Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Feast of Thanksgiving

This coming Thursday, the fourth Thursday in November, is the American Thanksgiving. Although it has a religious context – giving thanks for all we have been given – it is not a church holiday, but a secular one.

A group of people fled England (we call them the Pilgrims) seeking a place where they could practice their particular and very fundamental religion without persecution. They landed in a new country and established a colony. A good many of them died in the first year – from starvation, from minor ailments like ear infections that went untreated and became more serious illnesses. At the end of the harvest, the following year, they gave a great feast to celebrate those who had survived.

Honored guests were the Native Americans, who had welcomed the newcomers, showed them berries and forms of wildlife good for gathering and hunting, and without whom the Pilgrims could not have survived. At the table were foods never seen in the old world – turkey, corn, cranberries, possibly potatoes. . .

Wherever we are in the world, we take this 4th Thursday in November to give thanks, and to feast, preferably with family and friends.

My nieces, Little Diamond and Sparkling Diamond grew up going to the local soup kitchen on Thanksgiving with their parents to serve the poor and homeless their Thanksgiving meal. Many of us have special church services that day. Most of us spend a good part of the day in the kitchen!

We have so much to be thankful for this year. Although my parents are old, I have been able to go back and help them several times this year. The next generation of our family has (mostly) finished school and all have jobs they love doing. We shifted our tent successfully to another country this year, and are having a great time getting to know Kuwait. We have found a church here and are thankful to be able to worship freely. Through another friend, we met a family here we dearly love, and we will spend Thanksgiving with them. I am sure it will be a mountain of food.

I will be fixing my Mom’s cranberry salad, cornbread stuffing for my husband-of-Souther-origins, a pumpkin pie, and some balsamic roasted sweet-potatoes (the potatoes are tradition, the balsamic is not) and a few other dishes. We try to balance the traditional with something new from time to time. We will break open one of the fruitcakes to serve with the other desserts. Mom’s Fruitcake Recipe

You will know where people will be gathering and feasting by the delicious aroma of roasting turkey as you take advantage of this gorgeous weather to go out walking . . . We give thanks for the beautiful weather, too.

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November 19, 2006 Posted by | Cooking, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Recipes | 10 Comments

Carmen’s Lunch Bar on Palafox in Pensacola

Yesterday, AdventureMan was on an adventure, but I knew there might be an opportunity to grab lunch with him ‘downtown’ so I suggested we try Carmen’s Lunch Bar, which has only been open four months. When I got there, it was full – inside and outside – but an ideal location opened moments later – we were in luck! I ordered a Cranberry Orange Iced Tea, just what the doctor ordered for the remnants of a bad cold still lingering, and shortly AdventureMan arrived, then another, and then two more – we couldn’t all eat together, but we found spaces for groups of two and three, oh what fun. (You can see more photos and take a look at the menu by clicking on the blue hypertext above.)

Here is how to find Carmen’s – next to the Bodacious Olive. There is seating at a large bar inside, against the window and at three or four tables outside:

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In my group, we all ordered the North Carolina BBQ plate, which came with potato salad and cole slaw – all good. I loved the sauce, which had candied orange peel in it, piquant and tasty:

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It’s not a large restaurant, but it has a happy buzz about it. It’s a mix, the downtown business crowd and locals dropping by for a good lunch and a good chat. They don’t rush you. The menu is concise, but offers an intriguing variety – you can’t go once, you have to go back and try those Moroccan vegetables, say, or the Chicken Tikka Masala. I’m intrigued by the Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs.

I even found a free parking spot, away from the nasty downtown ‘improvement’ board spots where you now have to pay for parking, not far away. There are also parking places behind the Bodacious Olive, which shares space with Carmen’s.

The story behind Carmen’s is also interesting. There is a couple in Pensacola, Quint and Rishy Studer, who worked hard and made a lot of money, which they are now using to benefit Pensacola. Carmen’s resulted from a contest; over 100 people submitted business plans to have this spot, Mari Josephs won. I am guessing some of the close runner ups will be featured at the Al Fresco lot nearby where airstreams are showing up with fun names, including Jerry’s Cajun, which a lot of people have missed greatly since it closed.

If you look at the photo of the exterior tables (above) you will see another building the Studers have bought and are renovating; I can’t wait to see what this building becomes. AdventureMan asked what I would do and I told him I would make two condos on the upper level, perfect for Pensacola as long as downtown remains sleepy once the sun goes down except for Gallery Night. Other than that, just a parade now and then, otherwise, fairly quiet and great location with one of those old Spanish balconies overlooking the street. What’s not to love?

