How to Prepare an American Christmas Dinner Involving Turkey for 20 Guests in Hangzhou, China

_DSC9242For the turkey:

Research prices at the online specialty grocery stores in Shanghai. Decide they are pretty spendy. Take a chance and make the 40-minute cab-ride trek out to 麦德龙 (a European-Chinese joint-venture restaurant-supply supermarket), where rumor has it they sell turkeys. Find the freezer manager and ask, “Do you have turkeys?” He will respond, “We do. How big?” Tell him, boldly: “The biggest one you have.” His eyes will widen. “That will cost you more than 100 RMB [$15].” Stand firm. “That’s okay. Let me see your biggest turkey.” And he will haul it out of the deep freeze and present it. It’s big enough to feed a crowd; it’ll do.

Bring the turkey to the register, along with a ton of other items. Change the kid’s diaper [emergency poo-splosion] in line. Try to keep it together. Arrive home to look at the receipt and realize that the cashier never rung up the turkey. The 20-pound bird was free. Briefly consider returning to the store, but nix the idea almost immediately.

When the time comes to prepare the turkey, reach your hand into the cavity to remove the giblets that are usually inside. Pull out, instead, the head, with long neck attached. Stare hard into its dead eyes. Discard head, over objections of husband who wants to see if guests will eat it. Cook bird.

Small Chinese oven will spew kerosene-flavored smoke for the 2 hours the turkey cooks. Just open the kitchen door and ignore this as much as you can. The oven is tired these days.

For the cranberry sauce:

Again, check the online specialty stores. Find that one actually carries frozen cranberries. Wait until they go on sale (one month). Buy one bag. Cook. Worry that there won’t be nearly enough. Find out that your Chinese guests actually consider preserved sour little berries grown in bogs to be revolting and inedible. Revel in the leftovers.

For the stuffing:

A month ahead of time, chat with an expat friend and find out that she has a jar of poultry seasoning. Arrange to meet at a coffeehouse near your apartment and swap a portion of it (in a plastic baggie) in exchange for a coffee.

A week ahead of time, buy the bread. Make sure it is plain Western bread and not a Chinese adaptation of plain Western bread, which is to say make sure it’s not topped with oily fish flakes or diced hot dog pieces. Rip it into shreds and lay it out on baking sheets (a toddler, if you have one on hand, is helpful here). Set it on the counter to dry, but then remember that you’ve had a mouse in the past. Bring the baking sheets of torn bread up to your husband’s office, where the heat is on and the door is closed (good for drying, and also mouse-proof). Leave it there for a few days. Hope that ayi doesn’t ask any questions.

For the sweet potatoes:

Toss small chunks in coconut oil and salt (non-traditional, but yummy). Bake. Taste one just before serving and wonder if it’s got a slight kerosene flavor. Make your husband taste it to confirm. Confirmed. Assure yourself that everything tastes okay with gravy on it. Say a small prayer that the oven doesn’t burst into flames and fall out of the wall before the day is done.

For the gravy:

Start cooking it in the morning, after you make a special trip out to the vegetable seller in the alley for an onion and a carrot to flavor the pot. Simmer it for 10 hours, stirring lovingly. Once all the food is on the table and you’re washing the last dishes, anticipating the guests’ imminent arrival, wheel around and bump the gravy pot handle, sending the whole of it into the air and onto the kitchen floor. Curse really, really loudly. Listen to your toddler excitedly repeat back what you just said. Realize there is no way to re-make the gravy. Ignore your worst instinct, which is to scoop it up off the floor and re-heat it. Take a chicken thigh out of the freezer and toss it in the almost-empty gravy pot. Add water and re-heat. Hope for the best.

For the pumpkin pie:

Order cans of pumpkin ($8 each) and boxes of graham crackers for the crust ($10 each) online. Wonder who the hell is at the door at 9:30PM one night; open it to find a wind-blown delivery man with a plastic bag of cans and boxes in one hand and a hefty bill in the other. Thank him profusely and go to sleep.

Fret about the pumpkin pie spice for weeks. Finally locate it on TaoBao, the Chinese version of eBay, where one can buy almost anything you can think of, though much of it is certifiably fake. Of all the millions of sellers on this site, exactly one sells pumpkin pie spice, good ol’ McCormick brand. Buy it. It will come hand-delivered at your door three days later, packaged inside a cardboard toilet paper roll tube and taped up as carefully as if it were a porcelain teapot.

Bake three pies. Serve them to people who eat pumpkin solely as a savory dish. Watch them swoon and, in the case of one slim Chinese woman, go back unashamedly for thirds.

Merry Christmas! 圣诞节快乐!

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