26 November, 2010

Thanksgiving, from traditional to transnational

When i was a child, there were a few bits of literature that marked mid-November. I can't really remember how "Cranberry Thanksgiving" goes, but the gist of it - an unconventional group of guests and a special recipe - sticks with me, 

This all started a month ago, when i was talking to Marcus about holiday plans - i was looking for a way to avoid uncomfortable family situations, and he and Trisha couldn't afford the drive to Arkansas to spend Thanksgiving at home. Thus it was that i ended up in Flagstaff with a motley crew of friends old and new. Trisha, who grew up in Delhi, had her first Thanksgiving in Maine four years ago; until last year, my mother had been the central figure of Thanksgiving, and after her passing from cancer i needed to find new meanings for the holiday. 

Wednesday night Marcus, Trisha, and their Estonian friend Kati and i wandered the aisles of the Flagstaff Safeway hunting up the ingredients for our communally planned menu: rum-glazed ham, mashed potatoes, stuffed acorn squash, green salad, jello salad, lentil soup, homemade egg nog, and mulled cider. The supermarket was where it hit home - it's the first time any of us have been in charge of Thanksgiving dinner. For Trisha, her first time as kitchen-master for an American holiday; for me, the first time making the jello salad my mother always made at Thanksgiving. I was worried others would find the dish strange, but Trisha recognized it from her first Thanksgiving dinner four years ago. Gleeful, i put on my best Indian accent: "she should not be allowed near the spice aisle." 

Thus it is Thanksgiving takes on new traditions. While we shopped, Joe and Kara were making jambalaya at home, and with a ton of leftover rice we decided to add rice pudding to the menu alongside Kati's cheesecake. I recalled mom's rice pudding - tasty and classic New England style, yes - but i also recalled the delicate flavors of shir-berenj, an Afghan rice pudding i'd fallen in love with. 

With a quick google search, i was amazed by the variety of rice pudding variations from country to country. Thankfully, Trisha's cabinets contained cardamom and rose-water, two flavors that distinguish shir-berenj, kheer, and other Middle Eastern variations. From there, it was a simple matter of adaptation - slipping the flavors into a "leftover rice" pudding recipe. 

After the collaborative meals we'd made back in college, it was a treat to be cooking together once again, and fold a couple new friends into the blend. All six of us took turns in the tiny apartment kitchen, chopping, heating, tasting, improvising, washing dishes, pausing for tortilla chips with homemade guacamole - and making another batch of guacamole when we ran out. Kara chopped apples, onions, and mushrooms, and sauteed them with chicken sausage, bread crumbs, and leftover rice to stuff the acorn squash (out of this world!). Marcus took the helm on his grandmother's egg nog recipe; Joe crafted a delicious green salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, rice vinegar, and the radishes Trisha wanted to use up. By six we had a beautiful spread; by eight we had decided we would never eat again. And then, as we sat sated around the table, we took turns saying what we were each thankful for. 

Too many things to list.