I discovered this weekend that for the past 23 years I have completely underestimated how hard it is to cook Thanksgiving dinner. My parents are superheros for doing this whole thing in one day. That being said, the following items do not exist in Spain and therefore made for some serious adventures in our Thanksgiving preparations: canned pumpkin pie filling, frozen (and featherless) turkey, normal pre-made piecrust, cornbread, fresh cranberries, measuring cups.
Our epic Turkey Day adventure began on Wednesday, when (with the help of Victoria, the vice principal and English teacher at school ) I placed our turkey order. I had intended to order the pavo on Monday, but last weekend I was struck down with el gripe, which despite the doomsday sound to that word was a mere bought of the flu complicated by fierce Spanish medicine that I’m pretty sure did more damage than help. Anyway, I was back in action on Wednesday and one brief call to the egg and chicken delivery man (who sells poultry products to the elementary school’s cafeteria) later one super fresh pavo was en route to our Gracias-giving mesa.
The elementary school chefs got a serious kick out of this American girl carting around a raw turkey.
The giant, always fresh never frozen bird arrived Friday morning. (Warning: stop reading now if you don’t want to hear about how turkey-like our turkey was.) This thing was walking last week, I’m convinced. It didn’t have feet, but it had scaly almost-feet ankels. And while most of the feathers were gone, they left us a reminder around each wing, where a smattering of white feathers remained intact. This was NOT a turkey like you find sterile-y frozen at H.E.B.
I lugged Mr. Pavo down the river walk, through downtown Sarria and up three flights of our apartment building stairs with the scaly legs protruding from holes they had ripped in the oversized white grocery sack. Since the turkey was bigger than our oven, we brought it to one of the best bakeries in town to have it cooked.
But first, I had to stuff it, a task that is infinitely harder than it looks. My first concern was making sure every last feather was plucked. It took about 30 minutes to tweeze (yes, as in with tweezers) all the feathers off. I was later informed during dinner that a lighter would have sufficed (and probably saved me half the time and half the queasiness). Live and learn…
Turkey surgery. Harder than it looks.
Next, with the expert step-by-step Skype help of Kurt and my mom, I managed to remove the half of a lung from inside (que. asco.) and fill it with scrumptious stuffing! The stuffing was an adventure in of itself because it called for 3 cups of cornbread. Sadly those handy blue boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix don’t exist here. My attempt to make it from scratch was an epic failure, so I ended up buying the densest, heavies loaf of “corn bread” I’ve ever seen in mi vida from a local bakery. Mr. Pavo was ready to roll around 2 am Friday night. At 10 am Saturday morning the turkey transport commenced. Picture this: the only two American girls in Sarria struggling to carry a huge pan of turkey down three flights of stairs and about 7 blocks to the bakers in a mild windstorm. Struggle.
Back at home the cranberry challenge began. Because there are no fresh cranberries in all of Sarria (trust me, I looked) I bought craisins and soaked them in water for two days, turning dried cranberries into water-logged but semi-plump cranberry halves. The cranberries never really turned into a sauce, so I batidora-ed them a bit (a half-blender, half-beater contraption with the best name ever. Batidora!) They were alright…
The pumpkin pie, which Kassandra successful constructed out of a real, live pumpkin, was a serious challenge because half of the spices came in whole, raw form. We had to bust out the mortar and pestle to pulverize the cardamom, cloves and ginger. Most of which was an epic fail. We finally broke down and bought a spice/coffee grinder.
One of our biggest challenges was measuring. Did you know 100 grams of sugar and 100 grams of flour are completely different amounts?!? We had no measuring cups (Apparently Spanish chefs just eyeball everything) so our day was filled with a lot of “Does this look like a 1/4 teaspoon of cloves? Sure! Close enough…”
All in all it took us about 10 hours to cook the whole meal, which included: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, potato salad and broccoli casserole with pumpkin pie and apple pie for dessert. With nearly everything ready and our Spanish Thanksgiving guests en route, we went to pick up the turkey from the baker’s. A large cardboard box dripping with aceite de turkey was waiting for us on the glass countertop, above chocolate covered galletas and Spanish-style donuts.
Our anorexic, upside down Thanksgiving Day turkey.
When I caught site of the beast inside I had a small internal panic attack. Our turkey had turned anorexic in the oven. The top was nothing but skin and bones. The entire back looked like it had melted off, you could see right through the ribs into the stuffing and the hip bones jutted into the air. My heart started beating again when I realized it was just upside down. Turkeys look seriously odd upside down.
We invited seven friends from Sarria to partake in our Spanglish Gracias-giving and they were as excited or more than we were. They’ve seen Thanksgiving celebrated in movies, and were stoked to experience it first hand. Pedro and Guille fought over the honor of cutting the turkey with Guille proclaiming he was “very fuerte, very very fuerte” and Pedro winning out once Guillermo realized that carving a turkey is hard work. Pedro didn’t quite get the concept of stuffing in one bowl, turkey in another, so we had one big plate/pile of stuffing mixed with turkey- still delish!
Spanish Gracias-giving, a success.
Myriam and her sister Lucia were fascinated by the mashed potatoes- which people don’t make in Spain and I gave up trying to explain gravy and resigned to calling it “Turkey sauce.” Patri popped open a (much needed at this point) bottle of red wine of the homemade variety (Guillermo’s family, like many families in Galicia, ferments its own wine) and which was deeeelicious. Then we all sat down to a feast that was mostly-American but with some definite Spanish flare. It was a massive success!
Now that we have all the appliances and cooking gear that we’ve been missing, Kassandra and I have decided that we are going to put it to use! Our next adventure: Chai cupcakes with pumpkin frosting or pumpkin pancakes with chai lattes. Gotta use up that leftover cardamom and pumpkin puree! I’ll keep you posted on how they turn out.