We miss you, Family! We miss you so so so so much!!
I guess there is probably nothing better than being on the opposite side of the world, in a country where we feel lucky if the road we’re driving on is actually paved, and we see lizards so often in our house we’ve given them names, to make us reflect on what we’re thankful for.
You know what Thanksgiving Day means in Zambia?
Pool Party! Eli is doing laps, while Jake prefers to swim with the ladies.
And we all enjoyed a morning bike ride under the jacaronda trees.
As lovely as it was to have these other activities to keep us busy, being in Zambia doesn’t mean we aren’t still Americans, and with our commissary at the Embassy selling everything from Stove Top stuffing to McCormick powdered gravy mix, we were oddly more American today than we have ever been in our lives. We woke up early to begin our rituals, which in past years for me have always begged for some sort of “modernization.” I have never used Stove Top stuffing in my life, and why would someone eat jellied Ocean Spray cranberry sauce if you could cook up something with orange peel and, well, texture? You all know my issue with the green bean casserole (yuck!) and the sweet potato marshmallow thing is just weird. Who came up with that?
I have always very snobbily claimed responsibility only for my grandma’s recipe for Parker House Rolls, and the pie, whose crust is also an old family recipe. They always turn out pretty good, and they use actual ingredients! Not condensed cream-of-something.
But this year, there were a lot of details that changed my perspective on Thanksgiving dinner. One, we live in Africa. It is hot and sunny outside, there is no air-conditioning in anyone’s kitchen, there are no turkeys, and I don’t know how to make gravy without juices from a pan. We have two little kids who are now 5, and who are old enough to finally “understand” Thanksgiving. Maybe most importantly, we live in a place that has never heard of American Thanksgiving. The Zambian friends we shared our food with would not appreciate the ingenuity of a nuanced sauce of clove-spiced cranberries, or parmesan-olive oil mashed potatoes, or green beans laced with almonds and ginger. Why not share with them what America really is, in all its french-fried onion and creamy, condensed glory?
For the first time, I think I finally appreciate the significance of what Thanksgiving Dinner really means. It is not supposed to be “different” or “new” or “interesting.” It doesn’t matter if it’s homemade or not. It doesn’t even matter if it tastes good. What matters is that we take part in this ritual, by making the same dishes using the same ingredients our grandparents used, and it is this ritual that binds us to each other over generations and across oceans. It doesn’t matter that we are thousands of miles away, in different countries and on different continents from our loved ones. We are still together as we knead the same dough, mash the same spuds, unsheath the same cranberry jelly, and yes, even sprinkle the same french fried onions.
This year, we spent our Thanksgiving holiday with the Bennets and the Hoffmans. The Hoffmans are German and were our invited guests, which meant that Kelly, Jason, Mike, and I did all the cooking. When did we all become adult enough to make Thanksgiving Dinner? Everything turned our fabulous. We even had a Green Bean Off, pitting the classic “snot” version of the green bean casserole against a newer, fresher version made with dried cranberries and pine nuts. The Germans were our impartial judge. Guess which one won?
All this REALLY means is that you should not ask Germans whether they favor creamy casseroles.
But I think all of us were pretty impressed with how good everything turned out. Roast chicken is actually better than turkey anyway, and all of our Zambian friends (I was most interested in the opinion of Ms. Hilda) said that everything was delicious. I agree. The whole thing was the best Thanksgiving we’ve ever made. Maybe because we went to the commissary and bought all those convenient, American ingredients. Why did we never realize that before?