Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

What blockhead made all this?

When you're an expat living overseas, the chances of going home to visit your family for Thanksgiving dinner are rather slim. On the other hand, my friend in Austin, Texas just drove 27 hours straight to Buffalo, New York for a week's visit, so perhaps it's not totally out of the question. This year, we're pulling a Peppermint Patty and inviting ourselves over to other people's homes to celebrate this American holiday in Penang.

I've always loved Thanksgiving. I jokingly tell my younger boy that he's named after the governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford. Moving across the ocean, I've come to understand how much the Pilgrims must have truly appreciated the Native Americans. When we first arrived, we relied heavily on the experience of others to figure out daily life in this new world. Where do you buy food? Who's a good pediatrician? How do people watch American college football? You know... important things like that. This week, a group of long-timers and newly arrived expats will gather together for a communal meal, sharing our food and reminiscing about our homeland. And just like where the Peanuts gang drives off to at the end of the show, we'll be doing it in a condominium.

What kind of meal will we end up with? Is it toast, popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans for us? After all, it's sometimes a bit hard to track down exact ingredients in Penang. This is not a place where you go to the market with a week's menu and ingredients all planned out. There's no fear of starvation, but you must remain flexible. My typical modus operandi is to purchase whatever looks fresh and then figure out later what to do with it all. I feel a bit like Alice Waters except that I have no talent in throwing together an impromptu meal.

Before we moved, I had turned into a bit of a turkey snob. I special ordered my free-range, organic, heritage turkey, dry brined it, then roasted it for the big day. Could I find a turkey here? Last week, a group of serial expats were discussing the relative ease of finding good turkeys in different countries. In summary, the ones in Egypt are awful, the Caucasus Mountains have good ones, and Afghanistan turkeys are great.

I was quite happy to come across turkey and cranberries, both fresh and canned, at Straits Minimarket. Someone else ordered a fresh turkey from Mutha's near the Tanjung Bungah Wet Market, probably slaughtered according to Halal rules. A few restaurants around town have roasted turkeys for take away, too. Last year, sweet potatoes were a bit questionable, though. Pecans are the same price as macadamia nuts, if you can find them. I actually have a stash of Texas pecans in my fridge that I brought back from my summer visit. Did the pilgrims do this? Did they hoard precious food from home and only serve it on special occassions?

So during this time when expats start to miss the families they left behind, we gather together as a makeshift family far, far away from America. Just like Charlie Brown figures out, it doesn't matter where you eat Thanksgiving dinner. Whether it's at a condo or at a doghouse, it will always be special when you share the feast with friends.

"We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land."

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