Somehow the holiday season has crept up on me this year, and without realizing, all the radio stations have converted to their official holiday tunes, and by that I mean Christmas songs. It’s as if the whole world is ready to skip over Thanksgiving entirely and move onto December.
This will also be the first Thanksgiving that I am not spending with my family, who are currently cruising through Hawaii. By the photos my mom is sending me in real time, they should be hiking in Oahu at this moment. Oh my adventurous parents who are masters of booking cheap cruise trips and $400 international flights to China with questionable travel agencies… but that’s another story for another day. Ever since I can remember, Thanksgiving dinner has meant a reunion feast with my parents’ old college alumni who invariably would bring their young kids, whom I would invariably be in charge of babysitting. That’s part of the sore duties of being an only child- you never have big enough of a family yourself for Thanksgiving alone, instead, you adopt other Chinese families’ younger kids for a night of babysitting festivities.
The dinner itself usually consisted of 10+ Chinese dishes and a roasted chicken or chicken stew as the star of the show, all produced in my mother’s kitchen. There was no turkey, cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes- they were too rough, too foreign in the eyes of my traditional mother who has worked every wit to keep the Chinese culinary customs alive in our house. Ironically, the one part of American cuisine she has welcomingly embraced is wine. So without hesitation or even having thought twice about the incongruity of it all, we end up washing down dishes like kung pao chicken with a glassful of merlot. Cheers!
These Thanksgiving multi-family gatherings were a way for my parents to reminisce the old times on the dinner table, and they also served as a convenient tool of showing off your children’s talents in front of friends. Often times my parents would proudly give a tour of the house to our guests, with the focus largely on the 15+ artworks I made hanging on the walls. Exaggerated exclamations would follow from the guests and they would all swarm to ask me where I receive painting lessons so that they can send their children to follow my footsteps. Equally, when we run into kids who were older than me, my parents would subtly seek advice about college application from the other families. Between all the exchange of tips, it was quite a trade show.
Growing up, I was never a fan of these parties. It seemed that I could never understand what the adults were discussing about politics, the oil industry, healthcare insurance, etc, let alone join their conversation. Plus, I never enjoyed being compared to the other kids, even when it was in my favor. So it was a relief when I went away to the East Coast for college and that gave me an excuse to skip these occasions. But since I returned for grad school, I started to partake in these celebrations again. And to my surprise, it was not so bad. I began to sit at the adults table and joined in their exploration of topics like the current energy crisis, terrorist acts abroad, when to best vacation in Europe (not now) and the real estate scene in Houston (taken over by mainland Chinese who buy up mansions with full payment of cash). Slowly, I began to understand a little why my parents enjoy these gatherings year after year. They don’t necessarily talk about anything serious, nor do their discussions carry real practical significance, but it’s a way to connect with community, to be in the presence of people similar to you, to prevent themselves from losing the last bit of familiarity with where they had come from. It is an act of origin and cultural preservation. And perhaps, I was just beginning to appreciate its importance in my mid-twenties.
This Thanksgiving, I’d like to share with you an alternative turkey recipe, of course a fusion one- spicy turkey meatballs with Korean glaze. Maybe it’s my little act of cultural preservation as well.
Spicy Turkey Meatballs with Korean glaze
- 1 pound of ground turkey
- 1 cup of onions, diced small
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp ginger powder
- 2 Tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) for meat
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 2 green onion, sliced thinly, for garnish
- 2 Tbsp raspberry jam
- 2 Tbsp gochujang for glaze
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- sesame seeds, for garnish
In a large mixing bowl, mix togther turkey, onion, egg, panko and seasonings (salt, pepper, ginger, gochujang). Don’t overmix meat. Shape into meatballs. Preheat oven to 350F.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown meatballs on all sides. This takes 5 minutes. Transfer meatballs onto a foil-lined baking tray. Space meatballs evenly throughout. Bake for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, combine raspberry jam, gochujang, rice vinegar and soy sauce for glaze. Stir over medium heat for 5 minutes or until mixture is thickened evenly.
Pour glaze over meatballs. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds on top.