November 26, 2010

Traditions rethought

Thursday night I sat staring at my very full (and very small) plate of Thanksgiving food, I had thick green curry over some rice, eggplant, rice with duck, a unique take on a Waldorf salad, and a bowl of broccoli soup. I waited to take a bite until everyone sat down and thought, "well shouldn't we all say grace now?"

Silly me. I said it silently in my head and then began to feast on my nontraditional Thanksgiving. The food was fantastic -- I don't even like curry all that much, but it was (as my students would say) very delicious. Judy, our host, was worried that we wouldn't like the broccoli soup; a friend from the US had given her the recipe. Her soup was wonderful, unlike most broccoli soups at home, Judy's had large, recognizable chunks of broccoli and was not laden with cheese. Dare I say it might have actually been healthy?

Judy had invited four friends to dinner who had visited NDSU with her in September. Dinner conversation revolved around their campus visit and Judy's 2-year old daughter who was defiantly protesting the broccoli soup. 

For dessert we had brownies that Judy had made from a mix, which meant they tasted just the way they do at home. She put her own twist by adding mango slices on top. Alex and I each ate four. 

Don't judge -- Judy encouraged us! We were full from dinner, but not quite uncomfortable and deliriously full, so we ate a lot of brownies. If nothing else, we managed to attain that traditional feeling of gut rot that comes along with Thanksgiving.

After dinner, we watched TV for a while. Judy's apartment is quite large, and her great room had an L-shaped couch big enough to comfortably seat six people. Her husband appeared to be a tech geek (we don't really know for sure though, he didn't speak English). But he proudly put in his HD, emphasis on HD, copies of Twilight and New Moon.

The films were in English with Chinese subtitles and I was trying not to pay too much attention to them -- I've adamantly boycotted all Twilight movies until I've read the books, and I've only read  40 pages of the first in the series.  Lena, one of Judy's friends, kept asking us how we would describe some of the characters in the movie.

She thought Robbert Patinson was "very handsome," which is one of three overused endearing phrases most of the Chinese girls that I've met rely on. The other two being, "very clever," and "very fashionable."   

Thankfully, I had a cake to bake so I didn't have to watch too much of the movie. Judy had a toaster oven and two small cake pans -- one a standard depth, the other was four inches deep. I prepared the batter and Alex and I took turns beating it with a fork. I poured it into the pans, unsure of how much batter to use and put them into the oven one at a time.

Twenty minutes later I checked on it and saw the cake in the deep pan was growing so high it was hitting the roof of the toaster oven. Judy and I cut off the top of the cake and cleaned up the oven and put it back in. Of course, the cake was burned on top but was fine in the middle.

After weeks of plotting for an oven, Alex got herself a birthday cake.

We went back home and I started making frosting. We bought some milk that we were assured was "very famous and very delicious," (of course) -- Alex and I are fairly certain the milk was fortified with sugar, it was unnaturally sweet. It was suitable for frosting however, and I poured some in a bowl along with some of our Land o' Lakes butter and powdered sugar.

Frosting is a foolproof thing to make, so I was a little bewildered at its grey and gritty appearance. I added more sugar. Still grey. I thought maybe some instant espresso and chocolate sauce would help it out, but the concoction was limp and sad looking. I added more sugar then I smelled it because, well, that's what I do when I make things.

It did not smell sweet, nor chocolatey nor buttery. I smelled the bag of sugar -- definitely not sugar. I thought for a second it might be flour, but the texture was wrong. I tasted it, it was salt. A huge bag of finely ground salt. 

There on the counter sat a huge nasty bowl of salty frosting. I could have cried. Luckily, our jar of faux-nutella was still nearly full so I melted it on the stove and poured it over Alex's strangely shaped chunks of birthday cake. 

Ahhh China, he had to throw a low blow to us, of course Alex and I would buy salt instead of sugar here.

One last note.. Samantha and Sara, the two girls in the Int'l office who have been helping us out since we arrived, treated us to a Thanksgiving/Birthday lunch yesterday. It was banquet style with seven or eight different meat and vegetable dishes to choose from, including one plate of chicken feet. I "ate" two of them -- the sauce was a yummy barbecue sauce, but I couldn't get past the claws and tendons and ughh, there just isn't much to eat on a chicken foot. I felt like I was paying homage to my aunt Marlene though, she always used to tell me how her mom would boil chicken legs in salty water and then they would sit and gnaw on them for hours. I did not gnaw on mine for more than two minutes, but I'm happy to say I tried it. 

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