Deep Fried Diaries

The insider's scoop on food, travel & southern culture

SIMONE SEZ: Thanksgiving: Fusing Traditions

When I say Thanksgiving, I’m sure a number of memories and traditions come flooding to mind: Grandma cooking in the kitchen, deep fried turkey, braised collards, sweet potato tarts. (Those are a few from my highlight reel)

My husband and his father making Thanksgiving dinner

People tend to be very adamant about their Thanksgiving traditions. There are certain dishes, trimmings, table settings and activities that remain constant year after year. Many make the pilgrimage to family gatherings—sweet reunions and a grand test of patience—knowing that if they ever missed a Thanksgiving, Grandma might just cancel it altogether.

These fervent customs can pose a bit of an issue when two people get married. Most likely, your spouse/partner and their family have their own unique holiday traditions, making a fusion of the two sides a tricky task. These differences bring about the need for something I’ve coined The Great Compromise. (Oh, has that already been taken?)

Next week marks thirteen years of marriage for my husband and I, which means we’ve had thirteen years to integrate our Thanksgiving traditions. And I’m not gonna lie, on some things, we’ve reached a stalemate (Don’t even get me started on the apple pie). Yet lucky for us, we’ve always had common ground in our New Orleans roots.

For me growing up, Thanksgiving was that Southern Louisiana goodness: deep fried turkey, spinach madeleine, sweet potato pies, cranberry-orange preserves. Might I add my favorite, the oyster dressing—a little cream of chicken, Pepperidge Farms Italian-seasoned bread stuffing mix, corn bread, pecans, onion and fresh oysters from the gulf. New Orleans, through and through.

My husband, David, was born to a Cuban father (check out the feature in Food & Wine of their travels back to Cuba). His mother was American, from Louisiana, yet she eventually became as good a cook as any Cuban native. When David was a child, his family would celebrate a traditional, American meal on Thanksgiving day, as well as an extravagant Cuban feast a day or two later—a tradition our family carries on to this day.

For Thanksgiving this year, we have the grandparents up to stay with us, among other family from both sides. A few years ago, Hurricane Katrina uprooted Thanksgiving to our neck of the woods, which certainly solves the my-family-or-yours debate. It’s become an annual celebration of all things New Orleans and Cuban. A fusion of our backgrounds, our families and our lives.

Each year, my mother-in-law makes her famous salad with clementines, raisins, pecans… with secret recipe poppy-seed dressing. (She only ever makes it twice a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Louisiana-style red beans and rice adorn the table. The Cuban spread includes everything from boiled yuca, pork with mojo sauce, tostones (fried green plantains) to sweet fried plantains and flan. We don’t see exactly see eye-to-eye on the apple pie (I say it’s essential… David’s indifferent). But if pie is the worst of our worries, I say we’re doing pretty good.

Washington Post recently profiled a little Cuban cooking in our family kitchen. David and his father share their Cuban roots with some good-humored banter, as they prepare a number of native dishes. Recipes included.

Photo by Katherine Frey, The Washington Post

As for me, I’m off to find the best apple pie in Washington, DC. Just because I’m married to a chef, doesn’t mean I can’t put food on the table, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m Simone. And this is what simone sez.

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