Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Category: Eating Together

Summer in the City

by lyzpfister

Oh yes, summer is here, at least unofficially.  At least, I’m sweating enough to call it summer.  With every snatch of breeze that thinks about coming inside, I lean closer to the open window.  At least, until the mosquitoes eat my face.  Oh yes, it’s summer.  Time for salads and goat cheese, basil, mint, and buckets of water with ice cubes and lime.  Or even better, fancy little cocktails with wild tea vodka, strawberries, mint, lemons, simple syrup, and soda water.

It feels like summer vacation every time we sit outside in the backyard.  Two tiki torches light up the freshly raked dirt where someday soon there’ll be grass.  There’s now a little string of Christmas lights up and always candles burning after dark.  Just enough light to eat by at night.  Perfect light when your dinner is strawberry-rhubarb pie and cocktails.

There’s been rhubarb at the market these last few weeks and the strawberries have finally started smelling like strawberries.  I had been wanting to make a German-style rhubarb tart, but the dough is yeast-based, and being me, I had failed to read the instructions more than ten minutes before my pie friends were about to come over.  And as I always come, back to my favorite crust recipe: 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, a splash of milk, a pinch of salt.  So easy and foolproof.  Effortless like the summer night.

We sat in the backyard, talking as the pie baked and easing out of our stoic poises as the temperature dropped to something comfortable.

Oh, the gooey mess.  Four people, one pie, and a few scoops of ice cream.  Demolished.

And much the same my summer days go by.  I go to work, I come home, I cook a little, sit in the sun a little, try to do yoga when I can, try to stay hydrated so I don’t die.

Yesterday for dinner, Anette and I assembled another of our fabulous conspirator meals.  As she tossed together a Greek-style salad: lettuce, arugula, tomato, cucumber, feta, red onion, and olive tapenade with dressing as simple as olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper, I grated sweet potato and mixed it with egg, breadcrumbs, chopped onion, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  I added a few teaspoons of semolina to make my mixture stick together, then formed little patties and fried them.  We sat outside and declared it a perfect summer dinner.  Greek salad and sweet potato fritters dunked in a sauce of sour cream, mint, and garlic.

All winter I said, “Oh how I wish it was warm.  I promise not to complain once this summer if only the weather gets warm.”  And I haven’t complained.  Just said, very declaratively, “It’s hoooooot.”  And I won’t complain.  So summer, summer, bring it on.  I’ve chosen my weapons.  They are: lemons, yogurt, mint.

Rhubarb Pie

Mix 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, a splash of milk, and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl and roll into a smooth ball.  Add more flour if the mixture feels too wet.  Detailed pie crust instructions can be found here.  Press dough into a pie dish.  Wash and cut rhubarb into 1 inch chunks, and quarter strawberries.  To the fruit, add: 1 ½ cups sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tbsp flour, juice of ½ lemon.  Toss well to coat.  Pour into pie dish and bake in a 375° oven for 1 hour or until crust is browned and fruit is soft.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Southern Comfort

by lyzpfister

I miss the South.  I miss warm grits melted with cheese and dotted with firm, pink shrimp.  I miss slow cooked greens and fatback and sweet and crumbly cornbread.  I miss excessive hospitality and humidity and conversations dotted with those little “bless her heart”s.  Oh God, I miss sweet tea.

Though the South is not everything.  I live in the North because I like it more.  Because I need the throb of city life and stripped-of-sugar sass.  I need fast-paced and driven.  And I really can’t stand pastel.

But what I love about the things I love about the South is that they’re things that for the most part I can bring to Brooklyn.  People I love, weather I like, food I could eat until I become obese.  Dinner parties.

Jamie and I sat on the back porch, with late afternoon sunshine across our shoulders, dipping strips of fried eggplant and chicken gizzards into buttermilk garlic sauce and drinking Firefly (sweet tea vodka for those of you never blessed).  I had just dismembered two chickens, which really meant I had torn apart two chickens with my bare hands (it’s a learning curve) and the pieces were soaking in a salty brine upstairs.  We were lazy, off of work, waiting for the third member of our party to join us.  Absolute laziness.  My morning had been spent lying on a towel in the backyard, sunning my pale and pasty legs, reading the last five pages of at least three magazines, and working on poetry.  I asked Jamie, “Do I look tanner?”  “No,” he said.

We spent a few nice hours sitting in the backyard until at seven, we thought we should start dinner.  I remembered having told people we would eat at seven.