February 1, 2013 Posted by | Character, Charity, Community, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Leadership, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Restaurant | Leave a comment

. . . Hurray for the Pumpkin Pie . . .

“You’ve worked HARD!” our water aerobics instructor told us. “You get a free pass tomorrow; you can eat anything!”

I wish she hadn’t said that. We did work hard, but it wasn’t just one day of feasting, it was pretty much four days, and we enjoyed ourselves too much. No matter how hard we had worked Wednesday morning, it wasn’t enough to cover four days.

Arriving at Papa’s and Grammy’s we were welcomed with a bubbling gumbo, a combined effort of Papa and Grammy; Grammy did all the shopping and chopping, and PaPa worked the roux, which is the butter and flour combination that makes that smoky flavored base for the gumbo. They had just finished cleaning and deveining about 40 pounds of shrimp for Thanksgiving, and threw a few in the gumbo. Oh YUM. The next morning was full of preparations, and then, mid-morning, the feasting began, with all the guys shucking oysters and eating boiled shrimp. As you drive up, you can smell smoke from an outdoor fire, and chairs and tables are out everywhere, but the shucking goes on down near the creek:

The house is beautiful, spacious and welcoming for so many people. The happy baby, who is now a happy toddler, was in heaven – he was surrounded by boy toys – tractors and golf carts and a Model A and all sorts of age appropriate toys, as well as cousins, aunts, uncles and a lot of hilarious rough housing. Why is it kids just love the terror of being turned upside-down?

For me, this was the best Thanksgiving with the family; finally I am beginning to figure out who is who from year to year. I still have to ask questions, but they seem more comfortable with me, and I had some really good conversations, sort of beyond the polite-passing-the-time conversations. I’m not that great in big crowds, but now I am beginning to have some good one-on-ones, and for me, that’s a great Thanksgiving.

And on, man, the food. Tables and tables of food. I don’t know how they do it, but I saw the list of cakes, and there must have been twenty cakes on THE LIST. They each have responsibilities, and somehow, it all works.

Three turkeys, all carved, and so much dressing (which I grew up calling stuffing, it all depends on where you grew up):

That green container is AdventureMan’s first foray into cranberry chutney. This one was a little tart, but tasty. As are darling daughter in law so diplomatically put it, “I would probably like it more if my taste buds were accustomed to having cranberries without sugar.”

About half of the sides were sweet potato casseroles; you can’t believe how good these are. This year this front dish was one of the favorites, squash cassarole:

This photo doesn’t begin to do justice to the desserts – holy smokes:

So the biggest brother blessed the food and we ate around one, then we visited for a few hours, people going back and grazing a little. Then the next generation cleaned everything up and got all the food packaged up and put away. About an hour later, that broccoli salad started calling me, and I went out to try a little more and discovered it was all put away, but a partner in crime knew where it was, and we pulled it out and had some, which started a whole landslide of second-platers, just when everything had been all put away, LLOOLLL!

It was a great day, a day full of thanks for all the things in life that really matter.

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Diet / Weight Loss, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Friends & Friendship, Thanksgiving | 5 Comments

Cross Cultural Eating

“And we are going to roast chestnuts!” my good friend said, and inwardly I cringed.

I remember years ago, when a French friend told me her mother was bringing marron glace to Tunisia, she was so excited, she could talk of nothing else for days.

“And when she comes,” my friend said, “you must come over and we shall eat marron glace together!” Her mother came, I was invited, and eager. Then I took my first bite of marron glace, and almost gagged. It was the flavor. It was the texture. I didn’t like them at all! Fortunately, there were other small foods, and I could push the chestnut around and hide it on my plate, and politely demur that I didn’t want to eat all her special marrons and deprive her of the pleasure.

We love being with this couple, and I accepted the invitation. Little did I know, as I dreaded being polite about the roasted chestnuts, that a perfectly roasted chestnut is a different food altogether! We sat outside, on a mile winter’s night in Kuwait, around a eucalyptus fire, with that fabulous aromatic smoke drifting around us, eating toasted delicious chestnuts and enjoying every bite.

