Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cheers to Thanksgiving!

I'm still basking in post-Thanksgiving euphoria.

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, as it brings back happy childhood memories of family, friends and food. For many years, when I was growing up, my parents, sister and I spent Thanksgiving with other Taiwanese American families in the area. Our multi-family Thanksgiving dinners were big festive potluck feasts featuring a mix of Asian and American dishes.

Even through college and grad school, every November, I looked forward to the annual Thanksgiving homecoming where all of us, scattered across the country (and world) returned to Cleveland. We'd talk about school, jobs, relationships, plans for the future - all while chowing down on turkey, stuffing, sushi and fried shrimp. I wrote about those childhood Thanksgiving meals in an essay published in an anthology last year. In the essay, I paid tribute to Judy's Special Salad, Maggie's Potato Mushroom Casserole and Jen and Lil's mom's Sticky Rice.

Over the years, the big feasts began to shrink as all of us moved away. The saddest Thanksgiving I ever had was the year that I, fresh out of grad school, moved to Los Angeles and was too broke to come home. I spent that Thanksgiving eating alone, but surrounded by European tourists, at a cheap restaurant in Santa Monica called Mama's Buffet.

I returned to Cleveland a few years ago, but everyone else is gone. The past few years, I've spent Thanksgiving with my husband's family and we have nice meals together too, but I still miss my Taiwanese American extended family.

So this year, I was lucky enough to have a mini-version of the big Thanksgiving events I grew up with. We didn't have all of the usual suspects at the table, but my sister Linda flew in from San Francisco, Jen from New York and Lil from Los Angeles. My mom roasted a turkey and made accompanying dishes for the potluck dinner, while Linda, Nico and I made pearl balls and flower dumplings.

After having an early Thanksgiving dinner at my father-in-law's house, Vic and I took the boys to Jen and Lil's parents house for a second Thanksgiving meal that included turkey, dressing, and yes, Jen and Lil's mom's Sticky Rice. For dessert, the options included pumpkin pie, apple pie, cupcakes (in honor of Jen's birthday) persimmons, honey melon, grapes and red bean ice cream.

Linda and I discussed, at length, various Taiwanese American Thanksgiving eating strategies. Some people prefer segregating the Asian and American foods, alternating between plates of solely American foods and plates of only Asian items. Lil chose to split her plate 50/50, with half the space dedicated to traditional American Thanksgiving components and the other half reserved for Asian foods.

For me, when I was younger, I only ate the American foods, since the Asian foods did not represent Thanksgiving to me. Over the years, though, I started accepting Asian foods as welcome additions to the Thanksgiving tradition. Now, I'll load my plate with everything, but making sure that cranberry sauce doesn't touch sushi and wasabi doesn't touch turkey. My dad just piles everything together. "It's all the same in your stomach," he says.

It was great sharing this special meal with old friends and introducing my sons to the idea of a multicultural Thanksgiving celebration. I hope they'll grow up to love this tradition as I do.


Bob said...

Thanksgiving is the best, even if you do have to suffer through another pathetic Lions game.

I never realized that a Thanksgiving meal could be anything but turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, etc. until three years ago, when I experienced my first Italian Thanksgiving feast. (Kind of a microcosm of the expanding worldview in general since leaving my small hometown...)

Three distinct and separate courses--meals in themselves, really--followed by the desserts. First comes the antipasti, a magical array of deli meats, marinated veggies (red peppers, artichokes, mushrooms), meatbreads (stromboli)...then it's the pasta course, complete with meatballs and sausages, and then the turkey et. al. When dessert comes, it's pumpkin and apple pie, but also cannoli and other italian pastries.

Needless to say, I have become a huge fan of mixing cultural traditions at Thanksgiving.

Lisa said...

YUM! Italian Thanksgiving sounds awesome. We should merge our Thanksgivings next year!