This has probably been the best week I’ve spent here in Taiwan! And it was a big surprise to me, because I was concerned that I would be plagued by homesickness as my nostalgia for American holidays hit over Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I’m starting to learn that loving American traditions and loving my life abroad are not mutually exclusive. A little affectionate feeling for the homeland goes a long way, and this week it took the form of one particular Thanksgiving flavor: the fresh cranberry.
My Fulbright friend Veronica and I decided to cook up a Thanksgiving feast for our American friends in Taipei (with a few welcome British exceptions), and so we set about assembling all of the key components: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, etc, etc. This is also in addition to the lovely Thanksgiving Feast that the American Institute in Taipei served up for us Fulbrighters last weekend; in fact, the traditional food and wonderful company really fired us up to do our own cooking on the Turkey Day itself. Both Veronica and I have spent the last few years cooking up Thanksgiving storms in our respective kitchens, so the fact that the only oven at our disposal was Veronica’s tiny convection oven/microwave combo left us unfazed. We would do an ovenless Thanksgiving!
Perhaps we should have been a bit more fazed. But that’s how happy and fortuitous experiments occur, right? When you have no idea how hard something will be.
We were able to order the turkey in advance at Carrefour, Veronica baked sweet potato pie, biscuits, and cookies in her mini-oven at home, we decided to make “stovetop style” stuffing, and I worked out a game plan for deconstructing roast turkey flavor using frying pans and pots. But we were only able to find dried cranberries– any search for fresh or even frozen cranberries brought us up short. One store employee nodded at my request, promised that she had cranberries, and then brought me to the juice aisle.
My roommate, Susan, saved the day by finding my fresh cranberries (imported from Canada!) in the town of Shengkeng, since she knew I needed them. When she got her first taste of homemade cranberry sauce ever, Susan was thrilled that we’d gone to all the trouble to find them. Her eyes widened: “This is fantastic! Such a special flavor. Can we also put it on ice cream?”
Basically, I’m really glad that I could wait until I was living in Taiwan for 3 months before having to grocery shop for extremely specific and specialized ingredients. This also included a man in a fresh vegetable market howling with laughter when I asked him for fresh sage, or 茜紫. He understood what I was looking for, I showed him my Chinese dictionary entry, but he just thought it was hilarious. He kept saying, “We sell that! But we don’t have it now,” and laughing.
Below is the visual album of photos– we had 10 of our closest friends over for dinner, who all brought lovely quantities of food, cooking skills, wine, and snacks. It was an experiment that worked… just barely. Veronica and I had to reach deep into our years of home cooking and entertaining backgrounds to improvise on the fly, but it was a hilarious adventure!
More updates soon from travels to Chiayi and Tainan, as well as the notes on the beginning of full-time Fulbright research. In future posts, I will start to fill in more Taiwanese history details as I discover them and document the unfolding family history search–not just the food I’m eating!. My Chinese class ended this week on a high note, and the 2nd phase of life in Taiwan– research, travel, and immersion in my writing– has begun.
At our dinner on Thursday, we continued a favorite American tradition of going around and sharing some words of thanks. It turned into a very moving moment, as we all reflected on what we are doing here, and how we all form the families and communities around us that shape our lives. Cheers to all of you, and to taking a moment to pause and reflect on giving thanks. I have so much to be grateful for.
Talking Turkey: The Taipei T-Day Album