(The day after) Thanksgiving

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! I just scarfed down a plate of cold turkey and stuffing and then sat in a hot tub for half an hour, so I’m pretty much living the American Dream right now.

As is my custom, I’d like to share a few of the things I’m thankful for this year. As always, I have a long list, but this year, the list is topped by my baby, Lucia, who, in my completely unbiased opinion, is one of the best, if not THE BEST, baby in the world. Also: Al, my family, my friends. My health. The uzh! But the baby — oh, man, that baby. Boy, am I thankful for her. This is one of those things I don’t think I was able to fully appreciate before Lucia was actually outside my body. I didn’t know how much I’d love her and be grateful for her four-toothed little smile every day. What a gift she is. I am so, so lucky to be her mother. And I know this is all very sappy and saccharine and stomach-turning, but having a kid has made me way cheesier than I ever thought possible, and I’m just living my (sappy, gross) truth!


This year, Al’s mom and stepdad are in town visiting from Canada, and they’re staying with my parents, who recently moved here from San Francisco. Finally having my parents local for the last few months has been wonderful, and it’s great having another set of Lulu’s grandparents in town, too. We had a really delicious Thanksgiving meal yesterday, with fabulous, sunny weather, and good conversation, so what else, really, can you ask for? Nothing, that’s what!

I’ll leave you with a short list of some of the littler, sillier things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. Ingenious baby products that make my life easier. Special shout-outs to this thing, which is a baby butt-paste spatula, and this thing, which has allowed me to do stuff around the house while Lucia entertains herself for minutes on end!
  2. Sleep training. Glorious, liberating sleep training. (Actually, this is not a little or silly thing. This is life-changing stuff right here).
  3. Amazon Prime and all its attendant glories (looking at you, Amazon Video).
  4. My Swimp3, for making swimming way less boring.
  5. Our local coffee shop, Misha’s, where Lulu and Al are now regulars.
  6. My Kindle Paperwhite, for letting me plow through books while feeding my kid (since it only requires one hand to operate, and has its own backlight).
  7. Ravelry, the source of much inspiration and relaxation.

There’s more, of course. But there’s another plate of stuffing calling my name, so I’ll leave it at this. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh

Happy belated Thanksgiving! To think: only a few, short days ago, we were still basking in the golden glow of everyone’s favorite gluttony-and-gratitude-based holiday, and now we’re deep in the throes of Cyber Monday (which lately has been extended to Cyber Week)-style cut-throat consumerism. Sunrise, sunset. I don’t know, wouldn’t Thanksgiving be even better if it weren’t immediately followed each year by events in which people get trampled to death in parking lots? Of course, I say all of this as I contemplate buying a severely marked-down food processor online. At least I’m not trampling anyone. Yet.

This year, for the first time since 2011, Al and I were in the U.S. for Thanksgiving (last year we were in London and the year before that, Cape Town). The day before the holiday, we drove out to Pittsburgh to visit Al’s friends Hakan and Meredith, who recently moved there from Louisiana. The drive to Pittsburgh from Alexandria was supposed to take four hours, but between the unrelenting snow and my compressed bladder, it took us six-and-a-half. Frequent (and annoying) pee breaks are the new normal for preggo me, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Despite all the stops, though, we got to Pittsburgh before it got dark.

Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving dinner

Pittsburgh, as it turns out, is a pretty cool town! I had never been there before, but I’d heard good things, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an old industrial town filled with red-brick buildings and steel bridges and funicular railways running up steep hills. Since it has that aging steel town vibe, it lends itself well to hipster enclaves, and there are lots of fun, young neighborhoods packed with cool bars and shops and restaurants. Plus, since there are a ton of universities and colleges in town, there are plenty of museums and cultural events. Of course, the only “cultural event” in which we participated while there was a showing of Disney’s Newsies (the musical), but hey, you do what you can.

Our Thanksgiving day was nice and low-key. Meredith and Hakan did most of the cooking (turkey, stuffing, carrots, cranberries), but I contributed mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie (using the same recipe as I used two years ago, except minus the hand-roasted and pureed pumpkin, now that I’m back in a country where canned pumpkin is a thing), and a gallon-sized bag of Chex cookies ‘n cream Muddy Buddies. We sat down to eat dinner around four and then went downtown to see the evening show of Newsies, which was pretty faithful to the delightfully cheesy 1992 movie of the same name, except with more pirouettes and high kicks!

The next night, we went to dinner in Shadyside, a hip neighborhood in the East End of Pittsburgh. We ate at the astonishingly unfashionable hour of 5:30 (in fact, when the restaurant called to confirm our reservation, they asked whether anyone in our party had “trouble going up and down stairs”), and it was great. Now that I’m in my thirties (and seven months pregnant), I really enjoy eating early and then being able to digest for a few hours before going to bed early. I figure this lifestyle will make my transition to the nursing home that much easier when the time comes!

