One short week until Thanksgiving. It’s that time of year again…already. I will spend this Thanksgiving far away from home. It won’t be the first time. And it won’t be the last. As the years pass, I am less sentimental about this fact. In fact, I am increasingly grateful. Although I miss my family, each year brings new friends, new places, new tastes and fresh inspiration. Every year, I find myself even more grateful for the abundant seasonings that have flavored my life.
I distinctly remember my first Thanksgiving away from family. I had left my home in the Northwest to attend college across the country, sight unseen. My father was not happy with this arrangement. He thought I should attend school close to home, at a state university that would be much less expensive. But I wanted an adventure. I instinctively knew that my soul would be fed only by experiencing things heard of, yet unknown. So I got a scholarship, walked onto a plane alone for the first time in my life, and flew to Florida.
I spent that first Thanksgiving surrounded by new friends at The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, near Tampa, Florida. My college had a large population of international students, and at loved ones at that table represented Pakistan, India, Mauritius, France, Peru, Spain and Switzerland. And me, a farm girl from Washington State. I had never been to a Spanish restaurant before. I visited many times after, on special occasions, and fell in love with paella, coquetas, jamon and salty manchego cheese. But my palate: my thirst for travel, my spirit of adventure, remained unquenched.
The next year, I headed to New York for Thanksgiving. I had always dreamed of going there, and I instantly fell in love with the sights and sounds and flavors and pulse of that city. Standing in the middle of Grand Central Station, hordes of Thanksgiving travelers rushing past, I determined that I would, no matter what, live in New York City someday. The week I graduated, I packed my bags into a friend’s car and headed North on 95.
I stopped in Northern Jersey along the way. Jersey. The next best state in the Union. Truly! The holiday season in Jersey meant tables laden not only with traditional turkey and trimmings, but also with a parade of flavors I had never before authentically experienced. I promise: homemade raviolis and spiedini and zuppe de pesce or cannolis and lasagnas and red “gravy” are just not the same south of the turnpike. Amidst the gold Mercedes, glittery clothes and abundance of hair (I was there in the late 90’s) was a tight-knit community of simple people who really knew how to cook. I soaked up time in their kitchens and along the way, developed a much firmer backbone. Jersey girls were tough. But so was I. Increasingly well-seasoned.
I only spent one Thanksgiving in New York City. It was with my best friend Alice. She is Taiwanese, so we headed to Chinatown. Ducks and geese, some raw, some seasoned and roasted, on display in shop windows. The ever present smell of fish and cooking oil. An old man sucking on a chicken foot at the table next to us. Seemingly thousands of people, all in the same place, none speaking English. Cart after cart after cart of interesting and scary and delicious new foods to try. It was one of my favorite Thanksgiving meals ever.
These days, I spend Thanksgiving in Southern Maryland with my in-laws. The menu is always the same. Dinner rolls always come in a plastic bag from the grocery store. Stuffing is from a box and sweet potato casserole is so topped with brown sugar, toffee and marshmellows that it is more a dessert than a side. My brother-in-law always slices the turkey with an electric knife and my mother-in-law insists on making mashed potatoes with an electric beater. As a cook, I could offer a hand, perhaps suggest that homemade rolls are better, that stuffing isn’t hard to make from scratch. I could bring a sharp knife for the turkey and a food mill for the potatoes. But why would I? Instead, I bring a bottle of wine. And a heart full of gratitude.
I believe life is composed of equal parts destiny, fate and self determination. Fate dealt me a fair share of spunk and sass. I’m good with that. In fact, it’s those crackly, crunchy and tasty bits that are the best parts of me. I was destined to search for the most flavor I can find, for a full plate. I am grateful that my life is a full buffet of unexpected and wonderful experiences. I am thankful that my taste for Life continues unabated, and can’t wait for Thanksgiving next year. And the year after that.Feel free to share...