Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving, Spanish Style

Thursday was an odd and melancholy day for several reasons. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Spain, so it’s business as usual… Scott went to work and so did I… in the kitchen. Some good friends here in Spain are very interested in our very American custom of Thanksgiving, so we were celebrating Thanksgiving on Friday night. The entire rest of the world works as we Americans kick back and watch football. (Go Trojans!) Okay, so we all know the drill… we women spend 2+ days in the kitchen, while our men watch the game.

It was odd not having the celebration on Thursday. Both our kids Skyped. Kestryl to send her greetings for the day. John to relay the melancholy news that our kitty of 15 years had passed away. It was expected. Her health had been failing for some time and the vets had been unable to diagnose her illness. We were very grateful when John agreed to take her. She quickly bonded to him, and he and Allene made sure that she was happy and well-cared for during her final days. We will forever be grateful to John and Allene for their help with Chris.

So Thursday was marred by sadness, but was also filled with the not quite frantic activity that Thanksgiving brings. I was cooking for 19 people, between 2 houses, and improvising equipment. Living in Spain is a real exercise in “thinking outside the box”. Lourdes told me that she would pick me up Friday at 3:30 pm and that dinner would be served about 7:00 pm. I spent Thursday doing prep-work for Friday. Without the smell of turkey wafting through the piso, it felt just like any other day. That was really odd!

Friday came and I had a plan. A 13 pound bird takes between 3 ½ and 4 ½ hours to cook. So incredible pumpkin pies (Okay… Butternut squash pies, see entry from earlier in the week) were baked in the morning and the bird went into the oven at 1:30 pm, for what I figured would be about 1 ½ hours. The oven is unpredictable, sometimes cooking faster, sometimes slower. (I think that this may have something to do with the electrical service.) Anyway, Lourdes was later than expected. This is Spain! So the turkey got about 2 hours at my piso. I wrapped the bird up tight in towels and put it into a cardboard box. About 5:00 pm, it went into Lourdes’ oven. A quick note about cooking equipment: before I put the turkey in Lourdes’ oven, I pulled out my new meat thermometer and baster. (Purchased in Barcelona… they were expensive compared to what I would pay for the same in America!) I inserted the thermometer into the bird, and basted it to the amazement of Lourdes who had never seen such tools. At 5:30 pm, the turkey was done! I cooked the bird another ½ hour on general principle, it could not be done after 2 ½ hours of cooking! So at 6:00 pm, the turkey is done, and Lourdes tells me that the dinner guests will not arrive until 8:00 or 8:30 pm, and that we should plan to serve the dinner at about 9:00 or 9:30 pm… And I am thinking… But… But… The BIRD is done now! This is Spain in all its wonderful and frustrating glory!

The rest of the dinner was prepared at a leisurely pace. Scott was thrilled to have an opportunity to play piano (well, an electronic keyboard) at Lourdes and Jose’s house. He taught the children some American folk songs…they seemed to like “This Old Man” best, although I suppose that’s an English song. Lourdes and I shared broken conversation, and as the evening wore on, the guests arrived in twos and threes. Everyone marveled at the Thanksgiving dinner, just like they’ve seen in the movies; they crowded into the kitchen, taking pictures of the turkey. The dinner was served in the same leisurely manner, and the conversation (or what I could follow of it) was typical, of political, economic and family issues.

We have gone out to Tavernas with friends here, but this is the first time that we have been dinner guests in someone’s home, so let me explain what “leisurely dinner” means in Spain. First, dinner is served, followed in time, by dessert and a quince wine (made by Lourdes). To my surprise after dessert, the dinner and my efforts received a round of applause. Then we adjourned to the sala. In actuality, we folded up the tables, (as we were eating in the sala) so that people could be more comfortable on the couches. After more conversation and a game, champagne is served. Then after more conversation (and speech is beginning to slur, even Scott is having trouble understanding), chocolates are brought out and Scott is asked to play the piano. What few inhibitions he has about performing in public disappear completely in a party environment, and he sings a few songs as well. After more conversation, whiskey is served. As the whiskey is enjoyed, the conversation slows, and guests begin to talk about leaving. Lourdes offers coffee, tea, more pumpkin pie… But it is 2:30 am. Okay, so now we feel like we have had a Thanksgiving! And to prove it, I even have the dirty oven to clean.

Pictures will follow in a few days… Stay tuned.

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