake which was more popular than the pumpkin pie, but hey, it’s cheesecake, who wouldn’t like it better than pumpkin pie? And, my second attempt at the pumpkin pie was not as good as the first. Guess it was beginners luck, or Grandma was busy. After eating like, well, eating like it was Thanksgiving, stuffed as our little bird was just hours before, our friends asked us when next year’s dinner was going to be. I think it will take me longer than a year to recover from that extravaganza. Besides, Sunday is Christmas and I promised to do it again…only this time it is an English style Christmas feast, with real English people. What exactly is figgy pudding?

3 Responses to Thanksgiving 101

  1. Mrs. Keith Olbermann

    Oh Constance, I do miss you. Christmas isn’t the same, but your Portuguese friends will definitely enjoy it more with you. Are you doing “crackers” and little paper hats? We are having a prime rib and maybe lasagna this year. Mrs. Olbermann will be welcoming little junior home, and we shall experiment with the cooking ourselves. Mocha cake for Papa — his request.

    My best to you and Kev. My dear wonderful friends. Much Love, MKO

  2. I love this story Constance.

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