Bolivia throw back! While I was living in Sucre I was doing a work exchange. I volunteered with a Spanish school and they paid for my hostel. Along with watching The Wire, playing with Luna and running out for photocopies I was also asked to put together one activity. I apparently have a need to go completely over the top so instead of setting up language tables or something simple I decided to host Thanksgiving dinner. What started as a small group event turned into a crazy feast with 25 guests from many, many different countries. Go big or go home! I made a list of what I needed, totally guesstimated how much it would cost and everyone chipped in. For about $4 a person I was able to make a full, proper Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. My family is very traditional – the same foods, cooked the same way. In the last few years we have had a few additions to the menu but for me there is something perfect about the consistency. That and my dad is an amazing cook so the dinner is always delicious. The thing is because my dad’s such a good cook he doesn’t really need anyone help him so I had no idea how to actually cook Thanksgiving dinner. Thankfully my Aunt Katie has taught me over the years how to make the stuffing so that was the one thing I knew how to handle!
Ok, so shopping for Thanksgiving dinner is hard enough in a giant grocery store where everything is available and there are shopping carts. People. Do not undervalue the shopping cart. Shopping carts are the best. For me that was not an option, neither the grocery store nor the shopping cart. I spent three days tooling around 2 giant outdoor markets and one sorta grocery store. At this point I had become very friendly with the hostel owners who not only agreed to let me use the restaurant kitchen but also to do some of the shopping with me. I never would have been able to pull it off without them. The owner’s wife was a machine. She zigged, she zagged, she bargained and she pretty much always made me buy double what I thought I needed.
The finding part of getting what I needed was quite the experience. Ok so, it’s just not Thanksgiving without Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. The only thing easy to find was the potatoes and the flour for the gravy. Bolivians do not eat cranberries and no matter how hard I looked there were no cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce in sight. In the end I did find a giant bag of ridiculously expensive crasins. Yup, we’re gonna make that work. Next it was a search for pumpkin. Mind you I have never actually made a pumpkin pie but all of the foreigners really wanted to try so I figured I could wig that too. No pumpkin. Instead I bought a giant green squash and again decided that too was just going to have to work. Next up is the turkey. You guessed it, no turkeys. I don’t think they have turkeys in Bolivia? Instead I bought chickens. I knew somewhere between 25-30 people would be coming to dinner. I had no idea the appropriate chicken to person ratio. At this point the two of us were lugging 4 GIANT bags of food that weigh approximately 1 gillion pounds (hence my new found love of shopping carts), everyone in market seemed to be yelling over each other and I was not only the solo gringa in the mercado but also the only person over about 5′ 2”and therefore a giant. It was a lot to handle all at once.
For all my animal loving vegetarians out there you may want to skip this paragraph! Sarita cuantos pollos? Cuantos pollos Saritaaaaaa? Um. Um! Seis? Seis pollos? I don’t know.. ummm pienso seis? So I ordered six chickens. Then a tiny woman reaches into a giant plastic bucket and start pulling chickens out by their necks. Thankfully they are defeathered (is that a word? Idk.) So, shes just slapping this chicken onto a metal table and I then ask for um, chickens without heads, please? She takes out a giant machete and start chopping chicken heads off. Great, except apparently I should have been more clear because the chickens still have necks. Could have done without the necks, thanks. Also the feet, um, puede cortar los pies tambien, por favor? Yup there go the feet. So the lady is now just shoving necky chickens into a bag and then she scoops up all the feet and puts them in a smaller bag. She tries to forces the chicken feet on me all while telling me they will give me babies. Bolivians believe chicken feet are good for infertility. Lady please keep your baby-making chicken feet to yourself. That is NOT the souvenir I am looking for.
Ok, so we head back to the hostel completely loaded down with grocery and the cooking begins. I spent the entire day, like the WHOLE day cooking. Really makes me appreciate Thanksgiving now, thank you, Dad. First order of business was the stuffing. The hostel had a huge bag of stale bread they used for croutons or making into breadcrumbs that they let me have. There was no Bell’s Seasoning so I made my own with dried herbs. Lots of thyme and sage plus some black pepper. I also could not find any sort of pork sausage. I didn’t look very hard because the meat section of my market was disgusting and unsanitary. I really struggled to be anywhere near it so in end when the Dona said she had sausage back at the hotel I could use I was thrilled. When I asked for the sausage she handed me a package of frozen hotdogs. I held in laugh and graciously excepted the hotdogs, not quite what the family recipe called for but again, make it work.
Once the stuffing was ready one of the cooks helped me stuff all my chickens. It was hilarious. They apparently don’t stuff chickens so they entire time she just held the chicken up by its legs and looked at me like I was violating the chickens. I tried to explain how this would normally be a turkey and it helped give it flavor and it would be delicious and she could try it when it was ready but really I was just some crazy giant gringa speaking broken spanish and shoving a bunch of stale bread up a chicken’s butt. She didn’t get it. Mmhmm, gotta love cultural exchanges.
Next was mashed potatoes. I wanted to do garlic mash so I roasted three heads of garlic. That was actually really cool because the cooks didn’t know how to roast garlic and unlike the chicken butt situation they were really interested. They helped me prep things and also put together a few salads for us which made fun as we were all cooking together. In the end we made wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too much mashed potatoes but I noticed that the hostel menu featured many mashed potato items for a few days following our fest so I think in the end it all got eaten.
The cranberry sauce was a real gamble. I was super nervous because I had spent a lot on the crasins and I wanted it to turn out well. It did! So well! I slow cooked the crasins in water on a low boil. They plumped up and then I added in the juice an orange and two lemons, and let it slow cooked it a while longer. In the end it was delicious!
I cut up a bunch of carrots and onions, mixed it with thyme and olive oil and made roasted veggies (another request from the group) which turned out really nice. Alex, the only other American to be attending Thanksgiving dinner was in charge of making a pie crust. She did great and together we attempted a pumpkin pie. Turns out with enough nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar you can kinda of, sort of make squash taste like pumpkin pie. The consistency was a bit off but the real winner was the ingredients mixed together turned the pie green. It really looked baby poop. Oops. Oh well. We made our own whipped cream and then decided to blend in some passion fruit jelly which turned out amazing. So it was conflicting favors but actually quite good. Passion fruit-green squash pie for everyone!
Our chickens took a while but they turned out a-mazing. Def couldn’t have pulled that off without the industrial size oven! In the end we had about 25 people, myself and Alex were the only ones who had ever had Thanksgiving before so it was really to watch people try everything for the first time. The stuffing and the cranberry sauce were for sure favorites. Turns out six chickens were about 2.5 chickens too many. We feed the entire hostel staff – about 15 more people with the remaining chicken and mashed potatoes. All the staff already knew me and were sweet before but after that I was definitely well loved and taken care of by the staff. Making friends by feeding people!
Everyone was super appreciative, ate a ton of food and had a good time. Alex and I told about our family traditions and few people said what they were thankful for. I really wanted to do more with decorations – Pilgrim bonnets, Indian headdresses and paper hand turkeys were planned but didn’t happen in the end. Dad does the cooking and Mom does the decorating – I needed a partner in crime! I look forward to Thanksgivings in the future it was lot of fun but also a lot of work!