Giving Gracias

For my Estadounidense friends who’re kindly sending their Thanksgiving wishes, asking how we celebrate the holiday in Mexico, let me fill you in. We don’t. I’ll do the same thing on this Thanksgiving Day that I did the day before, and the year before that: nothing remarkable.

It’s just another Thursday in late November around these parts, the midpoint between Dia de la Revolucion on November 20 and Dia de  Guadalupe on December 12. The newer an expat’s residency in this country, the more likely he or she is to celebrate. Gain distance from the Old Country and some tenure here, and it’s not a big deal. Sure, off in expat havens like Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, the restaurants get into a large Thanksgiving Day dinner scene, but not where I live.

I didn’t come from a background of Thanksgiving tradition. My mother refused to do anything reeking of “traditional,” and if there was any tradition in my childhood, it was to do something different each year. One year, she thought killing and dressing the very chickens that would grace the table later that day would be not only fun but instructive, just in case we would need to kill poultry sometime to survive. It memorable all right: she thought my stepfather was having a heart attack, only to find that he was praying for the fowl before their demise. Those home-butchered Southern California suburban chickens may not have tasted very good, but they left a lasting impression and left us with a valuable life skill. We invited sailors from the naval base into our home another year, and a few were amazed that anyone would get out the good silver for strangers. I spent one Thanksgiving working my shift at the hospital as a Candy Striper, thinking it was very cool not only to escape a celebration but also to get double Candy Striper points for working on a holiday. Those memories remain more cherished than the thought of a roasted turkey.

There are two kinds of people: those who are hosts and those who are guests. My tradition was to be a guest. That way, I manage to observe a lot of other people’s traditions, more than few times returning home, thanking my lucky stars that I’m not part of  that family tradition. All right, most of the traditions are heartfelt and well-meaning, but experiencing some of them once was enough.

It’s not that I scoff at tradition, celebration and giving. Last night, I slaved away in the kitchen for at least twenty minutes.

The Mexican-gringo blogorama is filled with talented cooks:

Tancho at Rancho Canyon Cookbook

Don Cuevas at My Mexican Kitchen

Leslie Limon at La Cocina de Leslie 

Billie Mercer at Reservations for One

Nancy Dardarian at Countdown to Mexico

I’m not one of them. I read recipes as literature, plotless novellas. Good intentions usually end up with making reservations. A plan to make something as straightforward as spaghetti can easily detour to hummus and then culminate in calling for take-out. There is a reason why friends avoid my kitchen unless they’re willing to bring their own food.

Attention span and manual dexterity are not my strong suits. I lack the patience to bake.  My kitchen is more like a mad scientist’s laboratory. Creating chemical reactions, doing experiments, acquiring gadgets, playing with toys, and watching stuff whirl around in the Cuisinart is much more entertaining. (And yes, I lust for a Kitchen Aid mixer, not to use, but just to place on the counter as a trophy. You can get me one for Christmas.)

It’s not as if I don’t understand the theory behind making food. I just have a hard time getting it all together. Distractions like sitting down to peruse a good book, planting some more lettuce, or updating my Facebook just get in the way.

P1010958

So I embark upon my holiday culinary preparations. This year it’s Asian-ish beef jerky. You were hoping for something Thanksgiving-ish? I’ll have you know that Asian-ish beef jerky is someone’s tradition, somewhere on the planet.

And here’s how:

Start out by asking your butcher (you do have one, right?) to slice up paper-thin 1.25 kilos of milanesa cara. (rump roast if you’re in the U.S.)

Pick lemon grass from the garden, whittling it down. Whack it with the kitchen hammer or meat flattener-outer. Toss it in the marinade, which consists of, more or less:

Salsa Valentina

Vietnamese fish sauce

Soy sauce

Brown sugar, molasses or honey

Or you could just dump in 1/3 of a bottle Sriracha, which some might call the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup of Thailand, and a like quantity of soy sauce, and call it a day. We slug; we do not measure.

Mix the lemon grass-enriched marinade with the meat in a non-reactive container. (“Non-reactive container sounds so scientific, but it really makes no difference, since it’s not going to bask there long enough to make a difference.) Properly pre-sanitized hands are fine for this operation.

