My first Thanksgiving as a wife.

Over the years, it's been a blessing to celebrate Thanksgiving in the Czech Republic with Czechs and expats alike.  Whether potluck style or an event hosted by a language school or English club, I've relished the time to enjoy one of my favourite holidays (the others being Christmas and Easter).  I love what a healthy thing it is to remember what we're thankful for.  This year, now that I have a husband and a place suitable for visitors, I asked my dear husband if he'd mind hosting the celebration together.  He was most obliging.

Guests and a date were settled first, and as the days went by, it was soon time to do some real planning.  So how does one conduct their first Thanksgiving as hostess and primary cook?  Let me tell you.

We have been spending our weeks in Ostrava, and our weekends here in our flat about an hour away, so I needed to make mid-week preparations In Ostrava with the expectation that I would be transporting anything prepared. I started planning by examining my menu.  I chose dishes that I'd always enjoyed and that I wanted to share with my Czech (and Irish) friends.  I then hunted around for suitable recipes, both online and through asking friends for their recipes.  At the end the menu was as such:
Leading up to the big Thanksgiving day (Saturday since Thursday's a normal work day for me here), I made the following preparations:
  • Weekend before: finalize menu, print recipes, pack necessary cooking materials
  • Tuesday: prepare shopping list, start hunting for fresh cranberries in the shops
  • Wednesday: test the oven in Ostrava, make cranberry sauce, make cornbread for croutons (dream about cranberry sauce not setting)
  • Thursday: pumpkin pies (2 large, 2 small), pack up necessary things (silverware, cutting board, extra baking dish, etc.) (dream about students and their parents arriving for Thanksgiving in mass and not having enough food)
  • Friday: research baking times for turkey, read up on proper turkey roasting, making last minute menu changes (I found a broccoli salad recipe), the turkey hunt, groceries and other shopping
Friday was the biggest day: the turkey hunt.  Duck and goose are fairly common here, but turkey? I put my husband on a mission and he found a farm to order one from. The smallest they predicted having this time of year: 9 kg (nearly 20 pounds) -- our group needed only about 5.5 kg (12 pounds) for 8 adults and 3 toddlers.  A friend noted that he’d bought one frozen at the shop, but that was only 3.5 kg (7.7 pounds). Things shifted as Kaja called mid-week and found that he should have ordered the turkey a week before. He bought a frozen turkey as a back-up.  Friday he called the farm again, and luckily someone had canceled an order.

The drive to the farm was a bit complicated—someone (me) was not the best navigator—and we first arrived at the entrance for the workers, but after a big loop we arrived. Inside, Kaja explained that we were there for a whole turkey. The woman asked for his name, then exclaimed, “You! I’ve been asking every man who walked in here if it was you! I expected you an hour ago!” Nonetheless, she soon heaved over a giant turkey. Our next thought: will it fit in the oven? 

But before we could conduct the test, we still needed to buy a meat thermometer, some more tableware, and to go to our Ostrava flat to collect the pies, cranberry sauce, extra silverware, the larger French press, the cornbread, etc.  We were exhausted by the time we drove home, and yet Kaja was patient enough to stop at another grocery store so I could get the last of my cooking ingredients: cream cheese, whipping cream, cheese, butter (lots of diary), and so on.  Just bringing everything from the car should have been enough to exhaust us (or him, since  he carried), but I was full of pre-Thanksgiving adrenaline, wanting to say (and saying) “gobble, gobble” all the time. (Sometimes I did my turkey dance too.)

First: the oven test.  We pulled out a baking plate that’s the size of our oven so it slides directly into the side slots.  Kaja angled the turkey, and with a mighty swing put it in the oven.  It was quite intimate for the turkey, but she fit.  She then went into nature’s refrigerator (i.e., Kaja’s car trunk) for the night, while I, the Thanksgiving elf, went on my merry way with preparations:

Friday night: baking another loaf of cornbread for croutons (it was a large turkey to stuff!), chopping celery and onions and soaking raisins for the stuffing, chopping broccoli and carrots and cauliflower and olives for the broccoli salad, chopping more onions and spinach for grandma’s classic spinach dip, chopping the cornbread to make croutons.  

After lots of chopping, it was bedtime.  It felt like Christmas Eve.  (Maybe I ought to ask Ježíšek for a food processor for Christmas.)

It wasn't too difficult to jump out of bed - after all it was Thanksgiving morning!  First there was the feat of stuffing the turkey and putting it in the oven.  It wasn't actually too challenging, though intensity was high.  At 8:20 she was in the oven.  Kaja prepared the Thanksgiving table, and I tried not to bother him too much, but really I just felt I ought to be near the turkey. I did run across the street to buy a baster and a carving fork (really, you need a baster). Once I had the kitchen back, in honour of my dear Grandma Dawn, I put on the Macy’s Day parade as I shred cheese for the green bean casserole and peeled potatoes. At 11:15, as I again basted the turkey, I started to wonder if it was finished. I checked the stuffing temperature: 165 degrees Fahrenheit (=done). I checked the temperature of the thigh: 180 degrees Fahrenheit (=overdone). It had been in our oven on convention oven mode for 3 hours. So I reduced oven temperature to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and added some water to a pan at the bottom. I continued to baste every 30-45 minutes and began to get antsy for guests.

I do enjoy the crowded kitchen with busy hands on Thanksgiving morning (or I did at least when I was a guest, maybe I'd feel different as a hostess), but my guests were polite and came closer to our designated lunch time.  Soon our flat was full of little and big feet (and little feet kicking in the wombs) and we chatted and hovered over the spinach dip while waiting for the last guests as well as waiting for the last dishes to cook (green bean casserole and the second half of the stuffing).  When all, big and little, were gathered at the table, we served up the dishes and did the time-honoured tradition of giving thanks.  No matter how often similar things were said, it was still precious to remember what we have to be thankful for.  Usually by the end I'm remembering plenty of things I could have added to my list.  In lieu of a spoken prayer,  I sang a wavering verse of "For the Beauty of the Earth" and we dug in.

It's lovely how familiar tastes can bring back memories or fill you with the holiday feeling.  We ate and chatted and served up more food and ate and chatted and shared wine and apple cider.  I recalled Thanksgivings past and the history of the holiday.  After tummies were full and dishes were cleared, we bundled up for a short walk to the tapestry pub (a pub with walls and floors covered with tapestries).  Adults sat by the fire as the kids enjoyed in the play area and a couple friends cozied up around the piano for some song.  We stood and played and shifted and drank and enjoyed being together.  It was just as Thanksgiving should be.  As it drew late, we bundled up and returned to the flat, where I bundled pie for the homebound and we served up pie for those remaining.  I'd thrown the whipped cream into the freezer (for some odd reason) and pulled it out only to find it frozen, so we had naked pumpkin pie and my friend's delicious apple-blackberry pie.  As night fell, so did the temperature, and soon after: snow.

No footballs were thrown, and at the end we preferred conversation to It's a Wonderful Life, but why watch the film when you can experience it?


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