Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Real Food Thanksgiving in Morocco

One of the greatest blessings of our recent trip was to spend Thanksgiving with our dear friends MS and MC and their children. Because this is their first Thanksgiving abroad they were especially anxious to have a taste of home.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of them all. I love the food, the smells, the family. I love that it is a whole holiday all about being grateful for the bounty of this life. I cannot think of a better reason to take a couple days off work than to celebrate all the things that we have to be thankful for. I am reasonably religious, and so this tradition truly touches my heart. So many of the blessings of this life are given to us. Even if we have worked hard to make them grow and blossom, we were once fortunate enough to be given the tiny seed by something more powerful than us. So we should give thanks and know that we are not islands, but rather receivers of many countless daily gifts. I love that Thanksgiving is our culture’s way of taking time out to voice our thanks.

Our friends decided that since we were coming they would host a proper American Thanksgiving. They invited some friends, a dear French couple who had seen a Thanksgiving episode of Friends which spurred their desire to experience a proper American Thanksgiving, another French couple, and another American couple who had been living abroad longer. But as is normal for all good plans, the second French couple had to bow out at the last minute and a Peace Corps family ended up taking their place because their own plans fell through. It just isn’t Thanksgiving without accepting all to the table. So there we were, a big group: two Americans, four American ex-pats, two French and two Moroccans, plus three three year olds and three babies.

Our dear friends value real food in the same way we do, so there was never a doubt that our meal would be cooked from scratch and prepared with local ingredients. Besides, it is very hard to find processed ingredients in Morocco (or completely impossible). MS arranged with a local meat shop to order a turkey, which apparently can be procured, and are even common in the countryside. I actually saw one walking around someone’s yard as we drove back from Fez. Sides included cornbread and sausage stuffing, a highly altered version of my family’s famous creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffed mushroom, some homemade cranberry relish (thanks to the store at the American Embassy) and a little runny gravy cooked up at the last second. Please forgive me if I have forgotten something. I am still battling some powerful jet lag.

Desert consisted of an apple pie, a pumpkin pie and pumpkin custard for the gluten free folks. First of all, the pumpkin pie was made from the biggest pumpkin I have ever seen in my life. MC went to the Medina to get pumpkin and bought 10 kilos from a man who literally would just cut part of a pumpkin for you. So he only brought home less than half the pumpkin, but it still weighed over 20 pounds. Seeing it was intimidating! The flesh was so orange and flavorful. I have never had a pumpkin pie that was made from fresh pumpkin before. The flavor was far more intense. The apple pie was simple, apples and lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon and a little bit of rapadura sugar in a whole wheat crust. But when we bit into it, everyone asked if we had added rose water to the pie. The apples were so fragrant it was as though the orchard had been planted next to a hillside of roses which infused a floral scent into the fruit. I have never tasted anything quite like it.

But it wouldn’t be a true Thanksgiving without a couple of screaming kids. My Things had started to really struggle with food by Thursday. Thing 1 had not eaten any dinner Wednesday night, not even one bite. I think he had only had a couple of bananas and a piece of toast during the day, so he did not have the energy for a house full of guests. He played with the other kids for a while, but just before dinner he began to sulk and yell. I knew we were in for a fight. Both the kids put up such a fight that DH and I ended up in the kitchen with our screaming Things, me with tears streaming down my face from the desperation. Big crowds are hard enough for Thing 1 without the added pressure of unfamiliar faces. Add to that an unfamiliar country and food and it was a recipe for disaster. But having them so upset was also horrible for me because we were in a house full of people we didn’t know (except for our dear friends), people who had never seen our Things more gentle sides. I hate to think that adults will dislike my child, or that we will be “that family”, but there we were. And of course I really wanted all these new people to like us!! I was very embarrassed at my kid’s behavior, it was fueled by their not having eaten well during the day and all that came to a head as soon as everyone sat down to dinner.

Thing 1 never did eat dinner. In fact, though he has never made quite this much of a scene during Thanksgiving before, he has never actually eaten Thanksgiving dinner. Crowds make him crazy and it is very difficult for him to concentrate enough to eat. He eventually melted down into a little puddle and DH had to take him into a back bedroom so he could calm down. He fell asleep at 6pm. Thing 2 had a hard time too. He is regularly a wingy baby with a lot of complaints about your average everyday situations. He was very grumpy through dinner and also did not eat a proper dinner, but he did manage to eat some bread. What a frustrating evening! Every year I look forward to sitting down to a lovely dinner on Thanksgiving. This year I did not get to do that until after both my kids went to sleep. But once I did, the food was delicious. And thoroughly American. The food the company and the setting could not have been lovelier. I just do hope that our new friends were able to forgive our children’s behavior and see it for what it really was-a couple of tired kids on a long vacation a ways away from the comforts of a familiar home.

As for me, that day in Morocco didn’t feel much like Morocco at all. It was American through and through.

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