Two years we shared super happy Thanksgivings with Mary & Mehdi Jazayeri, in the full spirit of communal preparations and sharing of gratitude. We wish them a happy Thanksgiving this year in their new home in California!
For me Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year.
No pressure of presents and obligations; just food, wine, fun, and the loved ones of my choice. The point of this holiday for me, beyond the historical meaning and the turkey and the trimmings, is the community of the preparation and the living of gratitude even for one single day in a year.
From my childhood our home was always bustling for this holiday, it ushered in the whole holiday season. For years Thanksgiving was at my Grand Mama’s house, and then once my Mom established her own dining room suitable to her taste, Thanksgiving became her holiday. The weekend before she would begin the cooking, having been shopping for this day since the previous year to have all the right ingredients edible and decorative. The day before the house would already be filled with smells of holiday goodies and from about 5am on Thanksgiving day she would be up cooking. This entire process of course was communal. At any given point my Mom and her sister Terry (whom I affectionately call Mep, which is her name in Cyrillic) would be on the phone discussing some aspect of the day and or the meal. The entire day we were all together in the kitchen, in part for the cooking and in part for the joy and festivity of being together.
Once I graduated from university and was not able to be with my family on Thanksgiving, I began to create my own traditions, all based on the point of sharing the experiences of cooking, eating and living gratitude. One of the most touching experiences I had during this period was while I was teaching elementary school in urban Shreveport, Louisiana. I jumped all the hoops to make a Thanksgiving-day celebration in my classroom, complete with turkey and trimmings. To maintain the spirit of a lesson each of the 28 children in my 4th grade class were asked to state something they were thankful for as we sat down with our full plates. This was in 1994 and to this day I get goosebumps when I recall this experience. My students were aged 9-11 and the things they were grateful for were heart-stoppingly humbling; “that we don’t live on the street anymore”, “that my dad came home from jail”, “that my mother went off drugs”, “that my brother is out of the gang”, “that we have food”, are among the things these children were grateful for. For years after wherever I was on this day, with whomever I was, I asked the same question and I have always been in some way humbled by the answers. Most memorable was a Thanksgiving shared with friends in Zagreb, Croatia not long after the Yugoslavian Wars. Among the guests at table were Bosnians and Croats and when we all responded to the question of what we were grateful among the answers was, “sitting at table together at this moment in peace.”
Living more than 20 years outside of the U.S., I still carry on my own personal traditions of celebrating thanksgiving. In the Russian Far East in the mid 90’s turkey was not easily found and the foraging for ingredients took on a whole new level, which frankly made the sharing aspects of the day even more delightful, as we all communicated (pre-cell phone) in our searches before coming together for the actual cooking. One year we held the dinner at my friends’ Glen & Sasha’s house turning their living room into a dining area with tables pushed together and chairs all higgly piggly; in their tiny kitchen we all spent the day preparing various Russian salads, the turkey legs we had managed to find, and stereotypically consuming copious amounts of vodka.
Living in Turkey for years, Thanksgiving was a unique feast. One particularly memorable year we were living in a rather beautiful home which sported a long dining table and around it we were aged 7 – 88, from 5 different countries. Together a group of us had spent two days cooking. Our celebration carried on into the early hours of the morning with stories and live music by our dear friend June Haimoff (to be the subject of her very own post), a memorable evening for all.
Over the twelve years I have lived in Switzerland, my celebrations have taken on a different flavor. For the first years we shared the day with an American friend and his lovely Ticinese wife, and the third year where most people were waiting around while three of us cooked, I decided this was not working for me. For a while I moped about on this day, during this time it became my worst day of the year, lonely and missing all the community that made it special for me. For his own reasons Claudio has no love for this holiday, his opinion of the holiday - the celebration of the massacre of the Indians – eclipsing its fundamental importance to me. He did endeavor to get us turkeys for the first few years and still there was something missing for me.
For a couple of years we celebrated with Mary & Mehdi (the lead photo), possibly the best two Thanksgivings I have had in Switzerland as they too embrace the idea of community as the point of this holiday. For weeks in advance Mary and I would plan and forage, the day before I would go to their home and stay the night to maximize the joys of cooking and community.
Then they left and there I was, again at a loss, feeling sorry for myself on my favorite holiday. Then it came to me - yes, I love turkey and all the trimmings - two of which are here for you in recipe form, Homemade Cranberry Chutney and Roasted Brussel sprouts
- and the community aspect of it all, but what do I really love about thanksgiving? The thanks part.
