This is the story of how a girl who had never cooked “real” food before this summer managed to prepare Thanksgiving dinner in the depths of Siberia.
A one-day event back home—be it elections or a holiday—equates to a week of activities in Russia. That is mathematical fact. A week of Thanksgiving lesson plans and tracking down supplies, and English Club. It’s a good thing I love Thanksgiving! If my students learned one thing this week, it’s that the Pilgrims were a bunch of wimps that barely survived their first winter in the tropical land of America (Siberia: 10, America: 0).
Running around all weekend (and well into the week) hunting down ingredients was a feat in and of itself (I may or may not have visited six different stores… some of them more than once). And after all that, I had a lot of cooking ahead of me. A recurring theme of my culinary and holiday adventures seems to be the absence of pumpkin or anything that is desirable and necessary for baking (or at least my inability to find them. I’m still convinced that they exist!). But I didn’t let that deter me. I baked two apple pies—without cinnamon or pie tins, but they turned out delicious. I made cranberry sauce—from real frozen cranberries. I made stuffing and mashed potatoes and some sort of green bean casserole type concoction. And of course, the turkey.
Turkey Day itself was not quite the day of rest and gluttony I’m accustomed to, but it was perfect in its own busy, Russian way. I woke up at 5AM to cook my turkey before work—if that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is! My conclusion about turkey is this: if a first-time bird-cooker can successfully cook an edible turkey in a subpar oven without a thermometer or roasting pan and without killing her guests with food poisoning, then anyone can cook a turkey!
Since you don’t get days off for nonexistent personal holidays, I went to the Academy for class, bearing gifts of apple pie. The holiday spirit must have transferred over to my appearance (either that or turkey juice really becomes me), because I entered my Russian language class to a chorus of “красивая” and “美麗”and even a “beautiful.” Nothing like a compliment in your native language to make you happy on a national holiday! [As a side note, nothing amuses me more than hearing non-English-speaking people practice the five English words they happen to know. It’s precious.] When my classmates found out I’d brought them pie, they were overjoyed. I felt like Santa Claus.
At 4:30, I ran home to get ready for dinner. All my cooking was done (except the mashed potatoes), but everything had to be warmed up and cleaned and set up. Somehow, I managed. I put together a Thanksgiving dinner any American could be proud of! At seven, my guests arrived. There were only seven of us (I had been expecting more since I had promised free food, but there was a big Academy party at the night club that evening that I had to compete with). We had a perfect evening of food and conversation and merriment and thanksgiving. I have loads of leftovers (no leftover pie, though—not even a crumb).
I have a lot to be thankful for in my life. I’ve been given this wonderful opportunity to spend a year in Russia in an exchange of language and culture. Ulan-Ude is such an interesting city with such a unique culture. Everyone I’ve met has been tremendously kind and wonderful—from my colleagues, my students, and friends, to the women in the international office to invite me to have come tea and Ukrainian chocolate to the random people I meet. My classes are going really well. Even if only one student shows up for class (alas, it happened again this week), I can work it out (Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a lifesaver!). Many of my students are actually eager to learn and make for very interesting lessons and discussions. And my group of professors—professional teachers!—have complimented me on my teaching methods, which makes me feel very proud of myself.
The only thing missing from my Thanksgiving was my family. But I am thankful that modern technology such as Skype allows us to be together even when we’re far apart.