Thanksgiving in Bishkek

2007: Kirstin hosts Thanksgiving in Amman for about 20 fellow study abroad students. Other than providing the space, I made cookies. The night was pretty hassle-free.
2009: Thanksgiving in Iraq, U.S. Embassy style. Think of the most elaborate selection of Thanksgiving food that is cooked to a perfectly mediocre level. Never trust a Bangladeshi to cook your beef wellington.
2010: Thanksgiving in Bishkek.

Oh yes, it happened, and we hosted it. We had no choice really. AUCA, in keeping with American traditions, canceled classes on Thursday so we had no excuse not to show our Belgian, German, and Turkmen friends what a holiday solely devoted to eating is all about.

At the end of the night, Farrell and I sighed with relief and packed up a decent amount of leftovers. The food was good, the company was great, the cat stayed calm for (almost) the whole night.

But, we learned some valuable lessons for next year.

Certain foods are not available in Bishkek, like celery and green beans. Cranberry sauce was completely out of the question, but I was so sure I found dried ones at Osh Bazaar. My dictionary said “клюква” and the vendor said the box of large, magenta dried things were “клюква”.

They taste like dried tomatoes, coated in some sort of artificial sweetener. Luckily I only bought 15 soms’ worth, but I have no idea what to do with them now.

Sage was almost left out of the mix. It was nowhere in the spice section at Osh Bazaar and none of the vendors seemed to know what it was. A last minute trip to the Turkish-owned Beta Stores (infamous for getting looted every time there’s a revolution) saved the day. Not in the spice aisle (where we stared at little packets of chicken seasoning for 15 minutes looking for any word that resembled the one I found in my Russian dictionary), but at the bulk spice/candy counter is where I found a giant glass globe of those fuzzy, fragrant leaves. It took several tries to get the woman at the counter to understand my garbled rendition of “30 grams” in Russian, but we finally had sage for our turkey.

Ahh, the turkey. We made a total rookie mistake and paid more than twice as much as we should have for a turkey at Osh Bazaar. I won’t even say how much… it’s embarrassing. I just keep telling myself that we know better for next time.

But, it turned out lovely. Despite neither of us having cooked a bird like this before, it was juicy and wonderful thanks to a thick layer of fat that made for fool-proof cooking. Something turkeys sold in the U.S. lose out on. Don’t judge it by how ugly it looks, I swear it was delicious.

Also unavailable: pumpkin. I promised that there would be pumpkin pie and I knew I would have an upset Turkmen on my hands if I didn’t deliver.

So, my victory of the day was transforming two huge hunks of squash into pumpkin-esque pie.

28 soms for this chunk, 18 for the other one, equals about $1.

Notice the jagged edge on the baking pan? Brand new, but didn’t fit in our oven. Farrell had to go at it with some pliers to prevent a Thanksgiving meltdown (from me).

Roast for several hours. Smash with a plastic potato masher for several more.

Oh hey! That sort of looks like pumpkin puree.

Time to assemble. Measuring cups are still nowhere to be found yet, so I have to think of how the babushkas cooked their cakes and pies back in ancient times without measuring cups.

Baking doesn’t have to be exact anyway.

Fresh nutmeg, a nice find at Osh Bazaar, and a cheap plastic grater in place of a microplane.

The best find of the week! Gulzara, the closest thing I have to a “local” friend, took me to a Chinese supermarket where we found “red sugar” made with dates. A perfect replacement for brown sugar.

I know they’re hoarding our currency, but China came through for me this week.

The best pie pleats I’ve ever crimped.

It looks normal!

And it tasted fantastic, if I do say so myself. (It’s true though, everybody said so.)

Ahh, I’m thankful for all the usual stuff. My friends (in Bishkek, in the U.S., and scattered globally), my dashing husband, and my family, of course, who do strange things like send me Christmas decorations.

Thanksgiving part two is tomorrow and I’m planning a repeat pumpkin-esque pie. I’m badly backed up on about ten planned posts, but for now, I have some leftover stuffing calling out to me.