English Family Food

Of Thanksgiving, globalization and my homemade gnocchi.

*This post was written during ChicagoNow’s Blogapalooz-Hour for November 2016. During Blogapalooz we are given a prompt and we have one hour to post. This is today’s prompt: 

“Write about something you believed as a child or in your youth that turned out not to be true.”

Our first Thanksgiving table had all the usuals except for the turkey... and the gnocchi!
Our first Thanksgiving table had all the usuals except for the turkey… and the gnocchi!

Last week, like millions of American families, I hosted Thanksgiving. My 13th Thanksgiving, to be precise.

Despite what many Americans think, Thanksgiving is a holiday mostly particular to this beautiful country. And, before you wonder, yes, I have really been asked more than once how we celebrate Thanksgiving in Spain, only to have to explain to a US born citizen that it actually celebrates the settlement of the pilgrims to North America, and thus is not a holiday anywhere else in the world.

When you move to a foreign country, you often become immediately the first generation of your family, the front line. Suddenly, in your early twenties, you are performing the same duties that your grandmother is performing in your country of origin. In many cases, and unless you are invited by a nice American family, you become the host of holidays galore. Between the fact that most of our friends back then were graduate school students with little leverage to invite us anywhere, and that I have a liking to throwing parties, I took on the task with gusto.

Golden, salty, sizzling home made gnocchi.
Golden, salty, sizzling home made gnocchi.

My first Thanksgiving, in 2002, was crafted thanks, in equal parts, to Martha Stewart and the Food Network. It was small, it was delicious, and it was traditional. Except for the little fact that there was no turkey, as I don’t like birds whether they are alive, dead, or roasted and stuffed, everything else was on the table, made from scratch.

Then, in 2005, I started watching a short lived series called Related. In it, for the Thanksgiving feast, the fictional family made gnocchi. This was way before home made pasta was all the rage. But there I threw myself, decided to master this very new American tradition. It took me a couple of Thanksgivings, but thanks to a recipe from an old Spanish cooking book, I perfected the gnocchi recipe, added a made up red pepper sauce whose recipe I am unable to convey, since I have never measured the ingredients, and included both in our yearly menu.

My first guinea pigs were my friends, back then PhD students, which is a breed that is always so grateful for any homemade food that hey make the worst food critics. Over the years, the guest list has changed, but the menu stayed the same.

And it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned, to my horror, that gnocchi are not a traditional Thanksgiving dish. I had just appropriated a tradition from an Italian TV family, and adapted it the Spanish way. In other words, a Spaniard was cooking Italian food for a US holiday. Hello, globalization!!!

Our lives have changed a lot since then. We have lived in 5 different houses in Chicago, we are raising three bicultural kids, and our Thanksgiving table has seated friends from Spain, Germany, Peru, Singapore and Mexico, among others. We have ditched the pumpkin pie (an acquired taste that we never warmed up to) in favor of cheesecakes, I have learned that the best recipe for a green bean casserole is on the back of a can of Campbell soup, and we have had so many Thanksgiving mishaps that I could probably write a whole book, and a horror one at that.

But, of it all, the tradition that it has stuck, and that now I share with my 9 year old, is the fake one: every year, on the night before Thanksgiving, we put on our aprons, push our hands in the dough, and roll a whole lot of gnocchi. And even if it started as a mistake on my part, it has become our most beloved moment of the holiday, and the star of my table.

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