Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving on the Far Side of the World

Friday, November 26th, 2010
Oakura, New Zealand

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here, and today is Thanksgiving in the U.S., so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home, amid heaps of snow it seems! I just got off the phone with my family, I called my brother's mobile and he put it on speaker and set it in the middle of the Thanksgiving table at his in-laws' house in our hometown, where my parents were also celebrating, so I got to talk to everyone at once! Although I miss them all very much, especially at the holidays, I have to say that with temperatures back home well below freezing and a heavy blanket of snow on the ground and more on the way, I am pretty thankful to be here, where today we are under a cloudless sky, and it is 26 C/80 F in the sun!

Our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday was a resounding success, and has formed one of my new favorite memories of New Zealand. It was everything Thanksgiving should be: loads of good food, good company, lots of laughter and song, and of course lots of pie! We had such a great time cooking, and sharing our traditions with our multinational family here, none of whom had ever had Thanksgiving or pumpkin pie before! I am so thankful for the experience we had, and how everyone here embraced our efforts and asked lots of questions and showed their appreciation for what we had done. It all worked out fantastically- Matt and I bought and prepared all the food (I honestly thought we would need more hands to help, but somehow Matt and I did it all ourselves with no stress!) and everyone chipped in $8 or so to cover expenses, and several people brought wine too. We planned for 10 and ended up with 12 and a baby--about an hour before dinner, a young Israeli guy named Noam turned up, and was glad to join in, although he got a lot of teasing about being an opportunist by showing up when he did! With six nationalities at the table (American, Austrian, Irish, English, Israeli, and Kiwi), it was a pretty cool experience.

I am pretty confident in my cooking abilities and Matt's, but we've certainly never cooked for 12 before, and I'm really proud that we managed so perfectly- we ended up with exactly the right amount of food, finished cooking exactly on schedule, and polished off every last bit of it, except the two extra pies I made expressly for the purpose of leftovers! We made stuffing and gravy for the first time (my mom has always made those, but my parents sent me the stuffing recipe, and I've watched Mom make gravy enough times that with Matt's help I got it figured out). Altogether we cooked for 7 hours, but by doing the pies in the morning, then chopping and other prep in the times when nothing needed to be cooking, it all worked out just right and without any anguish. The menu was as follows:

-2 roasted stuffed chickens, bought from the local butcher (our pocketbooks, cooking skill, and size of the oven here preventing the traditional presence of a turkey)
-Steamed green beans with a garlic-lemon-olive oil dressing a la Matt
-Several pounds' worth of mashed kumara (our tribute to New Zealand, in lieu of yams) and potatoes
-Stuffing, of course
-Cranberry sauce (it took trips to three different stores to find any, but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it)
-Pickled garlic (my substitute for Mom & Dad's traditional plate of dilly beans)
-Black olives for Matt
-The world's largest apple pie (my signature dish- I just realized that I have a signature dish! Cool!)
-A big pumpkin pie (Made from scratch from a white pumpkin, Matt put it all together, it was the best I've ever had!)
-Whipped cream and French Vanilla ice cream with the pies (and New Zealand ice cream is out of this world!)
And of course wine :)

It was epic, and we had a really great time explaining the origin and significance of Thanksgiving, and answering questions like "Do you give each other gifts at Thanksgiving?" (the answer is no). We ate at 7 PM, as opposed to the traditional 2 or 3 PM, because of course it isn't a national holiday here so everyone else had to work, so we answered some questions about that too. Matt gave a toast, and then, naturally, we had everyone go around the table and say what they are thankful for. I have the coolest video of that, with everyone saying their bit in all their different accents. A truly neat moment.

We ended the evening with a couple of guitars, a ukelele, and a bunch of singing. My favorite evening moment was when Noam, from Israel, turned the page in the songbook to "House of the Rising Sun" and started rocking out with it on the guitar- not a cultural alignment I would have predicted!

It was the neatest Thanksgiving experience, one I'll definitely remember forever. I'm pretty grateful to have been able to share our holiday with everyone here, and am grateful to the Wavehaven family for letting us do so and embracing it so thoroughly.

As you might have guessed, it was all duly photographed. Here are the pictures:

(Click on photos to enlarge)
 Biggest batch of pie dough EVER. And so much butter...

 Pouty Matt preparing the bread for stuffing

 Prepped food on the sideboard

Pumpkin pies on their way to the oven

 The ginormous Wavehaven apple pie, and the smaller one that we are digging into today

 Chickens getting rubbed with olive oil and rosemary

 It was so nice to cook with fresh herbs. I'm chopping parsley and holding fresh sage!

 The obligatory glass of hard cider while cooking...

 Finished pumpkin pies

 For our relish tray, and you can see what a New Zealand light switch looks like :)

 Cooking up the goodies for the stuffing

Ready to go in the birds

I realized many of you have probably never seen a Kumara (KOOM-er-uh, Maori sweet potato). So I now present to you, "Kumara in four stages":


Matt carves the chicken and Stefan mashes the kumara while Pepper hopes for someone to drop some scraps.

Thanksgiving table with palms and sunshine!

 From left to right: Matt, Noam, Cole, Big Al, Dougie, Megan, Nigel, Nick, Abby, and Baby Wills. Stefan is hiding behind Megan, I'm behind the camera, and Graham joined us a little later. 

Wills tasted his first chicken...

And last, but certainly not least, pie! Speaking of which, I think it's time to go have a lunch of chicken soup and apple pie :)

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your Thanksgiving celebration reminded me of the two we had in Ecuador back in 1980 and 1981! The first one, we formed a gigantic meatloaf into the shape of a turkey, complete with a tiny sword stabbed into the "heart" with catsup dripping out! The next year, 4 of us couples had gone together to buy a live turkey to fatten it up. The 4 guys decided it was time to butcher it when it kept jumping off the balcony and hanging by the twine that was tied to its ankle! They took it out into a field, poured wine down its throat (to soften the meat!) before the kill. It ended up being about the size of a large chicken, so everyone only got about 3 bites! What memories!

Thanks for keeping us up to speed on your adventure!

Chris (Shaver)