This was actually my second Thanksgiving in Madrid. Two years ago, I spent the American holiday in Spain’s capital with my parents and brother, eating paella and drinking sangria in a fancy restaurant. A few weeks later, I teamed up with my fellow americanas back in Sevilla to make a traditional Thanksgiving feast for our host families, complete with a full roasted turkey, all the fixin’s, and a delicious cultural fusion of apple cider and sangria, all followed by Salomé’s rum cake whose effect could beat tryptophan any day.
In 2011, I was back in the good old U S of A for turkey day, and for the first time, due to familial circumstances, was able to contribute significantly to the meal. I took on the role of family pastry chef, making a chocolate pecan pie, white chocolate cheesecake with a hazelnut cookie crust topped with cranberry compote, and pumpkin cupcakes with maple bourbon cream cheese frosting.
This year, I find myself back in Madrid celebrating the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest. The circumstances wouldn’t allow for a comparable showing in the dessert department, but they would allow for me to make a Thanksgiving dinner for some friends who had never celebrated it before.
Thursday itself was all but ceremonious, but today, after trips to numerous grocery stores, a specialty spice store to purchase sage, and an American grocery store to obtain cranberry sauce, I was able to prepare the traditional feast for a few friends. The menu included: cornbread, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing with chorizo, honey glazed roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans with caramelized shallots and toasted almonds. For the gobbler, I went with turkey breasts, pan-fried with traditional Thanksgiving spices in some delicious Spanish olive oil, and topped with homemade gravy and Ocean Spray cranberry sauce (the raw berry doesn’t exist here). I have to say, pan-fried turkey breasts are a big upgrade from the dry, tasteless roasted bird, and I’ll have trouble going back.
Being a baker rather than a chef, I was a bit nervous about being in charge of all of these savory dishes, but in the end, the main course was much more successful than my apple pie, which my guests enjoyed but I found too different from the classic for my liking.
We even decided to channel our inner schoolchildren and do the same activity that I’ve been doing with my students all week: hand turkeys! Although it was a bit rough being away from home on this family-centered holiday, I certainly have a lot to be thankful for this year.