Jamie pulled chicken from the brine and rinsed it in buttermilk and dredged it in flour mixed with jerk seasoning, cayenne, and salt.  I started washing greens and chopping bacon.  Ben arrived; I handed him a bowl of unwashed greens.

There emerged, like a picture: biscuits rising next to the stove, corn cobs steaming, a pan of greens and bacon simmering in potlikker, hot oil with a glassy surface, ready to bubble over chicken.  We played Gillian Welch and Allison Kraus and other twangy things, clinked ice in glasses.

The meal, at 9:30, finally coming together.  We set the small wicker table outside in pitch dark.  We lit some candles, heaped up chicken, biscuits, greens, and corn.  Plenty of paper towels.  That fried chicken, crackly, salty, and so moist on the inside it ran with juice, was the best of my life.  I could have eaten the whole piled high plate by myself.

We sat in the almost dark, feeling the day’s heat radiating from the concrete below us, laughing, talking, gossiping – that is Southern too.

Midnight Feast

by lyzpfister

There are few things for which I will willingly stay up late.  Pork belly is one of them.  Of course, as I trekked through the slushy Brooklyn night I had no way of knowing that a thick and streaky slab of raw pork belly was waiting for me just past the Bedford stop.

I was on my way to a midnight cooking feast.  In two weeks of schedule scouring my friend Ben and I didn’t have one overlapping free hour to cook.  And all we really wanted to do was cook.  So lets cook at midnight, we said, and that’s how I found myself struggling to stay awake on an empty train, kicking myself for having agreed to something as ridiculous as not being in bed at midnight.

Our plan was to let ourselves be inspired.  To not plan a single recipe until we looked at what we had.  During his 11 pm grocery run, Ben bought whatever looked pretty and cost less than $2 a pound.  I felt like I was on Iron Chef, watching as he pulled each ingredient out of a Whole Foods shopping bag and laid it on the counter.  Lemons.  Eggplant.  Baby potatoes.  Red and yellow beets.  Pork belly.  Parsley and cilantro.  Jicama.  Tangerines and grapefruit.  Fennel.  And lastly, a small, brown paper-wrapped package.  “Guess,” he said.  “Chorizo,”  I guessed.  “Stranger than chorizo.”  “Tripe,” I guessed.  “Less strange than tripe,” he said and unwrapped a tangled mess of baby octopi.

We threw around ideas for our meal – should we do an Asian-inspired glazed belly or slice it up and cook it like bacon – should we roast vegetables or frittata them – could we do anything without vinegar?  (No, was the answer, and Ben made a quick run to the corner store for two bottles of vinegar.)  We settled on belly flash seared and then braised in a citrus glaze and a jicama and roasted beet slaw.  I woke from my sleepiness with the rising smell of onions, garlic, and fennel sautéing in olive oil.

We improvised, we guessed.  Never cooked pork belly?  Don’t know whether jicama and beets taste good together?  Didn’t matter!  We sliced and sautéed our way into the morning.  Ella and Louis crooning from the speakers as our knife blades smashed garlic and the red wine evaporated.  At around two, I remembered the octopus.  What should we do with it?  Grill it, of course, with smoked paprika and lemon.  I wanted mushrooms, so we sautéed them in olive oil with a little salt and pepper and garnished the dish with parsley.  We sat down on one side of the kitchen bar and sampled our appetizer.  It was good, briny and delicately chewy, smoky-sweet from the paprika, and interesting to eat as my tongue worked around tortuously curled tentacles.  But we looked at each other and we knew:  “It needs something” – “a bit of zing.”  And Ben was back at the stove, making a quick balsamic reduction.  He sprinkled the dark black, almost caramelized bits across the red-hued octopus and when we sat down to the second round, we sighed.  Perfect.

I love to cook for people, but sometimes, it’s fun to cook with people who cook.  If only for those moments when you look at each other and just know, that something is good, but it can be better.  And without despairing, a few moments later, with a splash of lemon juice or honey, or a balsamic reduction, you can create something beautiful.  Something truly perfect.

The pork belly, when it came out of the oven, was already perfect.  Tender from roasting in its own fat and acidic citrus fruits, each caramelized, fatty piece, topped with a forkful of vinegary fennel and onion, just melted.  And to balance the richness, there were quick bites of jicama and beet slaw, spiked with jalapeños, mustard, honey, and ginger.