Arrange the meat carefully on the racks in your dehydrator. You do have one, don’t you? If you don’t, a gas grill works just fine, a gas oven not so much.

Dehydrate at medium-high for as long as it takes to dry and slightly crisp up the meat, maybe two and a half hours, checking on it periodically to flip each slice over and maintain quality control.

Remove the crisped chips of meat and stash in Ziploc bags in the freezer. You’re done. 1.25 kilos of raw beef will yield about 475 grams of jerky.

¡Gobble tov!

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10 comments on “Giving Gracias

  1. One Kitchen Aid mixer coming your way. A Thanksgiving gift. Be patient. Don’t know exactly when I’ll get around to it.

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  2. I have always loved Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that is devoid of religion, gift giving, and obligations. My large family all have their assigned specialties, I bring appetizers (spinach dip is mandatory), one sister brings pies, a brother makes the world’s best mashed potatoes with garlic and everyone else brings something interesting. I have 2 brothers, 2 sisters, 4 nephews, 4 nieces, four grandnephews, one grandniece, three kids of my own, 5 granddaughters and assorted inlaws. This year I am missing them a lot. Oh and of course my parents.

    My mom always used to invite people to Thanksgiving when we were growing up. I remember whispering to whichever sib I sat next to,”Who is that person?”. Plus we always had mom’s widowed best friend and her daughter.

    I am feeling nostalgic this year. I will be having Thanksgiving dinner with a bunch of expat friends today.

    regards,
    Theresa

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    • One year I was invited to a Christmas posada by some Mexican friends and their even-by-Mexican-standards large family. I remarked how unnaturally well they all seemed to get along. My hostess quickly came back with “That’s why invite strangers. It keeps everyone on their good behavior. And, of course, we have family that we’ve learned not to invite.”

      Back to Thanksgiving food. One winter I represented a Honduran in a child custody case. I’m leading him through his testimony about how great a father he is, how well he tends to his child’s needs, how he cooks balanced meals for his young son. We’re introducing photos of the interior of his house. And then we offer some photos of recent meals he’s prepared, one of which was for the Thanksgiving dinner he’d prepared. Now, he’s an illegal immigrant, having landed on Estadounidense shores only two years prior, finding himself working at Iowa Beef, speaking enough English not to require a translator, and still finding his way about Estadounidense culture. The Thanksgiving table is piled high with turkey and the usual Thanksgiving foods, but front and center is a bowl of macaroni and cheese. I’m wondering what that is doing there. As he’s testifying about how he prepared all of this himself, he comments that “Thanksgiving food is all about having everyone’s favorite food, isn’t it? My son loves macaroni and cheese.” The judge gave him custody of his child.

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  3. Nancy says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for the kudos!

    i agree with you that the longer we’re here the less we celebrate US holidays. But Thanksgiving was always one of my favorites as it’s a holiday with no gift-giving, just a nice family meal where we all share what we’re grateful for.

    But maybe we should be grateful every day of the year???

    Take care amiga, glad to see you writing again!

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  4. Kim G says:

    Very funny story from your childhood. In my own childhood, we too had to slaughter chickens (and rabbits), but fortunately we never had to eat the same animals later in the day.

    I’ll also chime in with some of the other commenters. Thanksgiving is a nice, low-key holiday without all the panic and guilt. If I lived in Mexico, I’d probably try to celebrate it, though I’d move it to the subsequent Saturday so my friends could come.

    ¡Buen Provecho! with your cecina.

    Kim G
    DF, México
    Where even though we don’t really feel the need for roasted turkey, we do wonder about its availability.

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  5. sparks says:

    >>>> I slaved away in the kitchen for at least twenty minutes.

    Loved it …. and the rest of the story. Glad to see you back

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  6. Andean says:

    !Feliz Thanksgivukkah!

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  7. C.M. Mayo says:

    Glad to see your blog is back!

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  8. John Calypso says:

    ” I’ll do the same thing on this Thanksgiving Day that I did the day before, and the year before that: nothing remarkable.”

    Yo Tambien!

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