Monday, October 24, 2005

A day of thanks

Posted by kuri, ping, the pinglet, & mini-ping on 10/24/2005
Yep, it's that time of year again. While everyone else I know is making plans for Halloween, I have to begin my advance planning for hosting Thanksgiving in Japan.

The planning starts in September because that is when we have to order a turkey. This effort is usually spearheaded by E7, who for some reason, is always on the ball when we have to order things--tickets for flights overseas, booking hotels for trips in Japan, ordering get the picture.

Unfortunately, this year, the place we usually order turkeys from went out of business. This is the place that one year mistakenly gave us 2 turkeys that were past their expiration date and fell over themselves trying to apologize. Bowing, apologizing profusely, clawing their eyes out with the shame and then committing harikari in front of us...naw, I'm kidding. But they were VERY sorry for inconveniencing us and gave us new turkeys for free that cost double what we were going to pay--US$40 for a 6 lb turkey. We were in heaven getting a 6 lb turkey for US$80...for free.

Anyway, they are out of business, which left me with the following choices:

1. Find another place that sells turkeys
2. Find another place that sells chickens
3. Order a massive turkey from Costco that I would have to cut in half to fit into my oven
4. Run and hide from friends and family for the shame of not being able to cook for them

This is Kyushu...I can't find turkeys anywhere else, and realistically, I've done the whole "cut the raw turkey in half to fit in the oven" bit (for more on this, see below for "My First Japanese Thanksgiving"). It's not a pretty picture and is really quite disgusting, if one must know.

I was finally able to order a whole chicken from the deli section of a department store (don't ask). I did order something, but I'm not exactly sure what it was that I ordered because now that I think of it, the guy kept asking me if I wanted a certain type of chicken (what type? Aren't they all the same?), and E7 has asked me twice if I got a "good chicken". Are there bad chickens? Well, who knows what I ordered. All I know is that it is some kind of chicken.

My parents in NY are also able to take part in this 2 month-long planning process...and I know they are thrilled to bits about it! (Hi Mom and Dad! *wave*) Before figuring out my shopping list for non-perishables that I order from Chez Pearson en NY, I have to go through pictures from previous Thanksgivings in my apartment, to remember what I made. That's why I take a picture of the table before everyone digs in. A digital diary, for want of a better explanation.

What I would really like to do is to have my parents put the entire meal together, send it to me, and all I have to do is pop it into the oven. That would be ideal. But Customs isn't always helpful in that way, i.e. how to help American women without their parents make Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people crammed into a tiny tatami mat apartment...all sitting on the floor (because we have no chairs) and eating turkey with chopsticks. It's my Bohemian-style Thanksigiving.

Every year, I reminise about the year before (while checking pictures to see what I made and make up my shopping list) and also about the very first time I tried to make Thanksgiving dinner...

My First Japanese Thanksgiving
(Start wavy-like opening to past memories)

I was 22 and in a foreign country without my family, and feeling homesick. So I decided that I would put together a Thanksgiving party at my apartment for my friends. My basic knowledge of Thanksgiving boiled down to this: There is a turkey and the person hosting the party is up at the crack of dawn--doing what, I don't know but I remember it being a very "early to bed, early to rise" kind of day.

So with that great base of knowledge, I decided I would try to put together Thanksgiving too.

Miraculously, I was able to find a turkey. I don't remember how or where I did this, as my Japanese skills were almost nil, and I hadn't met E7 yet. I know that me and an Australian friend of mine tracked down a turkey in the barren desert of Kitakyushu, so certainly we could put together a small dinner for 20 people...right?

We got back to my apartment and realized that...I didn't have an oven. OK...not such a big problem. I knew the school that I was teaching at had a cooking room for home ec (or other such classes that I had never bothered to take in high school...what was I thinking?) and there were ovens. I had seen them with my own eyes. I dropped by the school, carrying a 10 pound turkey wrapped in foil down the street, with everyone staring at me--although that wasn't such a strange thing since people always stare at me in Japan (freaky gaijin).

The school was very happy to accommodate me with my turkey, although they obviously didn't know that it was going to take a few hours to cook. In 30 minutes, after we had put the turkey into the oven, they were back asking when we were going to be finished because they were going to lock up the school. So in order for them not to lose face, we said we were finished (although there was no aroma of cooked turkey), and thanking them profusely (for what I can't imagine), lugged the still-raw turkey back to my apartment.

Now we were faced with a were we going to cook this turkey? This is why my eye fell upon my toaster oven, which hadn't been used since I moved in. The turkey couldn't fit in the oven, but if we cut it up into strategically sized pieces, we could probably get it cooked.

And that is what we did. I cut up raw turkey (*shudder*) and cooked it in shifts for 12 hours. I cooked a turkey in an oven toaster. I.COOKED.A.TURKEY.IN.AN.OVEN.TOASTER. That is just wrong.

I was up all night trying to do this and by the time morning rolled around, I was almost throwing up from the smell of turkey. Now, I had told everyone to arrive at 2PM for the party, when I really meant for people to get there between 2:30 and 3PM. Everyone knows that you don't show up for a party on time, right? Not my Japanese friends. They came "help". I am sure that they were expecting to help me set the table or some other type of mundane activity, but I was literally standing in the middle of my kitchen covered with the flour that didn't end up on the floor and staring into the oven toaster, am I supposed to make gravy?

There is no instant gravy in least, there wasn't in 1994. So I sent my Japanese GUESTS out to the store to find something approximating gravy. They came back with au jus. OK, I thought, I'll just add a little flour to it (not from the floor, people) and it will thicken and be OK.

It tasted like sh*t.

So I put my friend in charge of making the gravy taste like something one would like to eat, rather than just dump into the garbage. The concoction she came up with has never been repeated to this day. I remember her rummaging through my shelves and I recall seeing honey, all spice and vinegar make its way into the bubbling brown mass. It tasted marvelous, although I am still not sure what she put into it.

(End reminiscing)

Even considering all the problems that I've had over the years (and I have to thank my parents for keeping the phone lines open during my cooking forays. I'm not joking. If someone calls them during the time when I am making Thanksgiving dinner, they tell them to get off just in case I need emergency assistance), I consider these parties a success. Why?

Because no one has gotten food poisoning from eating the food I've prepared. I think that is a testiment to my cooking skills, don't you?

On the menu this year: Roasted chicken, sweet potato pie, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy (instant...I've learned my lesson), stuffing, cornbread, biscuits, salad, chocolate pie, pumpkin pie, and other assorted goodies.

If you are up to the challenge and are in the area on November 20th, drop by for an authentic Thanksgiving (or one close to it!). The more the merrier!

1 of you feeling verklempt. Tawlk amongst yourselves:

Mom said...

What a classic family story!


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