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Friday, November 29, 2002

Turkeys Abroad

The excellent Sofia Sideshow tells a thrilling tale of going to the Sofia Hilton for Thanksgiving dinner. He says that the cranberry sauce was the best he'd ever had.

I, of course, have spent the last three Thanksgivings in Australia. On the first one, I went to the local mall to procure what was going to pass for my feast. I saw that one of the sandwich shops had their daily special meat as turkey and cranberry sauce. Somewhat amused, I figured they'd done this because it was Thanksgiving. Why not? I mean, if you are going to periodically have a turkey n cranberries special, one of the days you have it ought to be Thanksgiving.

I had made other plans, but I thought this might be better. See, I assumed that turkey with cranberry sauce had to mean some sort of plate meal, maybe including mashed potatoes and peas. I asked the counter woman about it, and she showed me some very dispirited turkey slices and a little bowl filled with red gelatin. That was their entire stock of cranberry sauce, a portion not sufficient for an elderly grandmother on a strict diet. And it was meant to be served on the turkey, in a sandwich.

Turns out that Australians often serve turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce. This is the only notion of cranberries they have! It is a condiment, meant to be put next to the turkey (or, in a sandwich, on the turkey) in a discreet dab, and applied lightly. Barbarians!

So I went with plan A, which was to procure a little chicken roast from a store called Chicken George. Now, this was the name of Ben Vereen's character in Roots, but I was never bold enough to ask if it was named after him. Since most of the workers were foreigners too young to have seen Roots, even if they had TV in their native countries, I figured I'd just get a blank look. Anyhow, this fine establishment sold chickens in various states of dress---not only ordinary raw chicken pieces, but raw chicken pieces marinated in satay sauce and skewered, or made into chicken cordon bleu, or breasts stuffed with things and trussed for baking. We really need more of that sort of thing here.

It was the stuffed breast roast that I bought for Thanksgiving---breast stuffed with cream cheese and spinach. I was also able to procure some Ocean Spray whole cranberries, which is a poor substitute for the homemade cranberry sauce (actually salad) I make, but they didn't have any raw cranberries. I was lucky enough to find the little jars of cranberries; last year I couldn't find any Ocean Spray and had to make do with (oh, the shame) Canadian cranberries.

I'm not fond of pumpkin, so I bought some other sort of pie. But I needn't have worried on that score; Australians love pumpkin. They're always sticking pumpkins in the most disturbing places. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin pasta. Pumpkin, mango, and caramel---those are the flavors Australians love.

You can find turkeys in Australia near Christmas, but not a month before. I know others differ, but I think Australia is really unfortunately situated for Christmas. Sydney gets warm and moist, and you don't really feel like cooking the traditional heavy foods. A lot of people barbecue. Also, a lot of people wait until July, and then have "Christmas in July". Hotels in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney---where it can snow---advertise dinners or holiday packages where you can simulate a Northern Hemisphere Christmas in July.

Yesterday I was mildly grumpy at dinner. I was in a little bit of pain, and didn't know why, and we were rushed making dinner. I was not able to enter into the Lileksian Thanksgiving let-it-be spirit. Then while we were eating Niles asked, abruptly, "So, is this better than your last three Thanksgivings?"

This gave me pause. I filled the pause with a big forkful of real cranberry sauce. Why, yes. Yes it was.