For most of my life I’ve complained about the location of my birthday, which is either on or around Thanksgiving. Surpassed only by those unlucky enough to have their birthdays right on Christmas (like my poor brother-in-law), Thanksgiving birthdays are somewhat inconvenient. The weather is crap and most people are usually busy celebrating something else. I have received more pumpkin pies in lieu of birthday cakes than I care to remember, and my birthday dinner rarely varies in food content. The irony of this entire situation is that this birthday was the first celebrated on foreign soil, and the first time I’ve ever embraced sharing it with the very American holiday of Thanksgiving.
I was excited about planning my first Australian Thanksgiving. Unlike Thanksgivings in the states, practically everyone I invited to dinner was more than happy to come, as there were no other Thanksgiving dinners occurring on the same day with which to compete. We did have to move it back a couple of days to the weekend, since most Australians have to go to work on the fourth Thursday in November. In planning our meal, I first had to consult with my mother-in-law, my go-to person in regards to all aspects of cooking and food preparation. She assured me that most of the Thanksgiving staples I would need should be readily available, although we may have to settle for a slightly smaller turkey. She was right on both counts. Our turkey was about half the size and twice the price of what I’ve been used to in the states, but at least we got one. I found a brilliant pistachio orange stuffing recipe I was excited to try (I’ve made my own tradition of trying a new type of stuffing every year), and we were set on cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, and gravy. I made my first pumpkin pie from scratch (no canned pumpkin available) and had to switch the casserole from green bean (no French fried onions) to peas. We also decided to cook a leg of lamb to supplement the turkey. I found even more irony in this, as last year Marcus and I paid twice the price for a leg of lamb half the size to have at our Thanksgiving in the US. Figures.
On the day of our dinner, I realized we only needed 2 ½ hours to cook a small turkey, which gave us enough time to take advantage of the warm, sunny day (a Thanksgiving first!) and stroll down the street to enjoy a coffee on the patio of the art gallery. By the time we’d strolled back, sun-drenched and properly caffeinated, the turkey was ready to take out of the oven and carve, a job which as the “Thanksgiving expert,” fell to me. Once the table was set and everyone was served, I was also expected to fill everyone in on the history of Thanksgiving, including a brief synopsis of the traditional dishes we were preparing to eat. I thought I did a pretty good job of combining the truth with the Thanksgiving story all American children are taught in school, and everyone seemed suitably satisfied. I was a bit vague on the details of WHY Thanksgiving was moved from early October (celebrating the harvest) to the end of November, and which president (Lincoln or Roosevelt) made the decision. As it turns out, it was a little bit of both – Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday for the first time, as a way of reuniting the country after the Civil War, and FDR made it officially celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Our turkey got rave reviews, as did the pecan pie and corn pudding, both of which were new to many of our guests. After the meal, as there was no parade or football to watch on TV, we took our glasses of beautiful Australian wine outside to the sunny patio to digest. I have to say, the combination worked well, and my Thanksgiving birthday was shaping up to be very, very pleasant. My mom and dad called, from their own trips to Florida and California respectively, all of us happy to be celebrating in warm, sunny places. In addition to the breakfast in bed and early morning present-opening (which included the most ginormous box of Whitman’s chocolates ever made) courtesy of Marcus and Lily, I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.