Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving In Bangkok

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  There’s no mandatory appearance at church, and no gifting agenda.  Gifts!  I’ve never been comfortable either receiving or giving gifts.  Also in its favor is the four day weekend that comes with Thanksgiving.  What’s not to like?

The main emphasis of Thanksgiving is the preparation and consumption of a big, delicious dinner.  About thirty members of my mother’s family would gather at my grandmother’s funeral parlor for about a dozen holidays every year, and Thanksgiving was definitely my favorite.  Roasting a turkey, as it turns out, is not easy.  My maternal grandmother was very good at it.  Nana could roast a turkey with the best of them.  And when it came to mashed potatoes, hers were the very best.  Her secret?  Half potatoes, half butter, and whipped in a blender.  Add some gravy and those mashed potatoes were better than ice cream, and just about as caloric. 

My Aunt Mary L. could sure cook a turkey.  Hers were about the best in my family.  Her secret was slow cooking.  She’d get up in the middle of the night and start that thing, cooking it for ten or twelve hours at about 170 degrees.  If you tried that today, people would be sure that deaths from salmonella would result.  Aunt Mary managed it without killing anybody, and that’s with stuffing in the bird!  Another modern no-no!  Maybe we were stronger in the old days.

The less said about my own mother’s turkeys the better.  She was not a woman that was known for her cooking.  Not known for her cooking successes, at least.  The less said about my mom’s cooking, the better. 

I spent most of my married life in Los Angeles.  My wife was a hit-or-miss cook in general.  It was not a lack of talent or training, because her mom had been a really great cook and had taught her daughters a thing or two.  No, it was more of a general resentment of cooking, which caused my wife to just throw things together in the quickest way possible without regard to how they would taste.  She brought out her A-game on Thanksgiving, though.  Her turkeys were masterfully prepared, moist, nicely bronzed and delicious.  She always had a big turnout to show off for, too.  We were the holiday destination for many of our friends who had no family within a few thousand miles.  L.A. is like that.  Most of my friends were writers, and they were very glad to have a good invitation to a delicious family Thanksgiving dinner.  We had big crowds for ten or fifteen years in a row.  Surrounded by friends; my boys were young; my wife was young and beautiful; those years were very special.

Thailand is not a turkey country.  You can get turkeys, but they’re expensive.  Turkeys from America or Australia, fresh or frozen, they’re available but almost no one buys them.  There are no ovens in Thailand, for one thing.  It’s too hot to have an oven. 

I have had two really great Thanksgiving turkey dinners in Thailand.  The first was in a private home in Pechabun.  That was a couple that had lived in Texas for fifteen years before returning to retire in Thailand.  The wife was Thai, and she had sure enough mastered Thanksgiving cuisine and roasting turkeys.  The second was at the American Consulate in Chiang Mai.  They had real chefs up there, I’m sure those guys could make anything.  That was a professionally prepared Thanksgiving. 

This year I finally made it to the Bourbon Street Restaurant (and Boutique Hotel!).  I’ve known about the place for years, but it’s a little pricey.  They feature New Orleans cuisine, which I love, but it’s just too expensive for me.  The Thanksgiving Buffet was even more expensive than their usual fare, but all of the stars were in alignment this year.  My friend Eddie wanted to go, and my friend really wanted to try the American Thanksgiving menu.  Baht 1,250 each, but sometimes you’ve just got to go for it. 

Turkeys (roasted and deep fried); all of the usual turkey side dishes; stuffed oysters; Buffalo wings; Virginia ham; “several vegetables;” soft shell crab; Cajun shrimp; lobster bisque; Jambalaya; crab cakes; Gumbo; pork ribs; tri-tip; just too much to recall, really.  Garlic bread and corn bread.  Tons of desserts.  A real big-time buffet.

My friend’s favorites were the cranberry sauce and the Buffalo wings.  And maybe the crab cakes. 

And it was all very good, too.  Worth every penny.  I’ll got back again in a few years.  Every year would be an extravagance, but I’ll be back before too long.

Sure the food was great, and it all tasted like the Thanksgiving of our dreams, but I miss those friends of mine, and the times when my boys were small.  The food was good then, too, and there was more to be thankful for. 

Oh, shut up, Fred, and look for the good.  (Tilts head; rolls eye towards the ceiling; narrows eyes . . .)  Yeah, I get it.  I’ve got a vast catalog of things to be thankful for, things past, present and future.  Let my gratitude fill the room, and my heart.  Thanks, universe!  Any more luck that you might throw my way would be deeply appreciated.  

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