Some things you just grow up knowing are wrong wrong wrong. Another friend wrinkled her nose when I told her my favorite Christmas dish was cranberry gelatin salad. In her experience, jello salads were full of horrid things like miniature marshmallows, whipped cream, cottage cheese. For her, it was inelegant, just about the worst thing you could say about any food. (To her surprise, she ended up liking the gelatin salad.)

“Oh, Harissa!” my Qatteri friend nearly swooned in bliss, when I asked her about her favorite Ramadan treat. I could hardly wait to try it, and when I did – it was the texture that stopped me cold in my tracks. I can’t even tell you how it tasted; there was a viscosity in it that deterred me from trying another bite.

When we go out with my Chinese friend for dim-sum, there are dishes she won’t even let us try. We trust her; she really knows what will be over the line for us. Chicken’s feet, for one. They bring out so many dishes, there are plenty that we like, and we never go hungry.

For my husband, a Southerner, it isn’t Thanksgiving or Christmas without cornbread dressing. I have to keep him out of the South to keep him alive; when we live in the South, he can’t resist the deep fried seafood. For me, I have to stay away from France and Germany, I love the pate´, the terrines, the cassoulet; the fatty geese, the fatty duck, the fried the vegetables and salads laced with lardons.

When we eat at one of the Japanese restaurants here, I can’t help but wonder how really Japanese the food is – when I have eaten with Japanese friends, there are odd colored things made with fruit juice, delicate morsels of unidentified meat . . . I suspect there are things common on Japanese menus in Japan that they know we won’t eat, and they don’t even bother to put on the menus in the US, or in Kuwait. When I see the cooks, I don’t think most of them are Japanese, and I wonder if Japanese people here ever ask for a truly Japanese dish, only to learn that the cook doesn’t know what it is.

One of the best things about living in another country is that you learn that the things you take for granted, you can’t take for granted. I learned that you can’t trust that every person you meet was raised eating with a fork. I learned ways to eat with my hands and not be messy. I learned that in some countries, you NEVER touch food with your fingers, you always use a utensil. I learned that in some countries, it is considered “uncultured” to drink your coffee with cream or sugar or any additive. I learned in some countries, you never smile in the market until you have agreed on a price. I learned in some countries, you can have a cup of tea while shopping and it doesn’t obligate you to buy. I’ve learned things I don’t even know I’ve learned, conquered prejudices I didn’t even know I had. I’ve stepped on toes, thinking I was behaving politely. I’ve violated customs I didn’t know existed. Some of what I have learned has been painful . . . and worth the pain.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, Friends & Friendship | 9 Comments

First – Take a Deep Breath (Thanksgiving 2)

You inspired me! I didn’t expect such a response to the post on Thanksgiving. Once again, I am baffled, and delighted, at what strikes your fancy.

So – how to do Thanksgiving. To do it properly, you have to focus on the right things. So first, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and allow yourself to feel thankful. Even in the worst of years, there are blessings. Bring them to mind. Feel them. Rejoice! Now you are prepared.

It’s all about the gathering. Yes, we have traditional foods, but in different parts of the country, traditions vary. Turkey is traditional, for example, but it can get so boring. In the South, you can buy a turkey that has been smoked (lovely!) or a turkey that has been stuffed with a duck that has been stuffed with a chicken. When we lived in Germany, I inserted tiny slivers of garlic under the skin – like hundreds of slivers – and served the slices with a variety of French mustards (WOW!). We’ll talk turkey in the next post.

Some Thanksgiving favorites:
Turkey
Stuffing (also called Dressing)
Cranberry sauce
Mashed Potatoes + Gravy
Sweet Potatoes (usually served “candied” i.e. with a sweet sauce, covered with tiny marshmallows)
Green Salad + dressing
black pitted olives (kids put them on their fingers)
green beans
(South: creamed onions, cornbread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, jambalaya, peanut soup)
(Pacific Northwest: shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, smoked oysters)
Desserts: Pumpkin Pie, Mincemeat Pie, Fruitcake, etc. etc . . . )

The Thanksgiving Table is an excuse to get out all the good stuff you don’t use every day – beautiful white linens for the cloth and napkins, your silver, your crystal, the best china . . . polish up the silver candlesticks, put fresh candles in the crystal ones . . . but this is not the HEART of Thanksgiving, only the icing. We have had fabulous Thanksgivings with plates on our laps, as we gathered together with friends in countries where Thanksgiving is totally unknown. It’s the gathering that is important, not the food, not the table.

November 20, 2006 Posted by | Cooking, Cross Cultural | Leave a comment