I keep a binder in my kitchen in Moscow, full of recipes I have culled from all kinds of sources. The thickest section is marked TDAY and is a comprehensive Thanksgiving survival kit for, as President Lincoln declared in his 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving, "sojourning in foreign lands," where one lacks access to the stuffing aisle, the no-brainer Butterball pop-up plastic thing, or even a soothing chat with that inestimable company's 24-hour hot line. My binder features recipes and Post-Its reminding me that 375 degrees fahrenheit equals 190.5 celsius, that Julia Child says three hours' cooking time, and, finally, VINEGAR ON APPLES BEFORE CRUST. I keep the New York Times guide to carving in the binder, encased in a plastic sleeve to protect it from flying grease.
Sojourning as we do in Russia, the hunting and gathering is a mere hint of the trials of the early Pilgrim Fathers. It takes about a week to assemble our ingredients: trekking out to the Cash & Carry for stale bread to turn into stuffing, stalking farmers markets for fresh thyme and essential sage and manning up to spend $24 for one small jar of pumpkin pie mix. You try to cultivate anyone with the U.S. Embassy so you can enter the commissary and snag that all-important can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Russian gooseberries will make your cranberry sauce taste like Robitussin.
The actual day differs only slightly from those in America: Expats do it on Saturday or Sunday, not Thursday, we do not have the whole football thing going on in the background, and it is our urban family we welcome, not our family of origin. This renders the meal eclectic-my ancestral oyster stuffing and Dee Dee's string bean casserole with marshmallow and Rice Crispies topping. Joe makes classic mashed potatoes for forty with two pounds of butter and God knows how much heavy cream, much to the abject horror of his 98-pound girlfriend, Tanya. We top it off with Aunt Myrna's gravy recipe, the active ingredient of which is Pepsi.
I have gradually inherited responsibility for the bird, or in our case, birds. Russians don't get many requests for oversized turkeys, so we get three smaller ones at the farmer's market after a two-week negotiation with Svetlana, and her slightly sinister husband Igor, who clearly wields the axe a few hours before I collect the birds. Svetlana has learned over the years that we appreciate giblets, but not the feet. I find getting my turkeys fresh from Svetlana to be much less hassle than a legendary two-day defrost vigil: A young American airline executive arranged for a number of frozen Butterballs to be flown in for a company party on Thursday. On Wednesday, he casually mentioned to a veteran expat wife-as they took their seats for Act II of "The Queen of Spades"-that he had been able to keep them in the dry ice container out on his balcony. As the houselights dimmed, the expat wife poked the young airline executive and hissed, "Listen, you have to go home RIGHT NOW, put them in the bathtub and run lukewarm water over them all night long, and do you have a strong hairdryer?"
We are not much given to prayer, but I do make someone read Lincoln's proclamation, which I also keep in the binder. Its lofty rhetoric is a good reminder of why we go through all this hassle to come together wherever we are, for a "day of Thanksgiving and Praise for such singular deliverances and blessings."
And then it's right on to the Christmas carols.Jennifer Eremeeva, a longtime resident of Moscow, is currently at work on her first book.
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