Although my family and I spent Thanksgiving several hundred miles apart, we still managed to find a place to spend with “family” on that American of American holidays.
Papa and the girls actually had 3 feast meals within a week of each other, so he did not have to do much cooking.
Mama and Lu Ming enjoyed helping our lovely hosts prepare a meal that was nearly all-American, and spent it with some new local friends.
When it comes to cooking traditional American style food on holidays, a little bit of creativity is in order.
For example, turkey is hard, expensive or impossible to come by, so you decide what else you can live with as the main dish. In our case, it was KFC-style spicy fried chicken from a local Chinese place owned by a friend.
Although, we did go to the aforementioned Jenny Lou’s Grocery, filled with all things imported (including a cereal aisle one wall long, Betty Crocker cake mixes and icing–and inflated prices to match), and found some cooked turkey breast that we used in the stuffing.
That’s one nice thing about a capital city with around 17 million inhabitants–pretty much anything can be found for a price. Such as: macaroni and cheese, marshmallows, scented candles…
But back to the Feast.
Another thing the queen of the kitchen does is save certain foods for just such occassions, such as cans of cranberries and a couple of boxes of Jello for the red relish, or US style brown sugar for the sweet potatoes. What is sold as brown sugar here is called red sugar, and is very dark with much higher molasses content. So you have to cut it half and half with white sugar, which is also different and much more moist than our usual dry granulated sugar.
If you haven’t saved a couple of cans of Libby’s for the pumpkin pie, you steam some whole pumpkin and mash it for the recipe.
And of course you have to make your pie crust from scratch, if you want it. With butter bought at certain stores, since shortening is even harder and more expensive to find than butter.
You figure out how to substitute certain ingredients for your favorite recipes, such as replacing buttermilk with milk and vinegar (since lemon juice is also hard to find while buttermilk is impossible), and decide how much icing you really need if you are baking a cake, since powdered sugar is an unusual commodity…
And the end result? A bit more work, but well worth it on selected occassions when the smells and sights of bygone times are so meaningful.
We also want to impress on our children the importance of having our own family traditions, even if a bit different than in suburban America. It is the familiar that we cling to when our worlds are rocked off balance, and provide some balance as we are floundering to find footing in a new culture.