We bid our friends adieu on Saturday morning and drove back to Virginia. The snow had melted and we made quick time on the way back, even with all of my many pee stops. We were sad to say goodbye to our pals, but now that they live much closer, I’m sure we’ll see them again soon. As we drove back, I reflected on all of the things I’m thankful for this year. There are a lot, but most of them can be boiled down to the following: the baby, Al, my family, and living in a country in which canned pumpkin is abundant.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Expat Thanksgivings

I have celebrated many a Thanksgiving outside of the United States. My first foreign Thanksgiving was in 2003 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was with some of my best friends from college and we were on a weeklong vacation from studying abroad in Santiago, Chile. We were all so caught up in the excitement of being in Rio for the first time (read: drunk), none of us remembered that it was Thanksgiving until close to midnight on Thursday, at which point we left whatever sweaty club we were patronizing and made our way to an open-air pizza parlor and ordered a bunch of pizzas, which we decided would have to substitute for turkey. In 2005, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Rio again, with my dear friend Julia. We met some Americans in a bar and hunted around until we found an Irish pub serving something that approximated turkey. Chicken, maybe? I don’t really remember. Alcohol may have been involved in the decision. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

I also spent Thanksgiving 2010 in Brazil, this time in São Paulo. I got together with a bunch of friends — mostly Brazilian but with a few Canadian, English, and German people thrown into the mix, as well — and we cooked a proper Thanksgiving dinner with a real turkey, apple pie, and mashed potatoes. Pumpkin was nowhere to be found (seriously, Brazil?) so we did without, but I seem to recall that there were a lot of Brazilian goodies to be had, like brigadeiros, which make up for a lot.

And last year, Al and I celebrated Thanksgiving in Cape Town, to which I transported my labor of love, my from-SCRATCH pumpkin pie. This year, I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in London, with Al and my cousin John and a bunch of John’s friends. It’ll be the first non-US Thanksgiving I’ve had with any of my extended family in attendance, so that’ll be a nice change.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - always a classic!
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – always a classic!

Expat Thanksgiving is always an odd experience — especially if you’re in a place where it’s hot in November and essential Thanksgiving food supplies are scarce, a la Brazil — but it can also be a really unique, wonderful way to celebrate the holiday. The thing is, when you celebrate Thanksgiving  outside of America, odds are, you’ll be spending it with at least some non-Americans who are interested in the holiday and think it’s a cool idea. And that’s kind of awesome, isn’t it? It’s cool to be able to share Thanksgiving dinner with people who aren’t gathering just for the turkey or pie or football or because that’s just what you do on the fourth Thursday in November, but because they value and admire the spirit behind the holiday: the idea of getting together with people you love to express gratitude. I love Thanksgiving because even though it’s a very American holiday (and yes, Canadian, too, but Canadians will readily agree that it’s a much bigger deal in America), the concept behind it translates universally: giving thanks for what we have. I love that non-Americans can get into the spirit of Thanksgiving just as easily and authentically as Americans. It’s just a lovely holiday all around.

Speaking of gratitude, I saw this video a while ago. Take the seven minutes and watch it, if you haven’t seen it already. It’s about the huge happiness boost we experience from expressing gratitude to the people in our lives who we love. I think Thanksgiving is the perfect, non-cheesy opportunity to grab your own happiness boost by letting your loved one(s) know that you appreciate them, don’t you? This year, as always, I’m really grateful for my husband, my parents, my cousins, and my friends, who, in my completely unbiased opinion, are all the absolute best. I’m also exceedingly grateful to still be plugging away at making my dream of becoming a professional writer come true. (Fittingly, today I completed 50,000 words in the third manuscript I’ve written since quitting my lawyer job a little over a year ago, so things are coming up Stephanie over here). So, all in all, I’m feeling good and grateful today. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


Thanksgiving in Cape Town

Happy Black Friday! May none of you be trampled to death today and may you all enjoy many leftover-turkey-and-stuffing sandwiches!

Protea flowers, Cape Town

Al and I are in Cape Town. We came down yesterday morning and are staying at the beautiful home of Al’s former boss, Hillary, her husband, Alfred, their two sons, Boden (7) and Asher (16 months), and their two gentle Rhodesian Ridgebacks.  They live in a lovely, leafy Cape Town neighborhood full of flowering trees and narrow, quiet streets.

A nearby street

We spent the early afternoon yesterday hanging out with Hilary and Alfred and their kids and dogs, which was really fun.  Al gets along well with dogs and kids of all descriptions, which is one of the reasons I love him.

He’s a natural

Yesterday afternoon, we also took a walk around the neighborhood and gaped at how gorgeous Cape Town is.  The weather is perfect – sunny, warm, and breezy during the day and crisp at night – and the vegetation is lush and green.  It actually really reminds me a lot of Northern California: the plants, the weather, the smell of the air (eucalyptus and flowering trees), the brown and green hills and clear blue skies — it all feels very familiar to me.  This morning, we went for a run in Kirstenbosch, a nearby National Botanical Garden that reminded me strongly of Golden Gate Park (except minus the creepy drifters living in the bushes).  I really love how green it is here.

