Headlines predict that a bunch of folks will suffer in the coming days. I cannot imagine a worse fate than traveling home for Thanksgiving in the United States in winter weather. There’s a John Candy/Steve Martin movie that displays some of the agony.
Travel can be an ordeal, but the combination of the busiest travel period and bad weather raise the stakes geometrically. I feel sorry for anyone caught in the storm or the crowd...or both.
Fortunately, we had our turkey feast last Saturday. That was the only day on which we could get all the necessary players together around a table. The meal was a success, partly due to the arrival the day before of a care package from the US with Pepperidge Farm stuffing. No Thanksgiving meal is possible without that ingredient. You cannot imagine how happy I was to greet the DHL driver at the door, especially since I had just fired up my laptop to look for a recipe for stuffing.
At the end of the day, what was stuffed was all the dinner participants...but all left just enough room for a piece of my apple pie just like my mother used to make.
If anyone bothered with the silly quiz earlier in the week, the answers were easy for someone with knowledge of the Fool-on-the-hill and geography. I was in an airplane over Baghdad on the way to Dubai; the black line on the Airshow map is the border with Iran, a country frequently in the news.
We escaped German rain and cold to enjoy sunny and warm. Every day is cloudless and 36 degrees: perfect vacation weather. Perhaps, local residents become bored with the consistency, but this is perfect for vacation. Number One Grandson is enjoying his first beach resort vacation, one step on his life of being spoiled.
The flight was not full, no lines plagued us at immigration, little traffic prevented us from reaching the hotel, which seemed under-occupied (it’s not). We were not prepared for the crowds we encountered upon venturing out of the hotel idyll to visit one of the huge malls. (Here, malls have ski slopes, skating rinks, and huge aquariums.) This trip has provided a cultural lesson: Islam has more celebrations than Ramadan. That is a well-known fast, because of the large Muslim population in Germany. I now know that there is such a thing as Eid Mubarak. I thought that this was a former dictator, now in jail in Egypt. Signs in every store window and crowds of people reveal that it is a big deal, because most of the citizens of the Arabian peninsula seem to be in Dubai shopping malls, hotels, and streets.
Malls are usually crowded, but the mix is about 70% westerners and the rest ostensibly Muslin. Now, clusters of black shapes crowd the shopping malls. I was informed that hordes of tourists from all Arabian lands flock to Dubai to shop, not unlike Americans on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Stores stay open 24 hours a day for a week. Obviously, workers do not enjoy union protections, as they do in Germany.
One is confronted with flocks of black shapes. Under the black robes are reputed to be women, which a glimpse of fashionable footwear confirms. On past trips, I have noticed one or two women out and about; this time, foreign visitors from such countries as Saudi Arabia dominate public spaces. A minority might hate America, but the majority seem to love American chains, lifestyle, and products.
There appear to be two types of pilgrimage for Muslims: the main one is to Mecca, while an annual one is shopping in Dubai. Like someone visiting the United States in November and December, where holidays are commercial feasts, we must check the Muslim calendar before visiting Dubai. I do not mind Muslims; I mind crowds.
This is my tip of the hat to Thanksgiving, a celebration of harvest (at least according to myth).
Avid followers of this wonderful blog (ha!) might recall a photo some weeks ago, which showed a cornfield awaiting slaughter.
The below photo reveals the aftermath of said slaughter. At some point, the remains will be plowed under, allowed to endure winter precipitation and cold, and be planted next spring.
In Germany, most corn (maize) is used as cow feed. Machines grind up the entire plant--stalks, leaves, and cobs--and shoot them into waiting wagons. The mash is kept in silos, surely fermenting, and used throughout the window to feed pigs, who will ultimately end up as ham, bacon, Schiitzel (cutlets), and sausages.
Few people eat corn, but cinema pop corn is popular. Unlike in the United States, every product does not contain corn syrup.
One of the few, if not only, traditions maintained from my youth is to “celebrate” Thanksgiving. Of course, this includes no giving, no thanks, and to thanksgiving...with the possible exception of being thankful that gifts are not required. This is an occasion to enjoy a huge turkey dinner.
Over the years, I have had to beg, borrow, steal, or buy the necessary supplies and often make due without one or two key ingredients or elements. Despite the distance from Plymouth Rock, we do a rather decent job of replicating tastes of yore.
This is one event that my children also enjoy and even demand its continuation. Number One Grandson experienced his first such meal, with his high chair being placed at the head of the table. The jury is still out, but he seems to prefer noodles (which does not surprise me, having had a weakness for Chef Boyardee spaghetti in a can).
For many years, we were forced to use frozen turkey from France or Poland. These tasted about the same, but were rather small (9 pounds) compared to giant, “manufactured” turkeys straining tables in the United States. Fresh turkeys are now more available, but are usually cooked at Christmas, so are difficult to find in November. Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and the like have found their way to German stores, but not Thanksgiving. Despite this marketing injustice, I have found a supplier that can deliver a decent bird, so we had a 16-pounder this year.
Ocean Spray has been kind enough to start exporting to Europe, so we no longer are forced to use the related, yet different, Preiselbeeren. Each trip to the United States by friends or family demands the sourcing of a package of Pepperidge Farm stuffing, without which no Thanksgiving meal would be the same. I have tried to replicate the taste with a homemade variety, but my daughter refuses to accept my effort. She is addicted to the real thing. The only addition, from France of course, is a bit of bubbly and Bordeaux wine, neither of which I recall from my early years.
The date of this feast is moveable, requiring only a day in November or early December when all can find time to stuff themselves with too much good, old American cuisine like my mother used to serve. The only change this year is the dessert substitution: my wife made an apple cheesecake, instead of my usual apple pie. I blame the proliferation of cooking shows and the Internet. Some things cannot be improved by the inexorable march of technology, and the traditional Thanksgiving spread one learns to enjoy from an early age in New England is one.
_ I am not thankful on only one day a year. But, if that’s what it takes to get people to continue to raise turkeys, harvest cranberries, and produce Pepperidge Farm stuffing, I’m willing to play along.
Thanksgiving is the one American tradition that I hauled to Germany and have maintained over the years. My family has come to expect a feast around this time of year, and we often do it twice (with one being called “practice”). My daughter has taken the tradition with her into her own family and has introduced to friends (who now expect to be invited each year). We can source most ingredients, with the exception of the stuffing. I stock up on each trip and beg people to bring a package or two. I tried to replicate it, but can’t get all the chemicals needed to create the flavor. The Ocean Spray company is nice enough to export cranberries to Germany, which makes me happy. Turkey is not the same without cranberries.
I grew up very close to the spot of the alleged first meal enjoyed (or not) by illegal immigrants from England and the original owners of Massachusetts. I recall passing cranberry bogs, the Plymouth pebble, and historic markers with bits of fiction. The stuffing could not have tasted the same in those days, because food factories had not been invented.
The one aspect of Thanksgiving Day that I do not miss is football. I was never a big fan of sitting around watching men huddle, run a few seconds, and fall down...for hours. I preferred to clean the kitchen, read a book, or take a long walk. None of those needed to be imported; so I enjoy them after our turkey feast.
We did not manage to fit it in today. I am thankful that I can look forward to enjoying the turkey, waiting patiently in the freezer, and all the trimmings. One benefit of my trip to Florida was the opportunity to stock up on stuffing...
_ Here is Hadley’s take of Thanksgiving. It’s an American woman’s view, as presented in an English newspaper to a global audience. She makes some good points...
I will give my view on the day...
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.