I started Thanksgiving menu planning, preparations and shopping all the day of. I headed down at 11:30 to our little village to hit the three stores, vegetable store, bread store and everything else store. At the vegetable store we started off strong, parsley - check, celery - check, onions - check, carrots - check, sweet potatoes - not so much. I eye a basket holding what looks like sweet potatoes, but as I glance down at the little sign I see that they are not labeled 'patate dolce (sweet potatoes)' but instead 'americane'.
No s***, they call sweet potatoes 'American's'. I laugh out loud by myself (a common occurrence with me on my misadventures in this small little town). As I walked over to pay, my trusted vegetable guy (whom I adore and who special orders me avocado's so I can get my fix) is looking worried and skeptical because he heard me laughing, alone, with his potatoes. As he's tallying me up he grabs one of the little Americans and explains to me that they're sweet... but sometimes people do buy them, not him, but the foreigners. Clearly. I assured him I was not laughing at his Americans, but instead at the name as we call them something else. Clearly.
Next stop is the bread store. I walk in and start pointing to the loaves I want, and as the bread lady (who I like, but is not quite as friendly and flirtatious with me as the vegetable man) gives me a disappointed look.
"Why didn't you call to reserve the bread if you needed this much?"
This is a battle that I fight weekly on principal. I have enough going on, and one of my jobs is not making bread, instead her only job is to make bread. So make it, try not to run out, and don't make me add to my 'to do' list 'bread reservations,' it's hard enough to remember restaurant reservations, let alone BREAD reservations!
I say my usual "ooooh, so sorry, totally forgot."
Final stop, the everything else store to pick up the bird. I had asked my favorite butcher in all the land, that works at the everything else store, the week before if they ever carried Turkey's. He said, "of course not, but I can order you one, how big?" He is one of the few Italians left that still loves America, and loves to talk about it, and hence was clearly informed that Thanksgiving was coming up and I didn't have to answer any questions about why one would buy a Turkey.
When I made my way back to the store he got a huge smile on his face when he saw me, and ran to the back leaving the poor little boring lady he was waiting on mid-sentence (she was probably explaining how her mom used to make pork chops, and how she doesn't do it like that, but she has a cousin that does, and her niece doesn't like it, but her cat's husband does... ect., ect.), the little old Italian ladies love to talk.
My trusted butcher came back with my bird in hand, and a proud smile on his face for the fact that he remembered to order the bird, handed it to me, and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. Love that guy. I inquired (despite little boring lady glaring at me) if anyone else had bought a Turkey that day... just out of curiosity. No. One guy had the day before, "some American guy, and he wanted the biggest one I could get him!" Of course he did, being the good American, bigger is better right!
This was not my first Thanksgiving in Italy, but it was the first year I decided to celebrate it here. Hence it was the first time I experienced what it feels like to be a foreigner and have an entire country ignore 'your' holiday. Growing up an American in America we of course are taught that there are other holidays in other cultures that we need to recognize as we have lots of people from those cultures living amongst us. However, as they always say, you just can't really understand the sensation until you've 'walked in another mans shoes'. I got it, and it kinda sucks. You just want to yell, "HEY, HAPPY THANKSGIVING A**H*****," at the top of your lungs, in a big crowd, to get some attention and recognition. Good thing there are no big crowds where I live.
I get home at 12:30 and start chopping, and prepping. Cooking is therapeutic for me, and pulls me out of the emailskypetextiphone frenzy that has become my work day. I start off with the 'singer songwriter' category on my iTunes. Relaxing, nice. Water drinking for now.
By 3:00, when I finished making the homemade croutons and stuffing (no Peppridge Farms pre-bagged stuffing here, or even croutons for that matter) the 'singer songwriter' music wasn't doing it for me anymore and I switched over to some Citizen Cope (my go-to cooking jams), which leads me to my first glass of wine. Here is the part where wine comes in. Poggio Trevvalle Rosato. Cold, pink, and delicious, perfectly hit the spot. MMMMMM, I say out loud, alone with my croutons.
At 4:00 I unwrapped the bird. I decided she was a 'female,' I have no evidence to prove this, but apparently according to google we generally only eat the females. I plucked the few feathers she still had on her, cleaned her out, stuffed her, tied her up and smeared her with herbed butter. Herbs from my garden, butter from the farm at the bottom of the hill. She was all dressed up and ready for her party.
At 6:40 I need more from iTunes, I change the genre to rock, and 'Fat Bottomed Girls' comes on. Mind you at this point I have been cooking since 12:30, alone, and I'm starting to get a little delirious (or maybe I was just getting drunk). Thank you iTunes genie, and thank you Queen! I shaved the Brussels sprouts, and peeled the Americans. THEY WERE NOT ORANGE INSIDE! I didn't have time for this mystery, I guessed they were yams or something. Not even sure there is a difference... other than I think you only 'candy' yams. Whatever. More wine please.
