November 2, 2005 Thanksgiving is absolutely, hands down, no questions asked, my favorite holiday of the year. Uniquely American, the day is given over to no-strings-attached feasting. The focus is the feast, and if you are not involved in the preparation or clean up (and these activities are not nearly as sexist as they used to be), there is wall-to-wall football available on the tube. I would be hard pressed to remember a bad time celebrating this day. Okay, I’m sure that my ex, Wendy, would be able to say “Larry obviously doesn’t remember. . . ., when. . . . ,” and she would be absolutely right on both counts! I don’t remember, and it probably was awful. But as she would also readily agree, a bad time would have been an exception, not the norm.
Since our divorce and my moving to Italy, it has been a bit difficult for me to properly celebrate the day, as Thanksgiving requires friends and/or family. Lacking an abundance of either one, either here in Sarnano or earlier in Verona, I have usually chosen either to fly back to the states or not bother to remember the occasion. Frying up a slice of turkey breast (petto di tacchino, readily available) is just not the same. Also, the 4th Thursday of November is just another day at the office here in Italy as the antecedents of this harvest celebration are found much further north in Europe. This close to the Pope, Catholic Italy successfully fended off any such residual pagan rituals.
This year will be my first time to truly celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy. My son David and his wife Kayo will fly over, and sister Sara and brother-in-law Charlie are sticking around after the Egypt tour. We will be joined by their nephew, Brady. Fitting six people into my 1000 square foot appartamento (large by Italian standards) for four days will be one challenge. Assembling the requisite ingredients and utensils for the feast will be the other.
The supporting cast for the feast will be easy to come by. The stuffing will probably take on Italianate qualities as I will work in local mushrooms, sausage, and truffles. The veggies typical for T-day are mostly available, with the exception of sweet potatoes and yams. For some reason the sweet potato made it from West Africa to the southern USA along with the yam from the Andes, but they have yet to continue their journey on to Italy, at least not on a regular basis. I guess we will have to give them a miss since bringing tubers through customs is undoubtedly a major no-no. David & Kayo have promised to bring over two one-pound bags of cranberries since these are uniquely American. Being bagged, they should not get customs inspectors excited. Pumpkins, per se, are not available here, but a local squash called zucca is certainly a close cousin and will make a more than acceptable substitute. Kayo, who is a pastry chef at Vespaio, a trendy Italian restaurant in Austin, has volunteered to make our pumpkin pies.
Arranging for the star of the show, the turkey, has taken some work. As I mentioned earlier, turkey (tacchino) is readily available, but only in pieces. I took the roasting pan that barely fits into my Italian sized oven into my butchers, Germano and Marissa Faricelli. They think that un tacchino intero (a whole turkey) that weights 8-9 kilos will fit. They promised to have it waiting for me when I get back from Egypt. As opposed to the states, there will not be a “loss leader” price available, nor will there be a huge pile of frozen, plastic encased turkeys to choose from. I expect to pay about €40.00 (a little under $50.00) for the bird.
[An aside: In the past when shopping in Boerne I found it somewhat amusing to watch the old-timers paw through the pile of frozen turkeys for such a long time that they were in danger of developing freezer burn. Why bother? If you buy a minimum amount of other groceries, HEB (a regional supermarket chain) all but gives the turkeys away at 25 cents a pound. And how can there be any difference since they are all the same genetically, seemingly bred and raised to hop inside the plastic wrapper? And even if there was a difference, how can one tell just by looking at or groping the white plastic wrapper?]
Finding the necessary utensils was more of a project than I anticipated since I left most everything in Texas. Pie pans? Non essistano in Italia. I finally found some aluminum pans that might work. My roasting pan will be a huge lasagna pan that I found at the local hardware store. The pan I used in Texas for many years would not have come close to fitting into my state-of-the-art but small Italian oven. David & Kayo will bring over the carving knife and platter that I gave them when I left the country. I will also have to ask them to bring over a bulb baster. My delightful helper at the carryall hardware store, Pierina, (she is of an indeterminate age, spent WW II here in Sarnano as a child, and then lived in Ohio from 1949-59) knows what I am asking for, but they don’t and won’t carry it. Of course, finding enough wine and wine glasses in Italy was not a problem.
All of this called to mind the hidden costs of Thanksgiving. The typical large American oven is designed with one holiday in mind–Thanksgiving–as it has to be big enough for a huge turkey. And those of you of a certain age and income will probably have (or did have) a double oven in your kitchen. You were sold on this feature when the salesman pointed out you could have the turkey in one, and the rolls in the other. (And how many of these second ovens have ever been used for anything else besides storage of the odd pots and pans?) Large microwave ovens have been touted for years so that you can use it to thaw a 25 pound turkey. It is highly doubtful that anyone has ever thawed a turkey in a microwave, at least not a second time, since it is not a particularly good idea. (Place frozen turkey still in plastic wrapper in sink filled with cold water. It will be thawed in 4-6 hours.) I could get into the environmental costs of the huge parking lots at shopping malls that are built to handle the largest shopping day of the year, the post-Thanksgiving Day sales, but let’s not go there.
And speaking of the day after Thanksgiving, I have never understood the spate of articles and recipes that appear in the food sections of newspapers on the problem of what to do with leftover turkey. Leftover turkey is a problem? Haven’t these people heard of the ubiquitous turkey sandwich? Or a sandwich with a Tex-Mex twist using a flour tortilla and salsa? Or just plain turkey with some leftover cranberry sauce? These articles are probably boilerplate and recycled year after year without much thought.
Given our location on this side of the pond, my guests and I will have to make some adjustments, of course. There will be no Macy’s parade on the tube, nor any football to be found except for skinny little guys running around in shorts rather than American behemoths in full body armor. But Thursday morning is Market Day in Sarnano so the non-cooks can wander down to the central piazza and take in the scene, and perhaps pick up a few more things for the table. It will all be fun and I am truly thankful for the opportunity to share the day and my new town and apartment with family.
At our feast, I will lift a glass and give thanks to all of our friends in BET. Back in the states, if you have room for one more at your table, take in a stray. And if you live alone and have no plans for the day, wangle yourself an invite. Happy Thanksgiving! Buon appetito! (back)