It all began a few weeks ago at the dinner table when we were talking about holiday traditions and celebrations. We were breaking down each big holiday in the US and explaining what they stood for. This is what we came up with for Thanksgiving: a huge feast consisting of getting family and/or friends together to celebrate life and give thanks for all the blessings we have received. It sounded like a nice holiday to the oblates, and when we mentioned that it was coming up soon, Cristóbal didn't hesitate to suggest we celebrate in Chile.
The minute we got the go ahead on Thanksgiving we started plotting our feast. It would be a traditional dinner consisting of all the regular dishes—turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. We readjusted our day off to Thursday and began to put together our grocery list. N.B.— grocery list + me = inevitable failure
Regardless, I sent Niko our shopping list on Wednesday afternoon, and although it was meticulously prepared, I still had my concerns. Well, the saga of the cursed grocery lists continues. Upon arrival to the supermarket Niko laid the bad news on us. No sweet potatoes, no cranberries, no turkey. (Cough). No turkey? Apparently the only time they get whole Turkeys is during Christmas. In the end our list came out de-feathered and gizzard-less. The recipes we had planned would either have to change partially, totally, or go without one ingredient or another. But as quickly as I was demoralized by the thought of Thanksgiving without turkey, sweet potatoes, or cranberry sauce, I was rejuvenated by the notion of creating an original feast from scratch using our Benedictine brains. And since there were two of us, we would be able to divide our labors.
As for the menu, instead of a scrumptious turkey we went for two chickens... but two heads are better than one, right? Only these birds were missing theirs. And what better way to demonstrate self-denial and promote the Rule of Benedict than to forgo deliciously prepared sweet potatoes and substitute them for hearty, earthy Russets (or Idahoes, or whatever we bought that looked like your run-of-the-mill potato). And the cranberries... who needs a berry packed with antioxidants and vibrant color when that corner of your stomach could be stretched by more stuffing or clogged by more congealed gravy? You see folks, we had our bases covered.
So we returned home with our spoils, ready for Thursday. Our plan was to do two different chickens—one soaked in a brine and herb mixture, another that would be cooked with an open beer shoved into its body cavity, dubbed the "drunken chicken". The drunken chicken required no previous preparation, but for the salty chicken Jer made the brine and herb emulsion Wednesday night and let him bathe in the Dead Sea overnight for thorough salt permeation.
And so it began!
We started at noon the next day with our dessert. 100% homemade pumpkin pie. Jer boiled the pumpkin flesh to soften it up and then he strained out the fibrous matter. He did this while I encountered my first hurdle of the day.
We had no real pie pan, and nothing but the counter top to roll the crust on. My first attempt was ignorant and I rolled a great crust on the counter, but had no way of getting it off without total destruction. I tried a second time, rolling the dough in the vessel we would use as the pan, but this was also worthless because I could only roll it flat to the vessel's edges—I had no way of bringing up the edges to complete the mold. Finally, I came to my senses and used the last bit of plastic wrap to roll the dough onto. From there I flipped the crust onto the sheet and rolled up my edges for containment. ¡Filo!
After the pie was in the oven and we had a few other things out of the way we stopped to eat some lunch. As soon as we finished lunch it was right back to work with the stuffing, the potatoes, and the green bean casserole.
It was late in the day when we pulled out the stuffing and casserole from the oven, and surprisingly, we were ahead of schedule. All we had left was to put the chickens into the oven. We were planning on covering the whole thing with aluminum foil for moisture control, but we didn't have any foil. No problem, there was a store nearby with kitchen supplies. I hopped on one of the mountain bikes at the house and took off for the store. Riding fast it's about a ten-minute bike. I was nearly there when all of a sudden I felt a surge in resistance in the back tire. Anyone who has ever gotten a flat tire knows the feeling, and you'd probably know the feeling even if you've never had a flat tire before. The thing is, I was riding "on the sidewalk" but the state of Chilean sidewalks, and for that matter, many roads, is disrepair. The sidewalk is a series of raised slabs of concrete interspersed by valleys of dirt that the driveways pass through. They're like moguls, but with slabs of concrete jetting out and breaking the curves.
Now, if you think I walked the bike home or even hitchhiked back, you're wrong. I was on a mission, and in fact, I love odd running challenges. For example, I once ran five miles in school clothes with a winter jacket and a backpack. I've ran the six miles from Saint Benedict's to Saint John's in school clothes at 4 AM on Highway 94. I've also run seventeen miles with nothing more than rubber sheaths on my feet. But this isn't the time to toot my horn.
So I picked up the foil and turned back for home, only this time running alongside the incapacitated bike. It was nice to have a rolling vehicle to support some of my weight... I haven't gotten fat or anything; I was just utilizing my resources wisely. For those of you who don't know, VO2 Max is dependent on several variables. One of them is weight. The less you have to haul around, the less oxygen it takes to move. I didn't have my arms to swing, and I was running like a hunchback, but I could still go fast by using the bike as a VO2 turbo booster.
Now, people running in a hurry look out of place in general, but here I was, some kid hurtling down a neighborhood street hunched over a bicycle carrying a stick of aluminum foil. Was I hurrying back to cover my anti-alien safety bunker with aluminum foil? Yes, it would appear that was the case.
But joking aside, I got home and we got the foil over the birds and put them in the oven. But after the birds went in there wasn't much to do. We washed some dishes, set the table, prepared a serving area, and then just hung out.
Once all our guests had arrived, which was at about 8:45 PM, Jer commenced the ceremony with an explanation of the Thanksgiving feast and where it comes from. It was quite fun to be sharing such an important cultural holiday with the oblates who were more than enthused to be experiencing this classic United States tradition.
After the Thanksgiving lecture we all moved into the kitchen for debriefing. We decided that in true American style we would do the self-serve, buffet style setup, giving each person the freedom to mix and match quantities and flavors (which we all know is an important part of the meal). Not wanting to commit any Thanksgiving faux pas, they all insisted on Jer and me going first to be an example of proper plate loading. Jer ceded the honors to me.
After I had navigated the table and given them an idea of what a proper Thanksgiving plate looks like, they followed. You might argue I had deceived them greatly by not taking any gravy (homemade by Jer), but I gave them all fair warning beforehand that I was in the minority in not liking gravy with my meal. You'll be relieved to know everyone else heaped gravy over their plate.
Now you may be wondering how the meal actually tasted. Well, two things happened during dinner that gives evidence to the quality of the meal. One, we received ample compliments on how amazing everything was. And two, the meal was relatively quiet unless someone was making a savory noise and praising a certain food item.
And the days following the feast our Thanksgiving meal was the talk of the Movement. Everyone had heard about the awesome meal we had prepared for the house and wanted one of their own.
After the main course we served the pie with homemade whipped cream (also prepared by Jer). This was such a hit that jokes were made about ensuing violence over the last slice that was to be saved for Andrés. And one more testament to our cooking: they asked us to make another pie, which we did, of course.
When dinner had finished we moved outside to the calm central valley air to continue the feast with a tumbler of scotch and an assortment of Dominican and Belgian cigars. Any chance passerby might have confused us for some great council philosophizing in the moonlight, but we were but simple men laughing and socializing. Later, after no spool was left unwound and things themselves were winding down, Cristobal broke out his father's accordion and improvised some tunes. Although they were simple melodies, it was enough to remind me of the few times I've heard my grandpa Stevens jamming out on his squeezebox.
And there I'll end my recounting of our Chilean Thanksgiving. It may not have been the most traditional of feasts, but in the end we achieved the ultimate goal—to give thanks and to show appreciation for life, family, friends, and the blessings that have been bestowed on us.