At my first traditional American Thanksgiving, I experienced things I had never seen before and was exposed to exotic foods that had never before crossed my lips.
What was this mountainous heap of unidentifiable colorless mush sitting in a bowl and vigorously passed around? Why did it exist? And why did people throw a red gelatinous substance on top of it? Why was the turkey served in big slabs of white and dry, and then doused with brown gooey liquid to hide the fact that it was white and dry? Where was the arroz con gandules? And for goodness sake, why were we eating at 4pm?
Thanksgiving at home doesn’t look like this (certainly doesn’t taste like this). Forgoing the traditional fixings, we prefer more of a few foods we love instead of smaller portions of 16 mediocre food items. But one thing makes Thanksgiving at home superior: my mom’s turkey. People have written tomes of praise to my mom’s turkey. But rather than break out into sonnet here, let me just tell you that it is a food in its own category. Manna from heaven. Ambrosia of the gods. So delicious, your eyes roll back in your head and your toes curl upon first bite.
I can’t give away my mom’s secret recipe (at least not for free), but I will divulge her mode of preparation. On the eve of T-Day, my mother concocts a brew of vegetables, herbs, and spices. Like the magical witches in Macbeth, she stirs a thick potion that bubbles up from a deep stone cauldron. Ok, not really. She uses a blender. But I’m pretty sure magic spells are involved. In the wee hours of the morning or even before, she wakes up con los gallinas (if we lived on a farm and not in LA) to put the turkey in the oven. She does this with deft and in secret like a Santa Claus stealing your baked goods in the middle of the night. By 8am when I wake up (okay noon), the entire house smells like you’re going to kill somebody unless you get a bite of that turkey.
But the bird cooks slowly on low heat for 12 hours becoming tender and deep shades of golden brown. All the while, she bathes it lovingly with the green brew made the previous day. Confession: at some point in the afternoon, my mom and I usually cheat by having a pre-thanksgiving dinner dinner. We make little plates and sit at the table in our pjs, appreciating the turkey and (hokey alert)…each other.
By the time it gets to my sister’s house at 6pm Latino time (i.e., 9pm), the bird no longer looks like turkey as typically displayed in commercials and bad holiday movies. With the grace of a Japanese ninja, my mom slices, dices, and shreds, generously dressing each layer with her special sauce so that every piece (even the white ones) is succulent and melts in your mouth.
This is the turkey that defines our Thanksgiving. Gracias a mi mamá, whose touch makes everything magic.
 I do not know what this means.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.