I’ve written a lot about how shell-shocked we all were in the early days in New York: it was like an Alvarez Guedes Routine “Los Eñiquitos take Manhattan.” So what did we know about Thanksgiving? As I got older, I began to complain that we were the only ones that never celebrated and had turkey. Well, my mother aimed to please, like the time I told her about this great dish, lasagna. Using the recipe on the back of a matchbook, she set about making it until she found that she didn’t have this mozzarella cheese. No problem, she substituted American. Canned tomatos? She had tomato sauce. Needless to say, it was not until much later when she made friends with a Mexican lady who taught her how to cook Italian well that we ever ate lasagna again.
Having little or no knowledge as to what the holiday was about, she turned to what she knew: the turkey lunch plate at the Woolworth’s counter, which consisted of an ice cream scoop of stuffing with two thin slices of turkey breast with a dollop of gravy and a side of mashed potatoes. Thus was born the core of our Thanksgiving menu. Although she later deviated, adding congris and mojo, I never have. Every Thanksgiving while others are dicing and chopping, making chestnut stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce, I am gathering my provisions. Why bother with making your own stuffing, when Arnold’s has those packages with the cool, little cubes of white bread? Just throw in three times the amount of butter in the directions and cook the sucker to death and you’ll have great stuffing. Pan gravy? Giblets? Nah. Just buy the little envelopes, stir in some water, and heat. You better stick with real potatoes and turkey, but definitely get the cranberry sauce that retains the shape of the can and you slice instead of spoon. Then enlist your Costa Rican sister-in-law, the sweet potato queen. That’s it, except for the pies.
Some Thanksgivings I experiment. There was the year we started with Pumpkin soup and the year we ended with an absolutely mind-blowing sweet potato torte that no one would try. On every other holiday, we eat Cuban. But there’s something about that Woolworth’s inspired meal on Thanksgiving: it’s the taste of being American. As I child I thought there was nothing better in the world. As an adult I realize, not how “proud” I am to be an American -I did nothing to earn the privilege- but rather, how lucky I am to have been born in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Good eating, folks!