Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Except this year, I tagged along with my boyfriend and spent it at an amazing loft in the West Village with a rooftop that surpassed all other New York City rooftops. Standing on that rooftop with an unobstructed view of the Hudson, I could almost stroke the stylistically unimpressive buildings across the water in Jersey. What a rooftop.
During dinner, every American holiday stand-by imaginable was served, neatly arranged on ethnic hand-painted ceramic plates. Mac and Cheese, stuffing, and the like softened the crude paint strokes and unevenness of the dishes. Very boho-luxe. Twenty or so plates of food dotted a table long enough to feel medieval. The room-filling laughter and clinking of glasses reminded me of every holiday film I’d ever seen growing up. Festive! American! At the end of dinner, we took turns sharing words of gratitude–a lovely and very new ritual to me. At times I couldn't help but wonder, guiltily, whether it was rude of me to stomp around the antique rug-lined floors with my microbe-laden shoes. It all felt so foreign to me. And the foreignness of it all made me miss my family and our untraditional Thanksgivings.
Thanksgiving dinner with my family is the best. It wasn't always. For a long time, we tried desperately to understand why anyone would want to eat turkey. It didn’t help that in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents’ lackluster attempts at roasting turkeys always resulted in a much too brown and dry Butterball lump, looking sad in its wrinkly aluminum roasting pan. Especially when served alongside Po-Po’s greatest hits– fried shrimp balls, rice-steamed pork ribs, steamed fish–it became an afterthought and a condiment for congee the next day. Eventually we graduated from turkey novices to geniuses when we started making Chinese stuffing aka 油飯 or you fan, which translates to “oil rice.” It’s made out of sticky rice, shiitake, dried shrimp and cooked in the turkey’s juices.
As for sides, we pivoted from Chinese-food-only feasts when my Aunt Ellen introduced the very Southern green bean casserole and candied yams a few years ago. All the kids went crazy. (Who doesn’t want to eat marshmallows for dinner?) Suddenly the dinner table went from a Qing dynasty banquet to a comical mashup of the Joy Luck Club meets church picnic. As fried onions, Campbell soup, marshmallows, and ovens entered into our hemisphere, my cousins and I started experimenting with our own contributions. We introduced American classics to the elders, like gravy and salads with vinaigrette. (Po-Po retired her version of the salad, which was huge pieces of washed lettuce and a jar of Mayo.) And we welcomed desserts that weren’t made with red beans or sticky rice. Thanksgiving became a coming together of two cultures, different generations, and all of us.
This year, while I frolicked on a West Village rooftop and ate my way through America’s heartland, my family chose not to celebrate together. Sure, I have missed a few Thanksgivings here and there; after all, flights from New York get pricey and schedules get iffy. But in my occasional absence, my family usually forges on anyway with our hard-earned traditions. But this year was different. This year, togetherness wasn't enforced because Po-Po is no longer around to rally the troops. And here I was, at someone’s loft eating turkey with a fork. At home with my family, we eat our turkey with chopsticks, never forks. I miss my family. And I miss our untraditional Thanksgivings. Well, there’s always next year.
Purple Sweet Potato Pie with Turmeric Whipped Cream
This is an adaptation of Meta Given’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on Food52.
1 3/4 cups fresh steamed and mashed purse sweet potato
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup milk
Unbaked, unpricked, chilled 9-inch pie shell (I use the Cook’s Illustrated pie crust recipe)
Turmeric Whipped Cream
4 tsp of turmeric
1.5 cups of heavy whipping cream
For pie, place sweet potato in saucepan and stir over direct heat for 10 minutes until somewhat dry and slightly caramelized, stirring frequently. Remove from heat but keep hot.
Mix thoroughly together the sugar, salt, and spices, and stir into hot pumpkin.
Beat eggs, add cream and milk, and beat into pumpkin mixture until smooth.
Pour immediately into unpricked pastry-lined pie pan and bake in a moderately hot oven (400° F) for 25 to 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and only an inch circle in the center of the filling remains liquid. Cool thoroughly on cake rack before cutting.
For the whipped cream, simply whisk together cream and turmeric together until cream thickens and peaks.