We finished eating, and I slunk into a pork belly-induced food coma, sprawled on the couch still making happy-full food noises.  The dishes could wait and so could the snow.  For now, all that mattered was the good food and the good company and the sleep, so long delayed.  And a promise extracted, to cook at midnight again.

Christening

by lyzpfister

Finally, a beginning.

Last night, I was talking with my roommate about the bedbugs.  It’s still almost shameful to say, even though they are an epidemic in New York – apparently the whole country.  The people I tell, I laugh and say, Oh, it’s fine, I’m just spending a fortune in laundry.  But the bedbugs have brought out the worst in us.  They have robbed us of our time and stolen our sanity.  We bicker over little things and act selfishly because we can’t think otherwise.  But mostly, we haven’t made our new apartment home.  And somehow, it’s worse to expresses these fears than to suffer them in silence.  But now you know.

We were in the kitchen, and I don’t remember why, but I wanted to know the secrets of making rice.  My attempts always leave a thin burned layer of grains stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I think of them as sacrificial grains.

Eulas started telling me his method for cooking rice – water to just cover the rice, cooked to boiling, heat turned low and covered while the steam works.  Then Sarah – I’ve perfected my rice recipe.  You need lots of time, at least 45 minutes.  We debated rice cooking methods, discussed the merit of steam, water to rice ratios, pot types, rice types, and lids for half an hour.  As the last few words were said, we began to separate; silence pushing us back to our rooms.  We could make rice now, Sarah said.  I’ll make beans, Eulas said, and with relief we drew together again in the kitchen.

We cooked and talked – about something, I don’t even remember – as the music of cars and neighborhood children clashed outside our window.  The redolent smell of cumin and pepper and the kitchen’s warm lights.

We ate rice and chickpeas at the table that still only has two chairs – I brought out the desk chair from my room.  Then we thanked each other and went to bed, since it was already eleven o’clock.

Reclaim the space, I keep saying.  Make it home, and they will go away.  (Also, spray a lot of poison and they will go away.)  I didn’t sleep much last night, waking up with phantom itches and fears, but my kitchen is christened.  And the bedbugs, they too shall pass.

Sarah’s Rice
1 cup brown rice
2 1/3 cups water
¼ bouillon cube

Place rice and water in a small pot and bring to a boil.  When water boils, turn heat as low as it will go and cover with a lid.  Cook 45 minutes or until grains are tender.

Eulas’ Chickpeas
1 can garbanzo beans
½ red pepper
handful cilantro sprigs
½ yellow onion
1 garlic clove
¼ + cups water
salt
black pepper
cayenne pepper
white pepper
cumin
paprika

Simmer everything together in a covered skillet over medium heat until tender and water is evaporated.  You may use a plate to cover your skillet if you don’t have a lid.

Serve chickpeas over rice.

Thunder and Sweat

by lyzpfister

In Brooklyn, sweat.  And rain.  At first, just heat lightning flaring between clouds.  Flashes wrinkling through the undulating branches of the tree against the window.  Anette and I sit on the couch drinking red wine out of real wine glasses for once.  The fan makes the sweat prickle on our skin.  On the stove, eggplant simmers with cut tomatoes, garlic, onion, chorizo, basil, oregano.  I am insane to have even lit the stove, to want more heat in the apartment without air conditioning.  My shirt is damp and stuck to my skin, sweat mats my hair across my forehead, mascara dripping on my cheekbones.  Still, I can’t help but hold my face over the steam and scoop up a bite of tomato and eggplant, soft with hints of wine, balsamic, and sugar.

This has been a long month.  The stultifying heat of July reaches record highs, the heat smothers my brain.  I don’t write.  Instead I lie on the floor and watch Nip/Tuck, my laptop propped on my legs, drinking water to quench some insatiable thirst.  My throat still dry.  I make involved to do lists I can’t begin to address, call landlords, pay bills, paint my toenails.  I lose myself in this heat.

I feel it here, I say, and sweep my hand across my collarbones.  My stress, like a prolonged caress, an ache of inactivity, of stuff.