I cook the Brussels sprouts in a pan I had just cooked pancetta in and then added caramelized shallots and finished them with toasted hazelnuts - the hazelnuts were the only 'touch of Piedmont' I added to the entire meal. Finally, I boiled the Americans.
At 8:00 Fabrizio's family and Valeria arrived along with two other close friends. Fabrizio's mother came into the kitchen to give the scene a once over. At this point I was opening a bottle of Iuli Nino, and switched the music to Reggae, needed to be in a peaceful place now that I was no longer rocking out alone with my bird and the Americans in the kitchen.
The bird was beautiful, she was absolutely perfect I thought, but I guess 'mothers' always think that! I basted the hell out of her with her own juices as well as plenty of wine and vegetable broth during her stay in my oven.
I asked Fabrizio's mom to do the honor and handed her the knife and mini pitch fork thingy.
As I uncovered the stuffing I had in a pan she leaned over and asked if the stuffing was a soup!! I am not sure what to say here. There was no liquid. It looked like lots of bread broken up into pieces with herbs with a crispy top. It looked like STUFFING, not soup!
Now, Fabrizio's mom is a renowned (retired) chef in the area, and had a restaurant in the town for 50 years, but this was her first carving of a Turkey (and apparently the first time she had seen stuffing)! As she went at my girl with the big knife she went to the neck and was about to cut her in the wrong direction, crosshatch if you will, when I yelled, "Noooooooooooo!!!!"
Sometimes when I'm panicked my Italian falls short, and that was all I could get out. She jumped and looked confused.
She apologized and said she had never cooked a Turkey, let alone carve one. I drank more Nino, laughed and showed her how to go at it, and concentrated on making my mom's famous gravy. The most important piece of the meal. Fabrizio's 6 year old nephew watched in wonderment as the 'soup' fell out of the big weird 'Chicken' that his Nonna was painstakingly carving. I explained that it was called stuffing, and he was going to love it, and that it was a turkey and not a chicken.
Our Valeria had spent a few years in America, so she finished up the Americans for me mashing with butter and milk and adding S&P, she knew what was up, I can always count on Valeria! I then went into my pantry, back row, and pulled out a can that had been resting in it's place for two years, dusted her off, and proudly showed my cranberry sauce to Valeria. Vale smiled devilishly, knowing I was at this point looking for shock factor. No cranberry sauce in Italy. A friend had sent this as a joke a few years ago when I told her about the things you couldn't get in Italy. Now was finally the little can's moment to shine!!
I opened two bottles of Le Due Terre Merlot and we sat down.
Fabrizo's father, Renzo, doesn't believe there is any other food that is edible in the world other than Piemontese fare. Renzo one time told his family he was 'risking death' by eating yogurt that a doctor ordered him to have for breakfast on a special diet. He also eats chicken livers, pig feet, brain, intestine, and 'head', but mention 'Dannon yogurt' and he get's nauseous.
This was the moment I was most nervous and excited for all at once, Renzo at Thanksgiving.
I watched him closely as each dish was passed to him. He looked disgustedly at each dish, passed it on to his wife without taking any, and then scowled at her as she served herself and then put some of each dish on his plate as well. He was somewhat patiently waiting for the salami to arrive. He took a few small bites of each thing, mumbled something angrily in dialect to Fabrizio's mother, and then put his fork down. He reached for the Le Due Terre. Even though it was not from Piedmont, it was red and Italian, and a relief and comforting to him in lieu of what was going on in front of him on his dinner plate. Dinner was normally his favorite moment of the day.
I grabbed some salami from the fridge, and asked if he wanted me to make him some pasta. He declined, drank wine, ate bread and salami and pouted.
The rest of the crowd, while somewhat confused and at the same time interested, was for the most part pleased with the meal.
Here is Fabrizio's sister trying to convince her son to just TRY the Turkey, Fabrizio's mother standing up still trying to figure out what the weird 'soup' was that we were calling stuffing, and best of all, Renzo in the back at the head of the table, pouting.
In the end I was happy and thankful. It tasted like Thanksgiving, I finally got to use my aged cranberry sauce that was taking up valuable real estate in my pantry and I had successfully completed my first solo T-day flight.
Here is a quick reference list to sum up why Thanksgiving doesn't work in Italy... yes, I guess I could have just 'blogged' this at the beginning, but then you would never have read the long version!
- They don't eat turkey here, "it doesn't taste like anything," and don't understand why anyone would eat turkey when you can eat the pig
- There are no cranberries in Italy
- There is no such thing as croutons to make stuffing
- There is no such thing as gravy
- It is a meal without pasta
- It is a meal without salami (well, in most cases)
- They don't have orange 'Americans'
However, the most barbaric part to the Italians is that we put everything on our plate at once, and all the foods touch, and are mixed up. I didn't even dare tell them about the day after thanksgiving sandwich tradition!!
Once again I pleaded guilty, I am just an American (or I guess you can say, 'just a Yam')!