J Simens.com

Family and Food – Two of my favorite things!

traveling turkey

Being an American who has lived in many different countries, I have always tried to explain the USA holiday of Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays because it incorporates two things I hold very dear to my heart – Family and Food.

I like that it is not a gift-giving holiday.

I like that it is not a religious holiday, people of all faiths can join in the celebration.

To me, it is a celebration of gratitude.

Gratitude is the best attitude. – Author Unknown.

I like the family traditions we have at Thanksgiving. I love that some things always stay the same. We still have turkey even if we have to pay too much for it.  My brother, Jeff who lives in Missouri is always amazed at how much you have to pay for a turkey in places like Indonesia, Nigeria, or American Samoa. Turkey’s are just not grown in many areas in the world and when you have to throw in frozen containers floating around the world or frozen air shipments – the costs are just sky-high. I have been known to put a whole frozen turkey in a suitcase just to get one in the country we are currently living in at that time! Not much room in the suitcase for other items but well worth it for the family tradition.

I’ve made pumpkin pies from scratch in places where you can’t get our favorite Libby’s pumpkin puree. It is several day processes for me when you have to start with a whole garden pumpkin. I love the convenience, consistent flavor and texture of canned pumpkin even if it is mostly “squash’!

Some canned “pumpkin” puree is made from one or more types of winter squash, like butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, and Golden Delicious. These squash varieties can be less stringy and richer in sweetness and color than pumpkin. The USDA is pretty lenient with its distinction between pumpkin and squash.

Sometimes hard to find in July!

Often in the summer on my annual home leave, I’d buy Libby’s brand of canned pumpkin and throw it into our suitcase, so I’d have my Thanksgiving pie!  Libby’s use a strain of Dickinson Pumpkins, with exceptionally creamy flesh that the company developed themselves. This variety of pumpkin resembles a butternut-squash, not the orange pumpkin we have for Halloween jack-o-lanterns.

Sometimes it is impossible to get Crisco in the countries we have lived in.  I like the crust of my pumpkin pie to be flaky.  I watched my Grandma Wright use Crisco (vegetable shortening), Flour, Salt, Water, Vinegar, and Egg to make perfect pies. This is the only way I know how to make a good pie. Ree, The Pioneer Woman, uses a similar recipe. So believe it or not, Crisco has also found its way into my luggage.  So far I have only had to try and explain why I am bringing these items into a country one time.  By the time I got to pie crust . . . The customs official was waving me through the line. I am not sure what I would have said or done if they had taken my Thanksgiving stash.

My favorite Zen Holiday Story about giving thanks

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.

The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Giving thanks far away from family

Then: Bundle up it was always cold and drive across Logan County to Grandma’s house. Over the river and through the woods and all that sort of stuff.

Now: Glad, our child in is Hawaii enjoying life with Kylie.  Glad that Kevin and I will be able to share Thanksgiving with them.

At one Thanksgiving, it would have been our child’s first-ever USA Thanksgiving. While living in college and not near family, I searched and searched for a restaurant that would deliver a feast to her college apartment. Most nice places have a buffet for important events like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year.  After hearing my ‘sad story’ about it being her first and only USA Thanksgiving in the USA and being alone– my wish was honored.  The Briarwood Inn supplied a feast for my child. It is hard to know how much a person might eat at a buffet and there was no way to determine that. My child reported that not only was it a feast there were tons of leftovers, and that is what makes Thanksgiving unique for a college kid.  Or all of us. Right.

Several years ago while in Honolulu we had the Royal Hawaiian (hotel) Thanksgiving to go! We made Thanksgiving hassle-free that year with their Thanksgiving To-Go package, featuring a Kiawe Smoked Turkey, Sourdough Stuffing, Cheesy Herb Mashed Potatoes, Pumpkin Pecan Pie, and more. The meal feeds up to 15 people.  Of course, we took it up to our son’s apartment so his friends could enjoy the feast! We asked them to bring their chairs and silverware. Thank goodness for paper plates!

Thanksgiving past and present 

I am grateful for all the Thanksgiving feasts I have had.  Starting with the ones at Grandma Wright’s Kansas farmhouse to the ones in Incline Village, NV.  At first, all my memories of Thanksgiving were only about family members. Often we had a whole room full of tables and family sharing the feast. Then it moved to Thanksgiving with college friends and on to Thanksgiving with international teachers. Then a few years of Kevin and I were sharing the dinner with friends. Finally, my own family and an ongoing list of expats sharing the feast.

I wish I had taken pictures of the faces of people who shared my table every Thanksgiving to have as a slideshow of memories. Besides a whole host of beautiful people and their smiling faces, it would show some interesting things. It would explain the massive tuna that the young teachers put on the BBQ in Samoa to go with the roast chicken.

It would show my Mom cooking gravy in a “fry baby” in Hawaii since my college apartment didn’t have a lot of kitchen items. All of our guests had to bring their plates and silverware since we only had a set of three odds and ends.

As always, our family will be missing my mother at the holidays, but we will remember fondly how she so effortlessly made a huge meal year after year for all of us and any friends we wanted to bring along.

Those past photos would have shown the beautiful name tags my kids made one year. It would show the straw turkey Jackie painted with her Grandma Simens. It would show friends from around the world. It would show my family. It would also show our quasi-families!

Expats create quasi-family for Thanksgiving

Enjoy your time with friends –  If you are an expat create a quasi-family and enjoy the holiday.

Zesho Susan O’Connell speaks about Thanksgiving, and she does it well.

“The greatest gift is to give. We can give gratitude; we can give sustenance to body and mind, we can give fearlessness. The wheel of giving and receiving keeps our hearts open and warm. And a warm and open heart is the source of courage – the courage to sit still in the midst of our constantly changing, challenging lives. Wisdom emerges from this stillness — and informs the style and content of our giving. Give with no expectation of return. Give wholeheartedly, and if you realize you are holding back, give yourself kindness and understanding. Give each out-breath to the benefit of the world.

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