Following the sounds of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas being sung off key, the kitchen door of the UNISG Gastronomic Society swung open to reveal my Thanksgiving counterpart buzzing around nursing three pots, an oven, and a cutting board with a half-chopped onion. Greeted by a wall of smells of turkey in the oven, gravy sitting on the stovetop and the still steaming side-dishes on the counter next to me was enough to transport this homesick traveler across the sea back to her mum’s kitchen. It was a feat only a chef who had mastered art of cooking with passion could surmount. About the time she hit the key change and attempted Mariah’s highest octave (and missed), we were arm deep in a turkey and my feelings of missing home drifted out of the room on the scent of turkey.
Laura and I were attempting to cook a truly American Thanksgiving dinner for 45 Americans and foreigners. The New Jersey native with wild curly black hair is the perfect personification of Portuguese American, Portuguese in her looks and American in her words and actions. An alumna of the Culinary Institute of America, she has professional skills but after spending a good portion of her life cooking for work, it a rarity to see her in the kitchen at the big group dinner. So, you know when you see her in the kitchen working all day, that food is a product of pure love.
Laura’s specialty is plants, particularly if she can forage them herself, so it was a bit of a jolt to see her taking over a day that is all about meat (and potatoes, butter and more things that aren’t so healthy). We had spent Tuesday shopping for a few hours, another four making dinner rolls that night, and nine hours cooking all the side dishes on Wednesday, so that when Thursday came all that was left were our two 33 pound turkeys. The sounds from the kitchen as I set the tables were mixes of her soon-to-be-released greatest hits Christmas album, muttering to herself about ideas and what to do next, and little exclamations of joy when the next delicious idea popped into her head.
As friends started trickling in and the wine was pouring, the same reaction was on each person’s face. It was a funny mix of awe and confusion, especially as we hoisted the second 30+ pound turkey out of the oven to baste. When the clock struck dinnertime and a thankful toast had been given, mouths salivated like children who had been waiting all day for mum to finish cooking. It was the most audible appreciation for food I have ever heard. The plates of steaming side dishes came flowing out of the kitchen and Laura and I served the turkey. As each person took their bites, it was as if the table had become a sport arena and instead of the wave it was a ripple of “mmms, oohs, and ahhs”. The sign of a successful Thanksgiving.
Now, I have been an American all 24 years of my life and I don’t know that I have had a better turkey than the one I had this year. The flavors began from marinating for 30 hours in oil, rosemary, and thyme. Then starting bright and early the butchered turkey was pan seared and then roasted with an array of root veggies, including celery root, carrots, and onions. Hours later as the second turkey was roasting whole, she carved it and laid it back in its own juices to finish. While the first turkey was tucked in for flavor and the second turkey was into the oven, she boiled down the carcass for the rest of the day. Hours later we were sitting down to turkey that was tender, juicy and flavorful. Only for it then to be topped with a gravy that had been made over the last 6 hours of the day.
The astounding flavors and perfection of the turkey were punctuated by the rest of the classic Thanksgiving sides, each as flavorful as the last. However, what made this Thanksgiving different wasn’t simply the perfect and delicious replications of the flavors that make us nostalgic, but rather the ability to copy the sounds of the table, and feeling that makes the holiday great. Friends, old and new, from every corner of the United States and the world, were laughing and enjoying. It was a table and atmosphere that personified the meaning of the holiday, gratitude for the food we have to eat, the loved ones to share it with and the joy of the beginning of another delicious holiday season. The day had begun yearning for the comforts and traditions of home, but sometimes all you need is a friend who has mastered the difficult art of cooking with love to make you feel at home in a foreign land.
Welcome to the most wonderful (and delicious) time of the year!
-The Very Hungry Traveler