This morning as rain pours outside and wind batters my kitchen window, I am sipping espresso and recovering from a night of feasting and tryptophan-induced lethargy. While the actual Turkey Day might be a couple weeks away, for me it was yesterday. My friend Terry and her husband Vince proposed hosting a early Thanksgiving for those of us expats who haven’t experienced one in a few years. Terry is heading back to the States next week so we took the opportunity to celebrate this weekend. It was an intimate party of seven people but with enough food for a small army. Our Australian friend Janet was able to join us but her husband Ken is in intensive care in Siena after suffering a heart attack and fluid in his lungs earlier in the week. He is 86 and we are quite worried about him, but he is slowly showing signs of recovering. That positive news gave us an additional thing to be thankful for this year! Terry and I resolved to give Janet one night away from the worry and stress of traveling back and forth to the hospital.
Planning a Thanksgiving feast in Italy is not without challenges. There are no cranberries or sweet potatoes to be found in our small village. But thanks to some of Terry’s recent house guests, both items were tucked into suitcases and brought to us (Thanks, Bonnie!!!). The next issue was the turkey. It’s not a dietary staple in this neck of the woods, so you don’t find them in the supermarket with regularity and if you want one you must order it in from the butcher. The first time Terry tried to order a turkey in Italy, she said that when she went to the butcher to pick it up, she was presented with a 28 pound behemoth of a bird that looked as if it were 15 years old. She was pretty sure some family pet had just been killed so the American lady could have her turkey dinner!
This year Terry employed the help of her enterprising friend Alessandro who procured two beautiful turkeys. There was some tail feather cleaning to do as the Italian birds do not come pristine ala Butterball. They were in fact much more reminiscent of the turkeys my family raised each year when I was young– one look at an errant tail feather brings me immediately back to the smell of hot water soaked birds that we rapidly plucked for our annual feast.
While Terry took on the preparation of the sides and the birds, I took on the stuffing and the desserts. I grew up in a family where there were always many pies, so I of course prepared three desserts. Since for some incomprehensible reason not everyone likes pumpkin pie, I decided to do a pumpkin cheesecake and then an apple pie and a maple walnut (no pecans here).
So where do you get the pumpkin? There is no Libby’s solid pack pumpkin, so if I wanted pumpkin, I was going au naturel. If our forefathers in Plymouth could construct a feast out of what they’d harvested, surely I could cook up a little pumpkin. My first order of business was trying to figure out how to differentiate between pumpkin (zucca) and squash (zucca) when I explained what I wanted! In the end, I went to our town’s fruit lady, Franca, armed with a photo of pumpkins and she immediately pointed out what I needed. The cooking pumpkin was greenish, squat and really large! I told her how much of the pulp I was looking to have at the end, and she got out her big knife and carved up half of it for me. Once home, I baked it in the oven until the flesh scraped easily out of the skin and then with the help of my hand mixer, I had pumpkin puree! It was actually very satisfying to do and tasted great. It was almost a shame to hide it away in a cheesecake. I will spare you the homemade gingersnaps that I had to make for the crust and the caramel sauce which required two attempts!
We sipped fabulous champagne while we basted and fixed our final preparations last night, and then oohed and aahed as the beautiful turkey came out of the oven. As Vince carved the Turkey we marveled at the amount of breast meat on the Italian turkeys, finding that much like the beautiful women here with small waists and big bosoms, our Turkey was very well endowed.
We then took a page out of the Italians’ book and didn’t finish our feast in twenty minutes but sat at the table, talking and drinking a delicious Brunello, content not only with the food but to spend time with our friends. Janet who had never experienced a Thanksgiving before, got right into the action and loaded her plate with a little of everything more than once. Our Italian friends who eat everything separately would have been appalled at the amount of foods touching each other, but for us it was a delightful remembrance of home and holidays spent with our families. I knew the night was a success when after the desserts Terry declared, “I’m stuffed, I feel sick!” I smiled happily, we had managed to have a little bit of our old home in our new home! It was wonderful amalgamation of traditions and cultures.
I have much to be thankful for this year. Not only my friends and family but also the realization of my dream of becoming a published author. I hope you all have wonderful holidays this year and that you are safe and surrounded by your families!
As for Cinder and me today? Why turkey sandwiches of course!!!