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A Very Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

Just because things don't go according to plan, doesn't mean that they went wrong.

By Cheryl LynnPublished 4 years ago 7 min read
A Very Non-Traditional Thanksgiving
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The Before-Times

What is your schema of schemata?

Many years ago, I was reading a book on psychology, learning about phenomena such as cognitive dissonance, Freudian archetypes, and schemata. The book defined Schema as one's thoughts, feelings, and assumptions regarding a particular subject. For example, most people's schema of Thanksgiving involves turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Maybe it conjures images of family gatherings. But are these holidays warm, wholesome celebrations, or are they stressful and toxic? Even these subjective feelings are part of someone's schema of Thanksgiving. And we all have our own schema of culture, society, life, and the world at large.

So my schema of this holiday is complex and multifaceted, with mixed feelings and ambivalence. November is a tough month, especially with seasonal depression. But it is also the anniversary of the first time my I met my boyfriend, Josh. Even though our relationship has had some ups and downs, I look forward to our anniversary every year. This time of year makes me feel tired, and yet hopeful, all at once.

I was going to shop for groceries this week, but half of the stores were closed, and the other half had waiting lines down the sidewalks due to Covid capacity restrictions. So the bad news is, I probably won't have a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner. I wasn't able to get groceries at all, let alone a Turkey or chicken or ham or anything like that. The good news is, it doesn't matter.

The whole point of gratitude, is appreciating what you have, instead of wishing for some arbitrary concept of "perfection." So I'll just think of something unique and creative with the quirky ingredients I already have at home. Green Chile enchiladas, French onion soup, and mussels with marinara pasta, were a few of the many possibilities. I'm still grateful that I had enough food at home to skip a week or two of shopping, and, on top of that, enough to make a special dinner to celebrate the autumn holidays.

Come to think of it, this won't be my first year trying to whip up a Thanksgiving meal with limited resources and odd ingredients. I remember one year, when all I had was instant mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing, which I cooked for my friends while we watched MTV in my dad's living room. A year or two later, I made turkey tv dinners for my friends while we watched The Puppy Bowl. And a few years after that, I tried to make a traditional turkey and have a nice normal dinner with my friends for once, but they were all rather unhelpful and ungrateful, so it wasn't at all what I expected (but some would argue that it's a realistic and average Thanksgiving for many hosts!)

After I met my boyfriend, I usually spend Thanksgiving at his parent's house. Josh likes to cook the turkey. Again, it doesn't always go as planned. One year, we tried to make the turkey Gordon Ramsey style, with fresh parsley and squeezed oranges. But alas, we didn't have those ingredients, so we used cilantro and limes instead. And guess what? The result was an awesome, unique, distinctly New Mexican take on the holiday classic! It would be great to make it again someday.

So you know what? It's okay. I don't need or want a "perfect" dinner. Even in the before-times, prior to the so-called "new normal", I avoided the last-minute shoppers who were always panic-buying at the last minute. I can't stand crowds, unless we're in a mosh pit, wherein it is acceptable to punch each other in the face. But at a store, mall, or shopping center? Hard pass. I was socially distancing before it was cool.

So, to my own surprise, I've rarely, if ever, had a Thanksgiving go according to plan. Sometimes it's a happy accident, like our Southwestern style cilantro lime turkey, or sometimes it's more negative, like impolite houseguests who sulk and complain without doing anything to help cook or clean. So this year, even with a global pandemic and a crazy election and a million other things happening, I'm ready for almost anything.

Paella and Hippocras

By Kaitlin Dowis on Unsplash

My original plan was to roast cornish hens with wild rice, herbed mushrooms, and butter sauteed vegetables. However, since my grocery shopping didn't happen this week, I want to make seafood paella instead, with Hippocras to drink. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish with rice, peppers, spices, and protien (usually seafood), and Hippocras is an archaic spiced wine from medieval times.

My recipe is simple. I thaw the seafood overnight. It's a mix of shrimp, mussels, and squid. Yes, squid. I actually love to eat squid and octopus. Calamari, Takoyaki... You name it, I like it! Again, this ties into my schema of Josh, as we shared squid and octopus sushi on one of our first dates. I love the subtle symbolism of including similar ingredients, especially at this time of year, near both Thanksgiving and our anniversary.