View from a parking deck – looks like San Francisco (with a mountain)

Last night, Hillary and Alfred were kind enough to host Thanksgiving at their home for a large number of people, including many adorable kids.


Dinner was potluck style, and our contribution was the aforementioned labor-of-love/just-plain-labor pumpkin pie, plus two store-bought pies from Wooly’s, a few bottles of wine, and some salads.

La mesa

Others brought veggie dishes, bread, mashed potatoes, more wine, and, of course, TURKEY.  Everything was delicious.

My plate

We went around the table and said what we were thankful for.  This is my sixth Thanksgiving of being thankful for Alastair.  I’m also thankful for great friends and family, good health, and the opportunity to live in a new place and pursue my dreams.  Life is good, you know?

Thankful for this guy

The moment of truth of the night came for me at dessert, when my pie was served.  Luckily, it was a hit.  In order to verify that it was, in fact, delicious, I had to test several slices.  I approved.

Hillary and Alfred were wonderful hosts and it was fun meeting their group of friends here in Cape Town.  The only disadvantage is that now I don’t want to ever go back to Joburg. Sigh.

Tomorrow, the plan is to go wine tasting.  I’m feeling a little sick (sore throat, headache, etc.) but my disgusting boils are subsiding, so I’m optimistic.  I’ll report back soon.  Enjoy the rest of your long weekends!

Pumpkin pie

To take my mind off my many health woes, I spent this afternoon making a pumpkin pie from scratch. And I mean SCRATCH. Scritchety-scratch.  This was my first time making pumpkin pie, so I was going into this thing blind.  And, since canned pumpkin and pre-made pie crusts don’t exist in this country, I was forced to get sort of Helga Homemaker and make everything myself. And it went pretty well, until I dropped the pie.  But we’ll get to that in a sec.

The final product

The first hurdle I faced was figuring out how I was going to get pureed pumpkin.  A survey of local grocery stores and markets turned up nada on the canned pumpkin front.  This meant I would have to buy raw pumpkin and puree it myself.  Getting the pumpkin was not a problem: I found raw, cubed pumpkin at my local fruit/veg market. But to puree it, I needed a food processor or a blender. I had brought my amazing, blocky Cuisinart food processor from home, but it turns out that it requires 650 watts of power to run (this is a lot) and the largest step-down transformer we could find in Joburg only went up to 100 watts. Ruh-roh.  So, I was forced to buy the cheapest immersion blender I could find, instead.  While I was at it, I also bought a rolling pin and a pie tin.  Since I had already bought the other ingredients for the pie, I was set.

Next, I set about making the pumpkin puree-able.  Going off of this recipe, I popped my cubed raw pumpkin into the oven at 200 C for 45 minutes… but afterwards, the pumpkin was still pretty hard. I ended up leaving it in the oven for almost 90 minutes, until it was soft enough to smash with a fork.

Roasted pumpkin

While the pumpkin was cooking, I made my pie crust following this recipe (from a South African!), which turned out to be shockingly easy.  I felt so proud of myself, rolling the dough out with my new rolling pin.  I wanted someone to observe me doing this and say, “wow, look at you, rolling that dough like a pro!” but no one was there, and actually, I look terrible, so it’s probably best no one witnessed any of this process.

Dough, glorious dough!

When the pumpkin was finally cooked, I used my new immersion blender to puree it into velvety, orange goodness.

Aw yeah.

Then I added in the spices, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract, and poured that bowl of deliciousness into the pie shell, which I had flattened, more or less, onto the pie tin.

It was hard not to chug this. But I resisted.

Then I popped that baby into the oven at 170-200 C for about 45 minutes.  There was some mid-baking temperature adjustment because our oven is kinda wack.  I tested the pie’s doneness with a fork and when it was firm but moist, I slowly, painstakingly withdrew it from the oven, an oven mitt on one hand and a towel in the other.  I was inching it out of the oven when something – I’m still not sure what, but maybe a pie-stress-induced-seizure? – happened, and I dropped the pie.


It landed on the open oven door, praise Jesus (seriously) and did not flip over, but the side of it got kind of squashed.  Al was sitting out in the other room watching a show called “Space Mysteries” and eating gummies when he heard me scream in agony.  I then threw a really predictable type-A hissy fit about ruining my perfect pie.  Al tried to convince me it looked more “homemade” this way, and I appreciated the effort, but no.  It looked SO BEAUTIFUL before and now it’s ruined. RUINED, I tell you.  No one will love you now, pie!

It looked better before, I swear.

But I did taste a little bit of the filling that fell out, and daaaaaaang. It was good.  So it may not look perfect, but I’m hoping people will enjoy it tomorrow.  Inner beauty and all that.

Until then, happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a joyous, turkey and stuffing filled day of family, friends, and food coma.