27 November 2010

Thanksgiving Abroad

Merlin: This was our Thanksgiving morning - a few inches of snow on the ground and more in the air. We are in Riga, the beautiful capital of Latvia, and this picture was taken at eight thirty a.m. We are at 56° 57' north, so it takes a while for the sun to come up.
Rebecca: For all those who have no idea what that means (which included myself until Merlin explained it), New York City is at 40° 47' north and from the equator to the North Pole is 90 degrees. So, yeah. We're quite a bit higher up here than at home. It's funny, because just ten days ago, on a particularly hot day in Lithuania, I remember saying "You know, Thanksgiving has been this early some years and I remember it snowing when I was a kid." And then it did.
Merlin: We went to the central market to gather ingredients. It's a very big place - acres and acres of stalls, some inside, some out in the snow. I felt bad for the people who were standing in the cold with running noses, trying to keep the flakes from piling up on their apples and persimmons.
Rebecca: We were going to get some cranberries, but opted instead for currants, which we had been seeing around markets since Poland. We figured it would be a good regional play on tradition - and that they would take less time to cook.
Merlin: We were able to get everything that we needed before lunchtime. We could even have bought a turkey, but that seemed a little excessive for one person (Rebecca doesn't eat meat). One of the more difficult things about shopping at these markets is that its hard to tell which of the dozens of identical stalls sells the best meat, dairy, produce, etc. I chose between the six or eight chicken-specializing places (as opposed to the pork or beef butchers, or the stalls with smoked ducks and turkey legs) based on the size of the birds that they offered. When I picked a chicken that looked right the woman held it up for me to inspect and urged me to smell it. It smelled perfectly fine, so I took it.
Rebecca: That's our lunch above, from a little shop in the market. They had a few shelves behind a window with bowls and plates showing what they offered, which was helpful on our second day in Latvia, not yet knowing what the words for anything are. I chose a soup that I suspected had a little meat, (which, thankfully, wound up being bits of mushroom) and Merlin chose a sausage plate with mashed potatoes and some strips of raw squash. Any American knows that calculating when and what to eat before Thanksgiving dinner is tricky but important. We felt good about our early afternoon plates of food. Not too much. Not too little. Definitely Latvian.
Rebecca: We picked up the brown bread on Wednesday night, seeing it in a bakery and not wanting to pass up its wonderful seed-and-nuttiness. Merlin correctly reasoned that it may be too dense for a stuffing, so we bought this light wheat country bread at the market. Our stuffing was mostly that bread with accents of the darker variety. This is our very first Thanksgiving where we were solely responsible for our own meal. So, we wanted the stuffing to be awesome (and vaguely European).
Merlin: Another thing about shopping for food: it was so nice to be able to go shopping on Thanksgiving morning and not feel like we were entering some kind of war zone.
Merlin: I made a sauce with the red currants, but we also put some in the stuffing. I mixed them in with the sauteing onions and celery so that they would soften up a little. The sauce was made by cooking the currants in a little water with honey for half and hour, until they had begun to break down. I mixed in half a shredded, cooked beet (I know, I know... shredded beet again!) and a little salt. The mixture was so powerfully red that I had visions of the pink bathtub ring in "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back," which stains everything in the house.
Rebecca: It was our "cranberry sauce" sans cranberry.
Rebecca: And here is our table! Please ignore the plates. They were really ugly, but being as they came with the apartment we rented (for the specific purpose of having an oven on Thanksgiving) we didn't care too much. There's the sauce, the stuffing (which also had a good amount of mushroom and was delicious), Merlin's chicken, the potato, carrot and onion roasted with the chicken mushed up into a brighter play on mashed potatoes and a big bowl of sauteed veggies (shredded brussels sprouts, spinach, onion, apple and pumpkin seeds).
Merlin: Also, about a quarter cup of gravy. Everything was good, and we had great leftovers too. As a consequence, we really haven't eaten much outside our home.Merlin: Here's Rebecca's first plate of food. She took a little bit of chicken, which was a generous gesture.
Rebecca: Every year, I wind up sneaking into my mom's kitchen for some turkey skin. So, Merlin repaid my nugget-of-flesh generosity by allowing me to take any and all the bird skin I wanted. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving. We both got to call our parents (Skype), hole up, cook, tell each other over and over again just how thankful we are and then...
Merlin: ...we watched football, illegally, over the internet. It was almost like we were home in America, except that we were drinking Lāčplēsis Dižalus beer.


  1. and i am very thankful that the heartfelt strings of nostalgia were pulled ever so gently for you..and that you both had a wonderful and happy time:)XOXO


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