As an international student, I’ve learned a lot about my friends and the places they’re from through food. Whether it’s Spanish tortilla, Italian pasta made “right”, Greek Pastitsio, German Spätzle, Swedish falukorv, Argentinian asados, or Portuguese Bacalhau, it is never served without a backstory.
This weekend though, it was my turn to cook and tell. In the spirit of American Thanksgiving, I hosted some friends for a belated (but otherwise pretty traditional) Midwest Thanksgiving meal.
The prep work started a day early. We donned hiking backpacks and headed out to pick up a pre-ordered turkey, buy all the ingredients, and hunt down the right kind of pumpkin to make puree for the dessert.
In true Thanksgiving fashion, our cooking started early the next morning. At 08:00, a friend helped me dress the turkey, prepare the roasting vegetables, make the turkey stuffing, and get started on the dessert. By 10:00, the turkey was headed for the oven.
Roasting a 5-kilo turkey takes around 4 hours, so while it cooks, pretty much everything else happens! That includes peeling and boiling potatoes, making the dessert, prepping the greens, sauteing mushrooms, making turkey broth for the gravy, and setting the table.
The final hour before eating is when things can get a bit busy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from helping my parents host Thanksgiving, it’s that timing is everything. There are so many delicious dishes that go along with a Thanksgiving dinner, and none of them should be served cold. This usually requires all hands on deck. So, by the time I was carving the turkey, friends were helping with everything from whipping up mashed potatoes and whisking gravy to pouring wine and plating.
For most of my friends, the first Thanksgiving they’ve ever celebrated was with me, either this year or last year. They ask a little about the origins; I explain how the story (a shared feast between colonizers and natives) is a bit white-washed. Today, history isn’t a main part of how the tradition of “Thanksgiving” is celebrated, it’s been gradually adapted over time:
To my family, it means a time to gather, cook together, and sit down for a cosy meal. We catch up with loved ones, slow down life for a moment, and most of all, reflect on all we’re grateful for.
One of our traditions to do this is largely thanks to my incredible mom, who is also a Kindergarten teacher. Thanksgiving is for making “hand turkeys,” a simple outline of an outstretched palm, which doubles as great stencil for a turkey with a thumb head and finger feathers. In the feathers, we would write things we are grateful for; the rest is just a colouring canvas to distract hungry bellies before dinner. 🙂
So of course, I also handed my university friends magic markers and papers. They followed through on the instructions and created a set of 2021 turkey art that is admittedly still taped up on our apartment wall a few days later.
It’s these kinds of things that make international friends so fun, and make home feel a little less far..