By Amy Schwarzstein-Capron
Typical, makeshift, and wonky, but delightful and one of a kind.
Our aging Labrador sleeps curled up on a seagrass rug, keeping us safe. Coco, we joke, is for coco-nuts rather than Coco Chanel (the effects of flying in the cargo hold from France). No more running in the forest or sprawling on the lawn of our old French manor. Now she barks at golf carts cruising by and is leashed at the beach. Once she ate half the holiday pie left on the countertop. I cut off the gnawed part and served it anyway!
Thanksgiving was held at our childhood home on El Bosque, a circa 1930 Spanish revival in the El Mirador neighborhood. My happy place, my safe haven.
My mother prides herself on being a terrible cook, famous for her legendary shoe-like meat. My father, who recently passed, picked up some basics out of necessity and my sisters and I are foodies. I tried out new recipes with my parents’ encouragement, and sometimes my dishes were even better than the store-bought. We ate traditional fixings: stuffed turkey, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and yams with mini marshmallows. These days, I make nut loaf and squash Wellington.
We laughed and screamed, our love language. We overindulged, watching the Macy’s parade, and football games televised in colder climates. In Laguna, we ate poolside with the beach beckoning down the street for a sunset stroll.
I went off to university in Europe, too far and costly to fly home. I celebrated with fellow Americans and other friends for a Thanksgiving feast made with local ingredients: walnuts instead of pecans, sweet potatoes sold in the exotic food markets and polenta, a perfect substitute for cornbread. Corn on the cob, I was told, was for feeding livestock and not for the table. Pumpkin was unpopular. It required work to get it down to pulp for soup or a tart. Sometimes family could make the trip, bringing Libby’s pumpkin puree cans in their suitcases.
After Friendsgiving in Lugano, I moved to Paris. I fell in love with a Frenchman and started my own family. I spent weeks shopping, cooking and preparing. Later, in the countryside, I went to local farms for the ingredients.
Turkey is a Christmas tradition there; finding one fat enough before then was always a challenge. I was the crazy American lady who needed a turkey in November. I chose a live bird. The farmer did the necessary and wrapped it in wax paper including the giblets for gravy. My children looked shocked watching me cut off the neck, which to my dismay always was left on. Now a vegetarian, I’m surprised I could stomach it back then.
We invited our friends and neighbors. We toasted with wine and champagne, thankful for the love and good in our lives. The last Thanksgiving memory I have in France is canceling the turkey order when my husband died.
A year later, I shipped a container, listed the house and returned to my childhood home on El Bosque. Even in loss, I gave thanks to family and friends who were there for me in Laguna Beach. Wherever I live, Thanksgiving represents home and bringing family and friends together to celebrate gratitude.
Amy Schwarzstein-Capron is a Lagunatic and Francophile who loves to read, cook and lawn bowl while enjoying her family and friends.