November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving: celebrating my favorite holiday

It was my first Thanksgiving in Spain and our rented flat didn't have an oven so I tasked each of my roommates to go out and get a boyfriend, friend or acquaintance who had one. Luckily, my American roommate understood the importance of this mission and came back with Santiago – the owner of a large kitchen and large oven, albeit one that was located somewhat far away on the other side of town.

And while I've surely told this story at least a hundred times, on the eve of Thanksgiving so many years later, I just can't keep from smiling at the thought of it: how my friend Ashley and I called in sick to work and picked up the 20+ pound bird at the market in a taxi and drove it uptown in style; how we got tipsy on the cooking sherry that was meant for the stuffing, spent an entire day cooking alone in this relative stranger´s house and eventually caused a blackout in his entire building as we sucked up all of the electricity on our 8 hour turkey, stuffing and pie baking bonanza; how the famous blackout didn't have the courtesy to wait for the turkey to finish cooking and so more cooking sherry was consumed while we waited for the electrician to come and sort us out again; how by the time the turkey was finished it had to be transported boiling hot right out of the oven and swimming in juices in the trunk of Santiago's car (who had come home from work that night to find virtual strangers jollied-up on cooking sherry, an electrician, and a bunch of cranky powerless neighbors) in traffic, to a house full of 20 some guests who had been waiting, starving at my house for about two hours for the food to arrive; and how, when we finally arrived, we realized that in our haste to tuck the turkey snugly into the car, we had left the stuffing, pies, potatoes and whatnot on the curb in front of Santiago's house; so he had to go back, in traffic, to retrieve them.

I think that the food that Thanksgiving was delicious, even the burned slivers of bitter parsnips (I´m not naming any names) and the cold accompaniments. I know that the best part of the evening came after dinner when we passed around a bottle of Turkey, (this time the Wild Turkey kind) and everyone drank a shot and said what they were thankful for – something that would have been very TV movie were it not for the fact that we represented about 9 different countries and 5 different languages with their corresponding simultaneous translations - I also know that the best part of that Thanksgiving has been just being able to repeat this story over and over again. I can´t think of a better way to pay homage to my favorite holiday or to explain what it means to me.

November 20, 2007


ve been away for a month exactly. A month filled with wine presentations, tasting classes, bobbing for apples (not really), working full time and achieving stiffer penalties for parole violators. And somewhere sandwiched right in the middle I managed to escape to Porto, Portugal (sigh) city, deliciously lovely city in the north of Portugal.
If I had a gun to my head forcing me to rate countries in terms of their national cuisine, Portugal would be right up near the top of my list. If I had to rate cities in terms of just sheer breathless romanticism and staggering drama, Porto would outrank most that I´ve ever visited. It is a city graced with the wide and elegant avenues typical to more northern European cities, but then interwoven with winding streets that cascade carelessly down from hilltop monuments. There are charmingly blackened and sometimes rundown buildings that seem perched almost haphazardly amongst the maze of streets and glints of brightly colored tiles in cherry and emerald tones, and intricately painted wedgewood blue designs. There are clotheslines winding like colorful flags though the building facades. There is an area near the cathedral that feels almost like a fishing village, its windy narrow streets have flowerpots, open doors shrouded in threadbare curtains, delicious aromas of food (maybe because it was lunchtime when I happened upon it), and the occasional Virgin complete with lit candles, stuck into an unassuming corner. And just when you think you are in the middle of a charmingly sleepy town, you happen upon the clean and stark lines of a modern architectural masterpiece, a photography museum, or a reformed apartment building and incredibly majestic bridges.
And then there is the Douro; glistening, wide and churning away of its own free will, independent of everything else and breathing life into the city as it rushes by as though completely unconcerned by it. Someone told me that this is what every city needs, a thing with a life completely of its own.
There are the famous Port wines, and fresh fish (typically cod); plates of deep green leafy sauteed vegetables, softly boiled potatoes, and minced golden flecks of baked garlic. Crisp, refreshing vinhos verdes - slightly sparkling - and deep fruity reds made of grapes with wonderfully difficult to pronounce names. Portuguese coffee is one of the best in the world, and cheap!
And when the sun comes out and the city is laid out before you, there is no place like it in the world.
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