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.

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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!