Cranberries and Thanksgiving Dinner

I was chatting with S about Thanksgiving earlier today. P and I are going to travel south to visit family next Thursday for Thanksgiving but will stop over at R and S’s place for our usually visit. Since S’s parents are in the US this year for the holidays, R thought it might be fun to plan a Thanksgiving dinner on Black Friday when P and I are driving back north.

I asked what was on the menu, and S replied, “turkey.”

“What else?” I asked, “Sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows on top? Green peas and pearl onions? Mashed potatoes? Cranberry sauce?”

S: “I don’t like most of those.. but sure, I want to celebrate Thanksgiving…”

Me: “So what is your plan besides turkey… daal bhaat?”

S: “No… maybe you should be put in charge of making the other things since you know them…just make sure that they are not bland—like in typical Thanksgiving dinner—my parents don’t like that. We should use flavor, for instance we will have a Turkey, but it will have Nepalese spice on it… it will be different.”

Me: “Wouldn’t it be fun to make a real American Thanksgiving dinner? It would be a cultural experience.”

S: “Trust me they hate real American dinner… they had bad experiences.”

This makes me a bit sad. I’m always willing to try different food. I guess it is different with older people, but it still makes me sad. I don’t know if it is easier to make the jump from “bland” food to “spicier” food then the other way around, but (in my mind) a potato is a potato whether it is covered in garlic, salt and cumin or if it is mashed with butter.

Me: “I guess we could ‘Nepali-fy’ things… we could make mashed potatoes that taste like veg momo filling, and we could make green peas like mattar paneer.”

S: “Yeah, and we should skip the sweet potatoes… that will work.”

Me: “Well then, I’m still bringing the cranberry sauce… because even if you don’t eat it, I will!”

As I explained to S, there are two types of cranberry sauce. There is the sauce that is more traditional… more “sauce”-like and berry-filled… and well, then there is the “sauce” which is more like jelly. Growing up we would rotate Thanksgivings each year, so that some years we were with my dad’s family and some years we were with my mom’s.

More "traditional" cranberry sauce... see the berries?

My dad’s family is more “into” cooking. This was the side of my family where my grandmother baked an assortment of pies for the holidays, and lots of homemade snacks (cookies, doughnuts, etc) were made by relatives and brought to the gathering for people to munch on throughout the weekend. This side of the family also had the more “traditional” berry-filled cranberry sauce.

On my mom’s side, people aren’t really into cooking… which is actually kind of amusing. See, when my great grandmother (“Nanny” as she was referred to) first came to the US from Ireland, she just happened to come along at the right time and in the right place to land a job as a cook for JD Rockefeller at his estate near Tarrytown, NY. As the family story goes, the cook before Nanny was a Swede with a hot temper, and chased the butler with a kitchen knife. Rockefeller sacked her, and found Nanny. As part of her training she took cooking classes in New York City, and made Rockefeller’s 90th birthday cake. Anyway, by the time she left the position and married she was in her 40s, and when my grandmother (an only child) was born, I guess Nanny was just sick of cooking. Thus she didn’t pass on a lot of cooking skills to my grandmother, who in turn, didn’t pass on a lot of cooking skills to her seven children (including my mom). Holidays at their house are still filled with lots of food… but it is mostly store bought snacks.

I love it! Can you see the ridges!! And the "plopping" splatter?

One thing in particular that they always had was the store bought canned cranberry sauce, and for some reason I always loved it, and preferred this one to the “real” stuff. I get such a kick out of it… the “sauce” comes in an aluminum can and doesn’t really have any traces of “berry” anywhere… it’s a cranberry colored mushy-solid flavored jelly, that slides out of the can with a sucking sound and retains the can shape after being plopped on the plate… can ridges and all! After sliding the “cranberry sauce” out of the can, you kind of knock it over and then slice it up. I love it, I think it is hysterical, and tasty, even if it is just over-processed jelly.

Anyway… that is my Thanksgiving cranberry story of the day. You bet I’ll bring a can to S and R’s place!

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17 responses to “Cranberries and Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. As someone from Nepal, I can see the argument that S is making here. However, I think you are correct to expect that folks be more open to the culinary gems such as pie, mashed potatoes and traditional thanksgiving turkey considering you are expected to eat Nepali cuisine.

    I can already see your post as an inspiration on my own blog post about the benefits of international students being open to American culture but I will keep the comment short. I personally feel that being immersed in the culture is part of the growth & learning process when one studies abroad. That applies to both American students studying abroad as well as international students going abroad.

    I can see how parents who are older will be less willing to change their ways and that’s okay if they really hate it after trying it (which seems to be the case with S’ parents).

    However, I feel that there are some people who just assume their parents will not like it because they don’t like it or, worse yet, are going with their preconceived notions without even giving the food a chance. As a result, they never present it to the parents in a manner that seems attractive to them which would explain the fact that the parents are less than enthused about the whole cultural immersion of culinary proportions.

    If it makes you feel any better, I enjoy a traditional thanksgiving dinner with a case of beer and turkey day football on TV. How is that for cultural immersion?

    • I have definitely heard the argument before that… when an American (for instance) is studying abroad for a semester in France… they are going specifically to learn the culture and language, they didn’t necessarily go to learn Physics. While a Chinese student coming to the US for a master’s degree is coming for the education rather than the cultural experience.

      I think the situation can be tough. I mean the Chinese situation is true. However I think people like you had a more enriching experience because of the way you choose to interact with people.

      At the end of the day it is part of the larger argument of whether immigrants (so students if they decide to stay long term) should try to assimilate to “American society” or not.

  2. We’ve had lots of Indian friends join us for “traditional american thanksgivings” and for the most part they have loved them!

