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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving in Spain

We have just finished an extra-large lunch of the leftovers from yesterday's traditional Thanksgiving dinner with three American (or American-connected) friends. It's hard to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November when you are the odd people out.  Spaniards, and Europeans in general, know that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and eat turkey, but they don't know exactly when, they don't know anything about the real tradition of it, and they certainly don't stop life on a weekday in the fall for a huge foreign celebration. So since one of our American friends in Spain is a mother with kids in school (from approximately 9:00 to 1:00 and again from 4:00 to 7:00 each day), we have often celebrated our national holiday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have been to restaurants before, but this year I brought the "fixings" in my suitcase from the U.S.: pecans, canned pumpkin puree, and well-wrapped fresh cranberries. I do wonder whether the TSA ever inspected my cardboard canisters labeled dried plums and raisins well enough to know that substitutions had been made.

Turkey roaster filling the oven in my Spanish kitchen.
Finding a fresh turkey is not always easy. I remember one year that I did manage to order one ahead of time, sight unseen; when I picked it up at the market early in the week, it turned out to be almost 40 pounds(!) and I had a hard time storing it in my refrigerator for a few days and an even harder time getting it into my small oven to roast. This year I had to fall back on a frozen turkey crown from Iceland, where the turkeys for the Brits' traditional Christmas dinner are already selling like hotcakes. I was able to gauge the size somewhat better for our small gathering of five, and I was even more pleased when I got it home that it fit in the cast aluminum Wagner Ware turkey roaster that I had been storing on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets for years, used seldom but with affection, though never before in my ownership for turkey. I had previously ascertained that the turkey roaster itself would fit in the oven. It did, barely, with no room for anything else to either side, front or back, above or below. When Thursday morning came and I started the food preparations, I was disappointed to discover that the two turkey legs (jamoncitos) that I had purchased to add a dark meat selection to the white meat of the turkey crown would not fit in the roster with the crown, so I did them first and then set the crown in a couple hours before my guests came.

We had a leisurely dinner, from spinach square appetizers contributed by one guest to a fantastic pumpkin pie with lattice crust from another guest, and then sat at the table for hours afterwards talking and doing our darnedest to finish the last inch or two out of some of the various liquor bottles that had accumulated on the bottom shelf of the liquor cart over the years. This was a farewell occasion to some of our best friends. We also had another farewell dinner at our house, on Thursday, with other long-time friends, English, who had humored me several times in the past few years by celebrating Thanksgiving with us. This year we agreed to bypass the traditions of Thanksgiving and have roasted pork tenderloin and seasonal vegetables. That was excellent and easy, but I did give in to purchasing a small turkey tenderloin when I spied it in the grocery store, and throwing it into the oven thirty minutes before the rest of dinner was done, and I offered a cranberry compote with custard for dessert, so there was some tradition on Thursday itself.

We played petanca with our usual group this past Tuesday afternoon, and then on Wednesday evening joined 40 or so other members of the Danish Friends Club of Torrevieja for a club dinner at a restaurant in the La Siesta area--a restaurant where we had eaten for our first meal out when we came to explore Torrevieja six years ago, now re-opened under new management. Most of the Danes had heard that we were here to ready our house for selling, and they stopped by to say goodbye and wish us well. Then on Friday I had a lovely visit with my Danish Spanish teacher, that is, the Danish woman who started out teaching me Spanish conversation by discussing books, but who has long since turned from formal teacher into a close friend and fellow reader.

It has been a week of celebratory dinners, and we have been giving thanks throughout for good friends with whom we have shared the joyful, trying, and rewarding experience of living several years in a foreign country.

Tomorrow I pack the turkey roaster to bring it back home to Ohio. As is the custom here, we are selling our house furnished, and in our case that includes cookware and basic dining service, because, frankly, it doesn't pay to ship it home. But not this piece, even though my 15-inch Wagner Ware Magnalite 4265 turkey roaster can be had on eBay for about $80 plus shipping (estimated at $20). My shipping will probably cost that--maybe a little less if you factor in all the small treasures I can fit inside the roaster when I pack it. But even if I were to buy another one, it wouldn't be the same. This roaster is from the town I grew up in, and the company where my father worked during my growing-up years. It is nearly as old as I am--maybe older. And it has cooked some wonderful meals for special friends in various locations throughout the years.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It Feels Like Home

We have been away from our home in Spain for almost five months, but we arrived back in Madrid this past Monday, took the cercanias train from Barajas airport to Atocha station, got on the long-distance train southeast out of Madrid, and arrived in an expanded and refurbished Alicante main train station mid-afternoon to weather that was warmer and sunnier than Madrid, and much warmer and sunnier than the Cincinnati we had left on Sunday. From the Alicante terminal we wheeled our suitcases across the street to the car rental place, and soon we were driving the familiar route back to our house in Algorfa.

It has been a busy week of reacclimating ourselves to the time zone--six hours earlier than east coast United States time--and there have been many sleepless nights. But the days have been filled with the little rituals of our life here, as well as preparations for the bittersweet task at hand: readying the house to put it on the market.

This morning we took our traditional Sunday morning tour of the Zoco outdoor market, buying raisins, almonds, and prunes at the frutos secos stand for our breakfast, carefully selecting several small but really red and hopefully fresh tomatoes, scooping up the recent Norwegian free newspapers (we had already rounded up most of the free English papers during the week), and having a cafe con leche and people watching at our favorite outdoor cafe bar. We also saw three of our favorite couple friends from the Danish club and promised to talk more the coming week at Tuesday and Wednesday petanca, which we had not felt energetic enough to go to in the first two days after the transatlantic trip.

Speaking of transatlantic, I enjoyed discussing the book TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann, with my book group buddies on Wednesday morning. We had a longer and deeper discussion than many we had had in the past. I will really miss these women, individually and as the group they have become and will remain even though I won´t be present. On Friday we met other friends for coffee in Algorfa center at Badulake restaurant after their weekly Spanish class, the one I used to also attend, and where one of my classmates had happened to mention casually a couple years ago that her husband was American...and we have enjoyed each other ever since. On Monday evening we had a meal with good friends and neighbors in our Montebello community, taking pleasure in their company and the fact that Monty´s is again open under new management, with an excellent chef--and working Internet, which we also took advantage of. Our own Internet connection, we discovered, was dangling by a thread (of microwave antenna) after a severe storm last month, but it got repaired on Wednesday within 24 hours of reporting it and we were once again able to send email and load web pages--and live normally.

We did much more during the week, and we had the interesting experience of feeling that there had not been many changes, and that it seemed like just yesterday or last week that we had also been here. It still feels like home, or it again feels like home. We will really enjoy seeing more of our friends and remembering the wonderful experiences we have had living in this area for more than five years. And now, off to lunch with some friends who we also knew in our first home in Spain, in Roquetas de Mar, ten years ago. We have a lot to talk about.