What really matters to me is the celebration of Giving Thanks – the dedication of a full day of consciously being grateful. In my ideal world I spend every day feeling this way, living in gratitude. Consciously spreading the light of gratitude with every breath and smile.
So, a few years ago I picked myself up by the socks and took back my holiday. In my loneliness I had myself completely lost the very spirit of the holiday which made me love it, gratitude. This realization brought a whole new horizon of Thanksgiving celebrations doing what I love, teaching, traveling, being with friends, living gratitude.
In 2014 I worked in Milan and then went to Istanbul to share a long weekend with dear friends pictured here; center Merve (now living in Torino), Diana (now living in Berlin), me, and Begum (now living in Kabak) at a cool Asian side café; top left Bunny at said café, next Begum & I at an outdoor café awaiting a shisha; Turkish coffee; bottom left a Turkish breakfast feast; next Diana and I strike a pose in her Istanbul flat of the time; next she and Begum strike a pose in Cihanger; last right another Turkish breakfast my favorite meal in Turkey.
A serious Turkish breakfast in the garden at Buyukdere house of Erenlers, Bunny reigns Queen of Gratitude
In 2015 Istanbul again with soul friends; center Bunny with Begum, Diana, & Chiara; top left Bunny and I in Buyukdere house; Begum & I on the Bosphorus; Chiara and Bunny meditating; bottom left and right Istanbul light on the Bosphorus a reminder of living gratitude in itself; Begum & Chiara on the Bosphorus; Bunny in Om.
In November 2016 I shared Thanksgiving with Lizzy Gladstone in Florence where she was just finishing a 3 month experience learning detailed leather skills to compliment her alreasy amazing craftsperson genius. We walked and ate our way through Florence on a long weekend, lucky me, Ai weiwu was there exhibiting at the Palazzo Strozzi, and we spent an entire afternoon touring his installations.
Center a starter as tasty as it was beautiful; top left tuna with wasabi again beautiful; middle left my favorite shoe shop in Florence, where they are still handmade (the only time I went there and did not leave with a pair of shoes); bottom left velvet cake and fabulous coffee at Lizzy’s favorite coffee shop of the time; bottom right truffle tartar which Lizzy substituted for turkey for our Thanksgiving meal
In 2017 I was in Milan for Thanksgiving to give a training course (planned on this date on purpose by me) and it happened to be around the birthday of a super dear friend, Tiziano. One of my greatest pleasures in going to Milan is to share the evening meal with Lili and Tiziano and by chance there was a private dinner planned while I was there. The owners of a wine shop offer thematic dinners in their home in a historic building in Milan, an extra divine treat celebrating both Thanksgiving and Tiziano’s birthday, all by ‘chance’, the theme of the night was Lombardia, the very region Milan resides in. As if there could be more, we also had an apero with our friend Alberto on this visit to Milan. Overall we lived gratitude every moment of this time in Milan.
Center stage, Tiziano with a Thanksgiving frittata (Italian version of an omlette); top left my favortie café on Corso Como, 900; Me at 900; Alberto and Bunny sharing an aperivo; bottom left view from my training class; cannoli made by me for my class; Bunny in Slow Sud with the American Woman cocktail; dinner plate at our Lombardia meal
During this training course in Milan on Thanksgiving one of the participants asked me, “Why did you let them schedule work on your holiday?” “Them, I said, I planned to work today on purpose. What a wonderful way to express gratitude, sharing my beliefs about communication and consciousness on this very day.”
2018 will be the 4th year I combine work and travel to express my gratitude. Mentioned earlier, one of my greatest pleasures in Milan is sharing the evening meal with Lili and Tiziano. This year I will once again be in Milan, giving a training course and then having a dinner with them. Maybe we will go out for a meal, or maybe we will have a frittata at home, what we eat is of no actual concern. That we share the meal together in peace, with plenty of laughter and spirited conversation, this is the community of Thanksgiving which I crave.
What are you thankful for? Take a moment and consider this, then live it in whatever way reflects who you are. Happy Thanksgiving, everyday.
Thanksgiving 2018, we visited the Carra exhibit, the last supper, and Starbucks in the Old Post Office Building; center and bottom left. Top left Lili & Tiziano with Bunny and a super cake on thanksgiving; middle bottom THE cake, with marron glaces, marzipan, and chestnut paste, not a pumpkin pie and worth a Thanksgiving dinner; last right a giant pumpkin at the local greengrocer in Brera.