Friday, November 26, 2010

Fowl Feast

I love Thanksgiving. For us it is the low stress holiday. A four day weekend with no presents to buy, and nobody to please but ourselves. We're a first generation American family, so Thanksgiving is just for us.

Over the years it has been marked by feasts with friends, or vacation trips, including a memorable visit to Orlando. There, instead of testing out the well trodden attractions, we went instead to the "Crashorama", a demolition derby, the highlight of which was the 'figure eight school bus race'. You can use your imagination to envision how thrilling that was (no children were involved, I hasten to add). Once, back when I was a single hardworking postdoctoral researcher, I even spent the day in the lab and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

But now that we have our own little family we celebrate together, in our own idiosyncratic way. I don't eat meat, so we usually roast a fish. I don't like cinnamon, so we don't eat pumpkin pie. We invariably go up to the mountains and have a nice relaxing day topped with a slightly more special than usual meal.

This year though, we experienced cultural peer pressure for the very first time. Geekygirl is learning about Thanksgiving at preschool. The children are sharing with each other the way each of their families celebrates the holidays. Considering how many other first generation American families there are at preschool I was surprised at the universality of the "Turkey and pumpkin pie fest" that all the other children described. I bought the kids some pumpkin pie at the school bake sale and they absolutely loved its creamy cinnamony goodness. After years of skimming the surface of the holiday, I could feel its cultural gravity dragging us in.

"Why don't we eat turkey at Thanksgiving?" Geekygirl asked. She was unimpressed by my explanation, and by the promise of delicious roast halibut and said "How about we have chicken drumsticks for Thanksgiving?" On reflection this seemed like quite a good idea, and I'm all for encouraging Geekygirl to think for herself, so I promised that chicken drumsticks would be added to the menu.

The anticipation of the chicken drumsticks filled our conversations on the way home from school for subsequent days. "I'm going to hold the bone and gnaw the meat", Geekygirl told me. She has quite an obsession with carnivorous animals and this seems to have carried over into her cuisine choices. During one of these conversation I realized that Geekygirl had never actually eaten a chicken drumstick. Chicken nuggets, chicken sausages and chicken stew are part of my repertoire, but I could not recall ever before having given her a chicken's leg.

"What made you suggest that we made chicken drumsticks?" I asked her during one drive home. "The shopping game" she replied. And then the penny dropped. We love to play "Orchard Games" shopping cart game, and one item on the list is a roasted chicken. When we play we always mime eating or using the various items on the lists, and Geekydaddy would wrest an imaginary drumstick from the picture of the chicken and eat it lasciviously. Geekygirl loves to mimic him, and I guess he was so convincing in his acting that she wants to try one!

We braved the stores on Wednesday night before trekking up to the mountains, adopting the "divide and conquer" approach; geekydaddy did the bulk of the shopping at Trader Joe's, the kids and I picked up specialty items at Whole Foods. As well as a fine slab of halibut, we got a packet of chicken drumsticks. I also decided to bake not one, but two pies, my very first pumpkin pie and a cinnamon free apple.

We have an early winter here in Tahoe, feet of snow already, so after a pre dinner outing to the sledding hill we returned to a house warmed with the smell of baking bird, overlayed with pumpkin and, yes even my bete noir, cinnamon. It smelled wonderful.

Despite carefully marinating the drumsticks in an orange/olive oil glaze, and going online to remind myself how to cook chicken, I fully expected that when presented with an actual meat and bone drumstick Geekygirl would turn up her nose at it. Far from it. She dug into that bird with lipsmacking gusto, as did her brother. They made short work of both the pies too.

I'm finding that it is the children that ultimately drag you fully into your adopted country's culture. Today I'm thankful for our family, our lovely homes, and for the fantastic opportunities and friendships I have found in this great country. Happy Turkey (or Chicken Drumstick) day!