A Gringo Thanksgiving in Mexico

photo 2For many years we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving in San Miguel. For the past seven or eight years my Dad has flown down from North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving week with us, but last year he and his friend Cathy decided that late November in San Miguel was too cold for them. Really? My Dad is originally from Brooklyn, he spent 40 years in Westchester County New York, then moved to North Carolina at age 70, and San Miguel is too Cold in November?!! It gets up to 80 degrees during the day, and sometimes drops to the 40s at night. That’s what you get when you’re 6200 feet up in the mountains. But still…for us Vermonters it seems absolutely blissful.

So what do Gringos do for Thanksgiving in Mexico? Well obviously it’s not a holiday that is celebrated by Mexicans in any way, so Noah still gets up in the morning and goes to school. Many restaurants that cater to expats, snowbirds and visitors have a full Thanksgiving dinner that day, and many of us take advantage of that. It’s actually cheaper that way, as turkeys are very expensive here, and not that easy to find. Sweet potatoes are abundant, local pecans are in season, and brussels sprouts are easily available. But cranberries….a couple of high end gourmet groceries bring a few bags of cranberries down from the states, and people fight over them as if they’re huge deals at Filene’s basement or Loehmann’s.

Anyway, I can’t bring myself to Not make Thanksgiving dinner. When Mom was alive she went to town on Thanksgiving! She was an amazing cook to begin with, and Thanksgiving was her canvas-she produced a masterpiece every year. Turkey, two kinds of stuffing, two kinds of potatoes(always including sweet potatoes with Grand Marnier and a caramelized pecan topping – no marshmallows for my mom!), gravy, a couple of perfectly cooked green vegetables, salad, rolls, and at least two kinds of pies, sometimes three. When I took over Thanksgiving I tried to measure up. For the first few years after I graduated from Culinary school I did thinks like bone out a whole turkey, filling it with mushroom duxelles and rolling, tying and roasting it. I had a year of confit-ing turkey legs, a year of making forcemeat out of the dark meat and stuffing it into the boned out breast, and many more chef-y ideas, that were never actually as good as Mom’s beautiful golden roasted beast. Eventually I settled on a more reasonable version of her feast – Roasted turkey, cornbread Or chestnut stuffing, those sweet potatoes, a vegetable and a pie. Oh, and her wonderful fresh cranberry orange jello mold with toasted pecans. Yes, I said jello mold. It was the only jello mold I’ve ever like, and I was passionate about it – it just wasn’t Thanksgiving without it. So now what to do in a place where cranberries are just not available, and turkeys are beyond my budget? Well, I do the best I can.

This year there were just five of us for Thanksgiving dinner: me, Richard, Noah, Noah’s friend Tatiana from Vermont, visiting for a week, and our friend Francisco, who’s wife Antonieta went to San Francisco for Thanksgiving with her family, leaving Francisco to run their B and B. I found the world’s biggest fresh organic chicken (almost 7 lbs.) at the Tuesday market, and roasted it rubbed with butter, garlic, lemon rind and rosemary and thyme from the potted herb plants in our courtyard. I made mom’s sweet potatoes and some mashed potatoes for Noah and Richard, who don’t like the sweets. My Mexican stuffing variation of cornbread with red and green chorizo went over very well. Roasted brussels sprouts with Thai fish sauce vinaigrette, gravy, a chocolate pecan pie with vanilla ice cream(I bought 30 beautiful plump Veracruz vanilla beans, I might as well start to use them!). We drank a new Belgian style beer that Francisco brought(he is the maker of Dos Aves, one of the best of the new Mexican Craft breweries), watched football(at least some of us did – not me) and had a lovely, comfortable Thanksgiving. The mix of new friends and family, old recipes and new ingredients, a beautifully set table with patterns and colors from another culture – that’s what our Thanksgivings are now, and I give thanks for them every year.