Let’s take a walk and buy another bottle of wine, Anette says.  We hope the air is cooler outside.  The sky flashes.  It’s just heat lighting.  It’s fine, it’s fine, my heart beats.  I am so afraid of lighting.  Outside the breeze is like a bigger fan, but the air is already wet.  By the time we get to the edge of the building, thunder grumbles loudly, close.  Just to the bodega on the corner, Anette says, but already I’m turning back, I can’t, I can’t, I reach for her hand to make her turn around with me, but I grope air.  She says, It’s just to the corner, there. She’s right, I’m being ridiculous, but we walk fast.  Inside the bodega, a roll of thunder smashes over us, car alarms set off by the vibrations siren along the street.  The newest batch of subway riders quickly marches around the corner; they are afraid.  I don’t want to be outside.  We can wait it out, Anette says, but I don’t want to be in the bodega either.  We have to run, I have to run.  I sprint out the door, fat raindrops staining my shirt, mixing with sweat, each thunderclap and my feet fly faster.  I feel light, I almost want to keep running.  With the wind against my wet face, I am cool, finally.  Cool, light, mobile.  At the door, I duck inside.  I pant.  The rain has become solid.  Anette was right behind me.  I didn’t notice.

The apartment is still hot.  I boil noodles, pour another glass of wine, slow my breathing down.  It’s still storming outside, so I unplug the lights, burn candles.  The muggy indoor air perfumed with onions and garlic sautéed in oil smothers the outdoor smell of electricity and rain.  Eggplant is perfect – astringent flavor subdued by salt and oil into suppleness.  I feel a little like eggplant myself; stubborn, awkward, incomplete, in need of both a push and a gentle hand.

Before the rain, the thunder, the running, I had thought I wanted to be alone, to think about sadness and heat, but it is nicer still to feel loved, to sit with a friend and talk quietly together about joy and trouble.  Wine and rain.  We set out plates, sit down to eat.  I toast to thunder.  She toasts to sweat.

Kale and You (a post by Josh)

by johamlet

You sit in your apartment, thinking that it’s too cold outside to leave. You don’t understand why North Carolina and New York are the same temperature, or so says weather dot com. It’s not bad, just too many layers to put on before heading out to the grocery store to pick up the last ingredients for your dinner tonight. It’s probably been at least two months since you have seen all of your old roommates together in one space. This dinner is the first of hopefully many gatherings making your friends companions – those who break bread together.

In your cabinet sits the olive oil, salt, pepper, potatoes, and vegetable stock that you need. Your refrigerator cools off the vegetables that you’ll use tonight – some mixed salad greens, goat cheese and tomatoes, as well as some kale from the local organic trade post. Read the rest of this entry »

Something From Nothing (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

I wish there was a tiny chorus of approving gourmands that lived over my left shoulder and gave me a round of applause and a miniature pat on the back from each of their sprinkle-sized hands every time I verged on the brink of culinary genius.  Like when, after two months of mediocre results, I finally manage to make perfect foam with my espresso machine for four days in a row (right now!  I’m drinking perfect foam!  Isn’t it exciting?).  Or when, on the spur of the moment, I add a layer of strawberry jam between two layers of ordinary yellow cake with vanilla frosting.  Or when, coming home after a long day of work, I despondently shrug my shoulders at the mismatched food in my pantry, only to throw the mess together into something delicious half an hour later.

But there are no invisible gourmands.  It’s just me and my mouth and occasionally my roommates, who I make eat bites of my food as they walk past on their ways to something probably very interesting.

Can I clap for myself?

Luckily, I have a partner in crime – the other half to my half-full pantry – and together, we are very good at making something out of nothing.  The other day, we were sitting around, kvetching, drinking green tea with ginger and honey, and realized that it was dark (no hard feat in winter Brooklyn) and we were hungry.  This is kind of how the conversation went:

Me: “I’m hungry.”
Her: “Let’s make food.”
Me: “I don’t have anything.”
Her: “Me either.”
Me: “I have potatoes and blue cheese.”
Her: “I have lettuce.”
Me: “Ok, we’ll figure it out.”

The result being that we scrounged up a salad with peppery greens, blue cheese, canned beets, almonds, and a dressing of oil, cherry flavored balsamic vinegar, lemon, Dijon mustard, and honey.  We found a can of tuna and so made a tuna salad which we ate on the last slice of a dense, whole grain bread, split in two.  We didn’t even eat my potatoes.

The moral of that story is: there’s never really nothing, unless of course, there’s really nothing.

