Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

While I was studying abroad in London during my senior year in college I discovered the peculiar homesickness that suddenly springs on the otherwise happily relocated American when their cherished national holiday comes around in late November. I think the chief reason for this is that Thanksgiving is primarily a family holiday; a day when you gather around with your family and friends to celebrate and share a meal. When you think about it, that simple action isn't really all thatremarkable. In fact when I wastrying to explain it to Georgians here I realized how truly unremarkable that all is, since that particular description of events happens about every week here. But beyond just a gathering of family for a recognized day ofthankfulness it is the knowledge that all of your neighbors and their friends and people across your country are partaking in the daytogether. Maybe I'm just overly sentimental about traditions but I like to see special days celebrated in a special way. Andknowing that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a special day it goes hard on me to see it passed by unrecognizedby the people around me here.

So I resolved to do something about it.

Though preparing a meal on the actual day was an impossibility (seeing as I had school all day), I had to settle for the next best thing...which turned out to be a most appropriate American alternative: Thanksgiving Day, Observed. The date being set for the Saturday after, all I had to do come up with a menu and invite the guests. Both proved fairly easy. Thankfully I am a pack-rat and keep everything...including the recipes from the Thanksgiving dinner I prepared for my mom and brother last year in California. They were nicely sitting, waiting for me in a file folder labeled "Thanksgiving recipes." Win. The task of inviting people was also easy. Since all of my friends are teachers I thought it would be considerate to double check with Nino to see if she was ok with having a bunch of teachers come over for dinner, since I do have to live with her. She thought it was a great idea, but made two exceptions. Sadly, Nana and Valeri, my Georgian teachers and two of the people I most wanted to share this with, were on the black list. Although I felt terrible having to leave them out (and would have happily explained if only I could communicate that thought!) I went ahead and asked around at school. I have never had such a fabulous response to invites...everyone was available and thrilled to come. Win.

I had a few things I wanted to prepare for the feast so the night before I was busy making party favors and place cards. You would think after working for 4 years in a living history museum and constantly striving for historical accuracy that I would not succumb myself (or others) to the stereotypes of the history of Thanksgiving. Not so. What could be more American than brainwashing unsuspecting students with the historical cliches that make up our national holiday identity. So it was all there. Pilgrims. Indians (Native Americans). Plymouth Rock. Turkey...yes that fabulous one that we all make in 1st grade that we draw with our hands. And some fun turkey facts.

Then it was on to food prep work. I made up a grocery list...on in Georgian for Eka and one in English for me. And Eka told me that she would add some dishes of her own to fill out the meal. Perfect! It would be just like when the Pilgrims and Indians came together bringing their two cultures together in a feast...or something like that! :) I had to go and proctor a Georgian exam in the morning on Saturday...more on that exercise in absurdity another I got started around noon. Eka and I had more than a few obstacles to overcome. We are having some water problems, so no running water. That explained the pots of water that were on the counter when I got home from school. Interesting.

Knowing that the most time consuming parts of my part of the meal would be my two pies I got started making the crusts first. That's when it happened. While trying to cut into a tub of frozen butter the knife slipped and I stabbed myself in the hand. Oops. Not to worry, Dr. Eka was on hand. We rinsed the flour and butter out and Eka gave me a piece of bread...not to eat to boost my blood sugar after blood loss, but to actually put on the wound to stop it bleeding. Oddly enough it worked. Which was good because it was a really awkward place for a band-aid. And so keeping pressure on my piece of bread in one hand I cut butter into my pie crust dough with the other. This happy arrangement got me through not one, but two pie for my apple pie and one for my pumpkin pie.

After crusts it was on to chopping and cooking the pumpkin for the pie. This caused quite a bit of concern as I have never made a pumpkin pie with real pumpkin and was not sure what instructions to give Eka on how to cook our pumpkin...or in fact what to say at all. Confusion ensued. (Ah the joys of having a sous chef who speaks a different language than you!) Thankfully Google was there to help and I figured it all out.

While the pumpkin cooked it was on to peeling carrots and potatoes and prepping the stuffing. That when the second wound of the day happened. While grating some carrots, I accidentally nicked my fingers on the grater. After a few seconds they stopped bleeding so no bread was necessary.

After that things started to move pretty quickly. The pumpkin pie went into the oven and the stuffing followed (which I burnt my finger on...wound count:3). I mashed the potatoes and then prepped the apple pie as the carrots cooked. I just had time enough to change before the guests arrived. Sopho gave me a call to say that they were close and I stepped outside to greet them and was thrilled to see everyone walking up the sidewalk together! What's more, they had brought chocolate and wine! :)

As we all sat down around the table to eat I couldn't help feeling a little nervous as my home life and school life met for the first time. But soon everyone was chatting away and laughing and having a great time! One thing that I found particularly odd was how everyone still spoke in Georgian. When I was planning this the thought had occurred to me that when we would gather the majority would be able to speak English...and I got excited at the prospect that I would finally be able to partake in conversation at a meal! That turned out to be only partly true. The only difference between this meal and all the others was that if I spoke up there were, at least, people other than Nino present who could understand me.

Upon reflection it was a wonderful fusion of an American Thanksgiving and traditional Georgian supra. I shared with everyone that on Thanksgiving we typically go around the table and say what we are thankful for. We did that, but we also still had all the toasts that you have a typical Georgian meal. Sentimental as I am, I teared up a bit as I told them all how thankful I was to share my holiday with all of them and gave a toast to my family and friends, in America, and my newfound ones in Georgia. I had prepared a slideshow ofthe history of Thanksgiving...including its road to becoming a National holiday as well as typical Thanksgiving Day traditions: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and football. I informed everyone that it was most appropriate that there had been a rugby game on earlier in the afternoon (Georgia vs. USA....I didn't even know we had a rugby team) as Thanksgiving is not complete in America without football. And since rugby is as close as you get here, the fact that our Georgian Thanksgiving had the Georgian equivalent of a football game on was fantastic! Then it was time for a little party game of our own and I handed out Thanksgiving word search puzzles for everyone! A big hit!

The other big hit was dessert! I had, of course, made, (the now traditional Georgian rectangular) apple pie and (a normal round) pumpkin pie and everyone loved the apple pie! Nino, Tamaz, Eka and Beka all declared it to be better than the last one I had made and Irma said that it was the best she had ever had! Oddly enough, the dish I was most excited about...pumpkin pie, was not a huge success. Though dismayed that one of the staples of the Thanksgiving table had failed where cranberry sauce, creamy mashed potatoes and stuffing had so admirably succeeded earlier in the evening I was pleased that that meant more for me!!

Well, after pie came the inevitable goodbyes. As my friends departed those that remained turned to the last great Thanksgiving tradition...the clean-up. And I have got to say that 5000 miles of difference doesn't make that job any more fun, especially when you don't have a dishwas

her. When we finally finished drying the last piece of silverware I was about to fall over I was so tired.

I am so thankful to have been able to share a part of me with my friends and family here, after they have shared so much of their lives with me. This is certainly a Thanksgiving I will never forget!

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