Since my repatriation to America, Thanksgiving has become my very favorite holiday here. This is partly because of a tweak that I make to the menu, but we’ll get to that later.
I wasn’t always so thankful for Thanksgiving. I only celebrated this American holiday twice while living abroad for many years, first in England and then in Japan — and to be honest, I didn’t really miss it.
Both celebrations took place when I was pursuing graduate studies at a British university.
The first time was for my very first Thanksgiving away from my family. I joined several other American grad students in preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to serve in the dorm. Our guests were mostly other international students who were curious to experience an authentic version of this quintessentially American custom — as I recall, there were very few Brits.
At one point, a rather bitter argument erupted between Anna, a Harvard-educated woman who was pursuing a higher degree in feminist studies, and Andy, a Georgetown-educated man who was doing an M.A. in politics.
Andy didn’t like the fact that Anna was carving the turkey, proclaiming to the assembled guests:
It can’t be Thanksgiving if a WOMAN is carving the turkey.
I don’t really remember what happened after that — whether Andy insisted upon taking over, or Anna stormed out of the room. But it did cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings.
The food, though, was a close facsimile to the meals I’d enjoyed at home. And the arguing part? That was something I could relate to as well.
And there was snow, which we could see through the huge dorm windows, covering the panoramic Constable (literally) landscape below.
The only other time occurred a few years later, when an American friend came to live in North London on a teaching exchange with the Harrow School.
He, too, was spending his first Thanksgiving away from home, so decided to host a potluck Thanksgiving dinner in his living quarters.
Again, I think the food was good, but as I recall, the guests, most of whom were English, thought that potluck was a funny way to do a formal dinner. And the setting wasn’t exactly conducive to re-creating a New World feast. Walking from Harrow-on-the-Hill station, we passed by boys in the quaint Harrow uniform, including black ties (allegedly they are still in mourning for Queen Victoria!).
My Thankgiving-less years
After that rather harrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist) experience, I stopped doing Thanksgiving. I married a Brit and we invariably went to his family for Christmas dinner, which — probably not coincidentally — resembles the Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Pilgrims. Turkey is the most popular main, cranberry sauce and all. (No pumpkin pie, though!)
Even when we moved to Japan, where there were more Americans, I didn’t reinstate the custom. It seemed too much like hard work competing at the international grocery stores for vastly overpriced frozen turkeys (specially imported for the occasion) and cans of pumpkin.
What’s more — and I probably should have mentioned this earlier — I’ve never been especially keen on turkey. Once, when I was an early teen, I got food poisoning from an undercooked bird, a memory I’ve found hard to erase.
Something else I forgot to mention is that although I enjoy cooking, I’m not a roaster or a baker. I have never achieved the requisite culinary skills to produce a Thanksgiving dinner on my lonesome — even to this day, when I’m living in the U.S. again.
Nor did I especially enjoy the production such a big meal entails. If I’m going to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I’d prefer to be producing something a little less bland than a roasted turkey, such as a Madhur Jaffrey Indian spread.
New thought: Maybe going abroad gave me the chance to escape from Thanksgiving? I wonder…
Giving thanks for Thanksgiving…but for one tweak!
So it is strange, the inordinate fondness I now have for this late November holiday. I like it because, unlike Christmas, it’s secular, so you don’t have to hesitate in wishing someone a happy Thanksgiving. It’s also less commercial, consisting primarily of an elegant meal with family and friends (I’m good at tuning out football).
I even enjoy eating turkey more than I used to — especially the dark meat. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s the sides that American people sometimes tweak. But I like the sides. My absolute favorites are the stuffing and mashed potatoes, in that order.
All of that said, I do feel compelled to make one major tweak because of my hybrid background. Instead of turkey sandwiches the day after, I prefer chirashi-turkey-zushi!!!
Chirashi is Japanese for “scattered” — a scattered bowl of assorted fresh ingredients. Most likely you have tried chirashizushi: a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi (raw fish) and other garnishes. (See #2 in the photo.)
What my (second) husband, who is Japanese, and I like to do, on the day after Thanksgiving, is to substitute leftover turkey for the raw fish.
Chirashi-turkey-zushi is tasty, fast, and easy to make — particularly if you can get ahold of:
- microwavable Japanese rice (use two or three packets for four people)
- chirashi seasoning mix, containing five vegetables — typically, carrots, lotus, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms — sushi vinegar, seasoning, and nori (seaweed).
- Kizami nori (shredded seaweed), to use as a topping.
There are no hard and fast rules as long as you get the seasoning right. And in my (admittedly rather biased) view, turkey goes as well with that seasoning as raw fish does!
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Okay, your turn to tell me: what’s your idiosyncratic contribution to America’s national feast? Or if you’re not American, what do you do to internationalize your native festive spreads this time of year? I’m all ears, and tastebuds…!
STAY TUNED for another Thanksgiving post, by guest blogger Kristin Bair O’Keeffe.
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