I believe I’ve made this point before, but not everything one cooks will be a success.  Not even everything will be good.  I’ve made horrible mistakes.  Ruining stir fry with too much ginger, underestimating the potency of fenugreek (never, ever underestimate the potency of fenugreek), attempting to make blue cheese and bruschetta work (it just sounds like it does).  But for all of those failures, there will be amazing wins.  And the wins are so much better because you figured them out yourself.  It isn’t some recipe Martha Stewart’s food lackeys have tested hundreds of times to find just the right ratio of cumin to salt.  It is one shot at something good, it’s Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star.

So shoulder gourmands or no, I will continue to experiment, to resist having to walk in the cold to the grocery store, to finally use the jar of brined lemons, the fennel bulb, the semolina flour, and the tamarind paste.  But maybe not together.

Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Tomatoes

This is one of those come-home-late-hungry-want-food-now dishes that I threw together a few nights ago.  Super easy, super good.

Melt a healthy chunk of butter in a saucepan and when melted, toss in one yellow onion, slivered, and oh, one or two tablespoons of brown sugar.  Stir the onion slivers around until they’re past translucent and at some point add one finely chopped clove of garlic.  In the mean time, put on a pot of water to boil and salt it if you’d like.  After the water has boiled, add a handful of linguine and set the timer for ten minutes.  After five minutes have passed, add a chopped tomato, basil leaves, and a dash of oregano to the onions and stir it around pleasantly.  Season with salt and pepper.  When your linguine is done cooking, drain it and rinse it with cold water, then add it to your onions and tomatoes.  Toss everything thoroughly and maybe add a dash of olive oil to bring it all together.

For Better and Worse (a post by Josh)

by johamlet

My grandparents have been married for fifty-one years and two days. That’s more than twice my age. That’s means that they got married in 1958. They’ve been together since 1949. About a week ago, on their anniversary, they came over to my house to celebrate. When they were over here, they told me stories of how normal weddings took place in the town you grew up in, not some travel vacation. And the reception wasn’t anything too big, sometimes even punch and cookies in the basement of the church (where all weddings took place). Today, it’s kind of funny to think of getting married and asking everyone to just walk down to the basement for some sugar cookies. Maybe it’s just an indication of the times, or one of those competitions things we have here in America (my wedding’s going to be better than yours, see: MTV’s Super Sweet Sixteen).

Read the rest of this entry »

Better With Butter (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

The first thing I said when I woke up this morning was: “No more butter.  Please don’t make me eat any more butter.”  And then, because there was nothing else to eat for breakfast, I stuck a square of macaroni and cheese topped with a dollop of tomato puddin’ in the microwave.

If you’re unfamiliar with tomato puddin’, let me enlighten you on how it’s made.  Two cans of chopped tomatoes are mashed with five pieces of white bread and one cup – yes, one cup of sugar.  This concoction is then baked until all the natural health benefits of the tomatoes have been removed.  Also good to know is that according to my family, this dish counts as a vegetable.  Just some trivia.

Christmas in my family is predominantly loud.  This year, though the pair of almost-octogenarians presided over only two braches of the family tree – my mother, father, me, my two brothers, my aunt, her husband, her two daughters, one daughter’s husband, his two children, her three children, and a dog – the decibel level was impressive.  Everybody’s stories needed to be told at the same time, their recipes recounted in maniacal tones.  The children seemed unable to have as much fun if someone wasn’t screaming and the camera’s shutter clicked so often the room began to resemble a disco rave.

I love my family very much.  But I am a quiet person, and it takes a little time adjusting to the chaos of the (almost) entire Cohen clan.  Fighting passionately about the rules of Mexican Train dominoes, telling the story (again) about that embarrassing thing you did at your baptism (like poop your baptismal dress) when you were a few months old, or belittle other family members’ sports teams as creatively as possible.  It’s very Norman Rockwell, but a little louder and with less pastel.  I like to think that since the other half of my family is so very German, my American family is so very American just to balance out my genetic chi.

Before we eat Christmas Dinner, the whole gaggle circles around the table to bless the food.  I figure that the food needs all the blessings it can get if it’s going to nourish my body, rather than just the cellulite on my thighs.  I’ve already oogled the food – two roast turkeys and gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes drenched in brown sugar, greens, sweet corn puddin’ (the lack of ‘g’ is not optional), tomato puddin’, biscuits, mountains of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and for dessert two pecan pies, apple crumble, and my aunt’s justly famous banana cream pie.  As if chanted by a Greek Comedy’s chorus, the words “butter” and “sugar” jingle through my mind.

