Friday, November 25, 2011

11/25/11: Who Says You Can't Do A Good Thanksgiving In The Middle East??

When I looked at my blog and realized I didn't post anything the last few days I couldn't believe that I was so busy preparing for this Thanksgiving celebration that I didn't have time to write! I hope I can remember to account for all of the details :-) It all started yesterday; the actual day of Thanksgiving. Feeling particularly American, I felt it was completely appropriate to miss the one and only class I had that day to start preparing for the holiday. We were expecting over 20 people for our Thanksgiving meal and I was responsible for cooking some main dishes. Now, it is important to note that I have never really cooked before (making turkey sandwiches and deviled eggs don't really count), so this was going to be a huge test for me. I figured, however, that cooking is kind of in my genes so maybe it wouldn't be that bad! There is always a first time for everything :-) I just waited 23 years for this particular experience to take place :-)

Around 2pm I went to the store and took, what felt like, hours to pick out everything I would need for my three dishes; Pasta Salad, Sweet Potato Pie, and Stuffing. Along with all of the food, I picked up some other essentials for the house, checked out, and then attempted to make my way home... With pounds of groceries... Didn't plan that too well... Unfortunately, because I don't have a car, I had to try and walk all the way home with my bags, and it isn't so close; it is quite a schlep! Luckily Karma was on my side and the nicest man on rollerblades stopped, helped me with my bags, and walked me home. I don't know what I would have done without his help! When I got home I thought I would clean a bit and then start on the stuffing (which I thought would be the hardest dish to make). I took some time to clean down the tables, wash the floor, and then the cooking commenced!
The challah after 

Unfortunately in Israel they don't have pre made stuffing so I was stuck doing it all from scratch. I started with two whole challahs and diced each one until the pieces filled two baking trays. You are supposed to dry the bread out so I put it in the oven but didn't realize you had to periodically check to make sure nothing was burning... I set my timer for a bit too long and was only alerted to a problem when my roommate, Morgan, smelled something burning! Thankfully we caught it in time and I only had to scrape off the top layer of one of the trays. After avoiding that potential catastrophe, it was time to continue!

The challah before 

After the tedious labor was over with it was time to dice the onions, celery, and mushrooms, saute them in butter, heat up the chicken broth, and mix it all in with the bread. My eyes were burning from the onions, I burned my hand while sauteing, and almost ruined my bread, but despite it all, the food smelled wonderful and it was starting to look like real, holiday stuffing. After everything was mixed and properly soaked in broth it was time to bake! The end result was phenomenal :-) For my first cooking attempt I would say I knocked it out of the park!

The end result!! 
After the stuffing was finished I figured I would do the pasta salad and then save the potatoes for the morning. It was getting late and I didn't want to spend any more time in the kitchen than I had to. I made two huge things of pasta, followed my momma's recipe and used balsamic vinaigrette, olives, and cheese, threw it all together, and wallah! 

Pasta Salad! 

When the pasta was all done I spent some time with the roomies and then went to sleep. I knew it was going to be a long day the next day so I wanted to be rested! In the morning I woke up, did some cleaning, and then started on the potatoes. Michael and Morgan also had things to cook so we did some creative oven sharing. Surprisingly the potatoes were the hardest dish for me to make because no matter what I did the potatoes wouldn't get soft enough to mash. I added water and baked them at a higher heat but nothing was working. After an hour or so it finally worked out and the dish was well on its way to being AMAZING! I added a ton of butter (so necessary), brown sugar, marshmallows, and more brown sugar, mixed everything up (except the marshmallows which I threw on top), and then baked them for 45 minutes. They came out so well and were a big hit at the party :-)

My sweet potatoes 

After everything was made, while Morgan and Michael were busy making the meat dishes, I took the time to shower and get myself all ready to be a good hostess. Around 3:30 people started to arrive. The house smelled amazing, it was all cleaned and ready to be shown off, and everything was perfect. Each of us invited a few people over and I was so happy that I could share this day with my Israeli friend Maayan, my good friend Russ, and Gabrielle, a girl from my program who is amazing! She made Aliyah as well so we have been bonding over our new found nationalities (well my almost new found nationality!) 

Me and Gabrielle

Mayyany and Me! 
The day was really perfect. There were tons of people here, and the house was filled with so much life, happiness, and amazing food!!! I missed being at home so much, and I really missed my family, but I couldn't have asked for a better holiday. I love my boys more and more every day and we really do have so much fun here. Who would have ever thought I would be pulled out of my shell to the point where I value the time we are all out here together over solitary confinement in my room (something I used to love to do all the time). I still need to work on the "going out" a little bit more, but with all the work I have to do, once a week or so isn't terrible! It was an amazing holiday and the time with friends made being far away from home more easy to handle. 

Enjoying the festivities 

Some of our amazing food! 

Rus and me 

My roommate Ben and his beautiful girlfriend Bar

Maayany enjoying her hookah 

Stephan and Gabbi 

Gabbi and Me 

Some of our desserts 

If I've said it once I have said it a million times: You find out so much about yourself when you are on your own, and some of your abilities will absolutely amazing you. If I would have told my parents before I left that I would be cooking from scratch and hand building a whole room, they would have laughed in my face and told me I was delusional. But I have done these things, and while they might seem like small accomplishments, they signify so much more. 

Well that about wraps up my first Thanksgiving in Israel. I am so thankful for my wonderful family and friends (both near and far), my amazing apartment, my wonderful roommates, my fantastic life in the Middle East, my studies, and so much more. I wish everyone the most happy and meaningful holiday season <3! 

Until we meet again :-),
Jordana Simone 

Until we meet again :-),
Jordana Simone

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