Oh right, the recipe. So I thaw the seafood overnight. Just throw the whole bag in the refrigerator, sleep on it, and the next day, you can cook it whenever you're ready. I just fry it all in olive oil in a non stick pan. I used a skillet for seafood once, and it was nearly impossible to clean the fishy smell off of the seasoned cast iron, so I would definitely recommend non stick instead!

I season the seafood with herbs - garlic salt, lemon pepper, parsley, basil. Maybe some cayenne or pepper flake. When the shrimps are pink and plump, I know they're done. I cover the pan and make the rice. Honestly, boxed rice is fine. I like instant jambalaya rice, because the spicy flavor and medium texture lends itself well to paella. What? Real paella takes all day to make! Don't judge me!

So then I make the rice according to the directions on the box, and add the seafood at the end. Boom, done. Awesome. That's it. That's the recipe. Relatively simple to make, but it's a hearty meal with robust flavor, one which I often make on date nights and other special occasions. Who needs turkey when you have this?

As for the Hippocras, it takes about a full day to make. So while I prep the seafood by defrosting it in the fridge, I can also use that time to spice a bottle of wine with herbs and flavors. Some combinations that I've enjoyed in the past include Chardonnay with honey and rosesmary, and Merlot with black pepper and basil. However, the traditional formula usually involved cinnamon, ginger, sugar, and other "sweet" flavorings. Good thing I have most of those at home!

All I have to do is pick up a bottle of wine. True, I wanted to buy wine and other ingredients from the big grocery store the other day, but we've already established that my errand was unsuccessful. I live in a rural area, so even a simple grocery run is a bit of a mission, entailing a round trip driving on the highway y todo. Good thing that I have a convenience store nearby!

Again, it's not exactly the fresh produce and seasonal ingredients that I planned for. But the little gas station down the street has soda, candy, chips, cigarettes, and, yes, wine. The five major food groups! All joking aside, I'll avoid crowds and support local business by buying Thanksgiving groceries from this little store. And they actually do carry some fresh ingredients like bread, meat, dairy, veggies, fruit, and snacks, so they actually have a bit of everything from the real five food groups! Just because they aren't a national conglomerate corporation, doesn't mean that small stores are lower quality.

So I'll buy my wine, I'll spice it with festive seasonings, and let it sit overnight while my seafood thaws. Then on Thanksgiving day, the meal prep should be relatively smooth, and then I can enjoy the day with Josh. That is, of course, if everything goes according to plan! And even if things don't go my way, I'll make the best of it. I always do.

I am already imaging the bittersweet herbs in the sweet wine, the contrast of the spicy rice. The mild texture and flavor of squid. The tender shrimps, the briny mussels. The rice, warm and fluffy. The more I think of the payoff, the more excited I am to make it.

The Cleanup

By Kevin Kelly on Unsplash

After dinner is cooked and eaten, Josh and I will rest and relax with each other. Maybe we'll watch a movie. Or a sports game. It doesn't matter. As long as we're together, I don't care what we do.

I'll have a few pots, pans, and dishes to wash, but it won't be too bad. We'll eat in the living room so I don't have to set the table. The only problem with paella is the fishy smell in the kitchen, but a few candles and incense sticks will easily fix this problem.

What if the seafood is undercooked? Or overcooked? What if the rice burns? What if I forget to pick up wine? What if Josh is working that night, and can't make it for dinner? What if there's an electric black out and I can't cook anything?

Before the day has come, I'm already thinking of potential solutions to imaginary problems, making contingency plans, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. But no matter how much we try to control it, life always surprises us. All we can do is roll with the punches. However, it is easier to endure the proverbial slings and arrows, with a plate of Spanish seafood in one hand, and a glass of strong wine in the other.


About the Creator

Cheryl Lynn

I am a blogger and freelance journalist, specializing in music reviews, band interviews, and other entertainment related articles. I have also published poetry, fiction, and creative writing. http://undeadgoathead.com/links/portfolio/

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    Cheryl LynnWritten by Cheryl Lynn

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