It’s Christmas, so I take some of everything, and it’s not really until the reality of post-holiday leftovers sets in that I regret my family’s liberal use of fat.  But it’s ok.  I’ll take some long walks on the beach, stretch my legs as I watch another season of Dexter from the couch, and keep my mind sharp on card games and dominoes.  And I’ll store up an extra layer of blubber to last for the rest of winter.  I hear it’s cold in New York.

Aunt Lynda’s Corn Puddin’
It took quite a bit of work to track down this recipe.  But I got it.  And you should make it – when it’s cold outside and you’re in need of some comfort food.  Or you’re feeling particularly skinny.

3 cups canned corn, drained
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1/3 stick butter, melted

Beat together the eggs until they’re light and fluffy, then gradually add the sugar so that it doesn’t form lumps.  Add the salt, flour, and corn, milk, and butter – mix well.  Grease an oblong pan, pour mixture into it.  Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350 degree oven until firm and golden brown.

Come Together (Right Now, Over Me, Ba-da-da-da-dum) (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Americans love Thanksgiving.  There’s feasting and family, paper turkeys, historically elusive pilgrims, ticker tape, brisk winds, tryptophan, and faintly ringing jingle bells making promises of an even bigger and better shabang to come.  Maybe it’s an inborn gluttony or a cultural draw to symbol and spectacle.  But maybe, through a delicious twist, a singularly American holiday is one in which pride, that cornerstone component of the (quotation marks necessary) “American Dream,” is replaced, at least hypothetically, by thankfulness.

Thanksgiving traditions are fierce and hard to kill.  More than Christmas dinner, the Thanksgiving meal is scripted.  There may be variations on a theme, but the melody is always turkey, stuffing, green beans, potatoes (both plain and sweet), bread, cranberry, and gravy.  Last year, when I proposed to make an ancho-chile rubbed turkey from a recipe I found in Gourmet, my youngest brother said, “You’re going to ruin Thanksgiving.”  Motivated by that vote of confidence, I made the turkey anyway, and was surprised when he announced over dinner that it was the best turkey we’d ever had.  Of course, after seeing the “I-told-you-so” look on my face, he quickly recanted the statement.

Thanksgiving in my family doesn’t follow a specific formula, per se, but there’s always a menu-related tug of war between tradition and innovation that starts about a month before the event.  Green beans bathed in butter, garlic, and roast almonds or ascetically blanched and served with salt and freshly ground pepper, Southern-style cheddar biscuits or jalapeno-studded cornbread or Pillsbury rolls from one of those popping cans, cranberry relish or cranberry jelly or cranberry salad, stuffing with chestnuts or croutons, mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, and the piece de resistance – where to begin on the duel-inducing differences.  Brined, baked, slow-roasted, deep fried, basted, barbequed, stuffing in, stuffing out, salt-rubbed, herb-stuffed – if the turkey makes it to the table without a death in family, there’s more than enough reason to be thankful.

I like the debate over what to cook – that in itself has become a sort of tradition in my family.  Though I suppose the most important tradition in my family is to be together.  I realized how significant it is to be with people you care about three years ago, when I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home.  I had just finished a semester studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia, and had flown to Christchurch, New Zealand the night before with two other friends who I had convinced to go WWOOFing with me.

We spent Thanksgiving in a hostel common room, separated by a 5-foot divider from the cadence of gunfire emanating from The English Patient playing on DVD.  Our meal was a Thanksgiving microcosm – rotisserie chicken, three potatoes mashed with butter, gravy from powdered packets, a pre-made salad, a screw-capped bottle of $5 wine, and biscuits from a box of Bisquick my grandmother had mailed to me.  Observing ritual, we went around and said our thanks for family, friends, opportunities, and food.  When the dishes had been cleared, we grabbed fresh plates for the icing on our Thanksgiving cake—still warm apple pie which came out of the oven sizzling with its butter and brown sugar crumble melting into sugar and cinnamon coated apples.  Between the three of us, we ate all but two pieces of pie as we played cards into the night.

Emma and Dan might not have been blood relatives, but on that night, we were family.  Three foreigners eating a ritual meal on cracked plates with plastic forks, re-enacting a cultural tradition.  We thought about where we’d come from – how three strangers from Pennsylvania, New York, and Boston met in Australia and decided to go to New Zealand together – how thankful we were to have found each other, and how many more Thanksgivings we’d have to be grateful for the bizarre and probable futures awaiting us.