    My favorite “creative thanksgiving” was 2 years ago when we were in India. I was homesick for turkey so we packed up the whole family and went to Subway for turkey sandwiches! :-)

    Last year, we were on our own for thanksgiving, so I decided to try something different – a Tandoori Turkey (and Cranberry Chutney!). It was actually a lot of fun to make and it turned out well… here is the link to the recipes in case you’re interested: http://indianties.blogspot.com/search?q=tandoori+turkey

    I’m looking forward to hearing how your dinner turns out!

    – Heather

  3. I’m kind of a cranberry freak, so I opt for the whole sauce –and always homemade. However, I must admit, I loooovvveee that gelatinous stuff in the can!

    My husband is very open to new flavors and is always willing to try new things. In fact, he prefers it. The other night, while trying to decide what to make for dinner, I was looking up some Nepali recipies online. He suggested I make something else and said, “I’ve been eating Nepali food for 30 years…I don’t want to eat it all the time now.” Considering that the average Nepali diet consists of daal bhaat, daal bhatt, and some more daal bhaat, he loves the variety of American food.

    • I know… the “can” definitely should be gross, but it’s actually strangely addicting…

      having a mixture of foods and tastes really helps. What I need to get better at now is figuring out how to mix and match “American” and Nepali stuff. Now we usually eat only “American” or only Nepali during a meal because the foods don’t seem to mix easily… pasta and curry? salad and daal? but sometimes creative things happen! :)

  4. I think assimilation has a negative connotation that you are losing a part of your identity in the process. I prefer the word immersion. I can tell you that cultural immersion will lead to transformation but it is more of an organic growth. Assimilation almost seems to sound like it is forced by an outside agent.

    With that said, I am of the opinion that the cultural immersion is an important part of the overall experience. I understand that as students, our primary goal should be to make the best effort to focus our energy on the academics.

    However, based on my personal experience, I feel that participating in activities that are “American”, whether it be watching a game of baseball with my friends or grilling on a weekend throwing the ol’ pigskin really helps in building valuable friendships and developing inter-personal skills that come in handy should you choose to extend your stay in the United States by working here.

    Even if you have every intention to go back to your country after completion of the education you came here to receive, I feel that you will have a much richer experience by exposing yourself to the culture. After all, if we expect our American classmates & colleagues to make an effort to understand where we are coming from and what our values are, shouldn’t we show them the same courtesy?

  5. I’ve been trying to think of something from my husband’s culture to add to my family’s Thanksgiving meal. It will be his first year with my gigantic loud family and I’d like to give him something familiar! Plus, I’d kind of like to share something of him with my family. I can’t go too crazy and cook the whole turkey with Nepali spices…just one or two seperate dishes…and something a bit more original than rice! Any suggestions? I thought about momos, but I’ve never made them and, can you believe it, he’s not a big fan! Have you ever heard of a Nepali who doesn’t really like momos?

    • Kathleen… are you sure your husband is a Nepali then? Although it sounds like he’s a daal bhaat lover, so that qualifies ;)

      IndiaTies’ link (above) had some great ideas… were you thinking of making a dish to pass around the table? maybe you could do a simple potato dish (I remember you saying your husband loves potatoes with his daal bhaat). Perhaps your family could make half the quantity of mashed potatoes, and the other half you could make curry style (for an easy introduction). Another idea might be to make a simple saag (fried spinach) dish… something akin to the collared greens that Southerns tend to eat for Thanksgiving.

      If you don’t have a copy of the handy dandy Nepali Cookbook I sometimes link to, I’d highly recommend it. Unfortunately there aren’t any pictures, but the author is very good at description and even gives a lot of cultural background as well. Its also nice to have a Nepali cookbook instead of a general “Guide to Indian Cooking” because there are subtle differences.

  6. Oh Thanksgiving is the day before Eid this year and I am not sure about what to do, either. (it’s gonna be a lot of work for me) My husband likes Thanksgiving foods and American foods in general and doesn’t expect me to desify anything, thankfully.

  7. Amazon should so give you a cut, because I just ordered the cookbook you recommended. I think I will take your suggestion and make saag. I like it…and I assume my older sister loves it since she orders it every single time we go to an Indian restaurant! Good suggestion!

    I was thinking about what you said about integrating American and Nepali food and decided I really haven’t done that either. Actually, we tend to eat a lot of Middle Eastern dishes. Years before I met my husband, I was in an 8-year relationship with an Iraqi guy. I became fairly adept at Iraqi cuisine and integrated it into my general kitchen repertoire. I find that it translates pretty well to my hubby’s taste buds. The two cuisines aren’t really too far off. Skip the beef and add in pork (okay, not for you, I know you’re a vegetarian), lots of rice, lentils (although Iraqi shorba is much thicker and spicer than Nepali daal), chickpeas. The spices are similar too…garlic, cumin, tumeric, ginger, and cilantro. My husband loves falafel and tabouli…and both of those vegetarian!

    • I love tabouli… P isn’t a big fan of parsley (I’m still not convinced he doesn’t like it, he just doesn’t want to eat it), but I still sneak it in sometimes and say its something else ;)

      I might have to pick your brain for some Middle Eastern recipes… the dishes I’ve tried are delicious!

  8. Pick away…lots of Middle Eastern foods are very vegetarian friendly.

  9. Pingback: Friday Connections 27-11-09

    • Since we had “real” Thanksgiving at my American family’s house the day before, I had a lot of leftovers to bring to R and S’s house for our “Pseudo”-Thanksgiving Black Friday Feast… so even though we had veg pulao, aloo/mattar curry, and turkey and chicken with Nepali spices we also had mashed garlic potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin cheese cake! ;)

      I hope everyone who celebrated had a great Thanksgiving!

  10. And yet we never got to have the Cranberry sauce not at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

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