Sunday, December 1, 2013

Friendsgiving in Albania

I love celebrating Thanksgiving overseas. What's not to like? Food, wine, friends, and the ability to afford to pay someone to entertain the toddler and help with clean up.

For a traditionalist Thanksgiving stickler, celebrating American holidays overseas certainly comes with challenges. Substitutions for certain ingredients are required, and last minute turkey buying is not an option. On the other hand, the likelihood of dramatic family blowouts is much, much lower.

Of the three Thanksgivings we have spent abroad, we have hosted two dinners for our friends and their children. In 2010, I spent the holiday in my 12 hour/day yoga teacher training. However, I did bring pie. Yes, I fed pie to a bunch of yoga teachers-in-training, and our guru. And I left class early so that I could make the community Thanksgiving potluck feast at Manila's American Recreation Club.

The next year, we had just returned from OB Medevac with our newborn baby, but, feeling the need to reconnect with our friends at post after four months at home, had a few people over for Thanksgiving dinner. That was probably the easiest Thanksgiving I will ever host, as I not only had help with childcare and dishwashing, but I had a cook. That year, I did not practice the tradition of burning myself while manhandling the turkey in and out of the oven.

This year we had nine adults, six children, a baby, and our housekeeper/babysitter for Thanksgiving dinner. We ordered a "turkey over 12 lbs" from AERA, and a 24 lb butterball behemoth arrived. Our Ambassador's wife saved us the trouble of trying to thaw this monster by sharing that turkeys can be cooked from the frozen state. I will never thaw a turkey again.

I started cooking on Sunday. We had invited our non-fowl eating friends to join us, so I made a mushroom gravy that was way better than its turkey pan cousin. Even my meat-loving husband loved it. Of course we also made turkey pan gravy as well. One can never have too much gravy. Or pie.

On Tuesday I made my second pie ever. My first pie was on Saturday for a friend's pre-Thanksgiving feast, and because it actually wasn't terrible I gathered my courage and tried again. Pecans cannot be found--at least not easily--in Albania, so I made a walnut pie. According to the internet, New Englanders have walnut pies at Thanksgiving all the time. I didn't know that pecans didn't go farther north than Washington, D.C. I had learned a few things from my first experience, and this pie turned out pretty darn well.

My husband had showed me how his grandmother used her thumb to make the pie crust decorative. When I was finished I couldn't recognize myself.

On Wednesday I made roasted sweet potatoes and pears from a recipe posted on Facebook by our CLO. This is amazing sweet potato dish that is much, much better than a sweet potato casserole, unless, of course, you want dessert for dinner.

Fresh cranberries are also not easily found, so, in addition to opening a can of cranberry sauce purchased from the commissary, I made an orange-lemon ginger compote. I thought it was a perfect substitute, but I'm not sure anyone else tried it. I got the recipe from a British Christmas food website, so maybe they could sense that it wasn't American. Anyway, it tasted great.

Finally, the turkey. The 24 pounder that we roasted from a frozen state. Best turkey I've ever cooked, and I'll never go back. Thank you, Anne!

We had a little drama around mid-day on Thursday when, according to the meat thermometer, it appeared that the turkey was already done. But it turned out perfectly--and fully cooked. This method seems to help avoid drying the meat out in the oven. I didn't get a picture of the turkey before my husband made these freaky cuts in it.

I did burn myself. Twice, on the forearm and wrist. I need longer oven mitts.

And here is our happy table, right before we sat down and demolished it. Everyone brought something, so we had more food than we and our children could eat.

Happy Thanksgiving!