My First Thanksgiving

This was not, actually, my first Thanksgiving. It was, however, my first Thanksgiving in which:

  • I was in charge of all the dishes
  • I was cooking in Mario’s mother’s kitchen
  • I was the resident American expert
  • I got very stressed out

Thanksgivings past involved much less stress and much more Cool Whip. The Wednesday before was the baking day. Up to our elbows in flour, butter, and sugar, we’d bake into the night, pie after pie emerging from our poor, overworked oven, the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg filling our house. My mother always made too many pies, more than even our large extended family could eat in one day. Her staples were pumpkin and pecan. And oh, the crescent rolls, we mustn’t forget those buttery, crispy pastries, the ones that could only be improved by, yes, more butter.

This Thanksgving started unceremoniously with 95% alcohol, a match, and a dead female turkey.

No big deal.

As was explained to me, this is to 1) clean the bird and 2) remove any feathers that might still be lurking. As one who is currently opposed to the ingestion of any and all feathers, I was all for it. Plus, it involved fire in a small Spanish kitchen!

The next four hours involved lots and lots of chopping, weighing, and conversions from English measurements to metric. How much is 6 tablespoons of butter? As Paula Deen would say, NOT ENOUGH. Add more delicious butter, lick it off the knife or your fingers, and again add some more. Butter should never feel superfluous. Not in my kitchen. Not in yours. I only had one small breakdown when Mario’s mother questioned me rapidfire in Spanish until I no longer knew how to say my own name. (I exaggerate.) I was trying to say “Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, and let it simmer.” I knew boil and I knew heat, but I couldn’t say “Bring it to a boil.” Now I know and I will surely never forget it. Ingrained is the word I’m looking for here.

Finally, it was time to eat. Mario’s brother Victor had spent some time designing a menu, which was completely adorable. Unfortunately, he asked me to revise it in the midst of the midmorning madness and I must admit I skimmed it. Thus, we ended up with parsil instead of parsley and pumpkin cake instead of pumpkin pie. Oh well, close enough.

My favorite part includes croutons in quotations because there is no word for it here, smashed potatoes, and the fact that both “piña troceada” and “surtido de dulces variados” mean “sliced pineapple.” Obviously, Victor knows better than that; it was just an error. We mustn’t forget the wines and various liquers either. Victor brought a cognac that Mario invited me to smell in order to clear out my sinus cavity. No thanks.

Turkey resting in the oven

Finished product. I am happy.

The dinner was a success. The two biggest winner were the stuffing and the maple glazed carrots. (I didn’t add the orange juice to the carrots.) Also, the “cranberry sauce” (actually made with raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries) was a hit.

María José, Mario’s cousin and godmother, made a pumpkin pie. Actually, she used butternut squash, but, as I’ve informed my mother and Aunt Diane, Libby’s pumpkin is actually a variety of butternut squash (I know. Totes scandalous!), so it was pretty much the real deal. Too bad I’m not pumpkin pie’s biggest fan, but it was very good!

At the end of the day, I was quite happy with how it all turned out. María José kept asking for the stuffing recipe, and I think they’ll eat it at Christmas time, too. The turkey was good and not dry. Good conversation was had, even if their style of discussion seems like a heated argument to me.

After they had all left, Mario and I went out running, which turned out to be just what I needed. However, when Mario’s mother found out, she reprimanded me, telling me I should’ve just taken a nap, there was no need to go out running, you crazy girl. Oh well, you win some, you lose some, right?!

Halloween in Spain

Celebrating Halloween is something relatively new for Spain. Yes, they do celebrate All Saints Day (Todos Los Santos), where they honors their ancestors, but dressing up in costumes? Trick or treating? Carving pumpkins? Eating candy until they achieve new heights of glucose in their bloodstream? Not really. But you see, there’s this thing called globalization and American culture seems to be invading Spain in many ways. For instance, one can now buy pumpkins to carve in the local supermarket. Which is just what we did.

Mario, the poor thing, has never carved a pumpkin, never had the pleasure of digging out the seeds by hand, of seeing it all lit up on his front porch (if he had a front porch, that is). So, after hearing me complain about the lack of autumn-feeling here, he surprised me by buying a wee little pumpkin.

Mario Pumpkin

I was, shall we say, ecstatic.

Kaley with Pumpkin

I’ll be honest, one of my favorite parts is the ooey gooey insides. I love to dig out the flesh and I love the smell. Mario wanted no part in this, so it was allllll mine. Evil cackle.

Pumpkin Guts

He did, however, feel like trying his hand at carving it. He even bought a big knife especially for this. (Oh, we might use it later for cutting vegetables and, as Mario himeslf put it, “to cut the cheese.” You said it, not me.)

Mario Carving

Next on the agenda was pumpkin seed roasting! I coated them with olive oil, salt, paprika, and cumin. They got done a bit too fast, but they are nevertheless delicious. And healthy! They’re high in zinc (protects against osteoporosis), are naturally anti-inflammatory, and even contain L-tryptophan which helps to protect against depression. Good stuff! While we were at it, we cooked the pumpkin flesh with cinnamon and sugar. I think later today I’ll be making Mario something pumpkin-y!

Kaley Mario Pumpkin

Later on, of course, we had to pose with our pumpkin. It’s no easy task, but we did manage to get the picture. Mario claims that Martin, the name with which we have christened our butler, wrote “Scary Halloween,” but I just don’t know if I believe him.

What to do now? We had to put in a candle, light it, and turn off all the lights. Mario found it spooky. I just found it homey. I remembered Halloweens past, sitting in the hallway with newspaper at my feet, carving funny or scary faces. Then we’d set it outside on our porch, walk out to the street, and turn around to see our lovely pumpkins glowing in the night. Ah, childhood. Good thing Mario and I are basically children at heart.

Scary Pumpkin