Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From Market to Table: A Thanksgiving Sacrifice

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Although I appreciate the religious significance of Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving is relatively free of the headaches and expectations of gift-giving, but full of family and food (what more can I ask for?). Of course this makes it doubly difficult to spend my favorite holiday so far away from those very comforts.

L’Eid Kbir (remember this from last year?), which moves back two weeks every year on the lunar calendar was positioned only two days after Thanksgiving this year. What did this mean? Well, first it meant that the travel restriction put on all volunteers during the week surrounding the Muslim holiday put a damper on gathering on Thanksgiving day. No problem, I still managed to cook a small meal for a group that was not so much comprised of Americans but Koreans and Moroccans (and we had a blast).

It also meant that Saturday would be the final day for a lot of sheep. Last year I compared some aspects of L’Eid Kbir to Thanksgiving, both are centered on a particular animal to be consumed. With this in mind and with encouragement from a friend, I was determined to have my own “sheep” to sacrifice this year. I bought a live turkey.

It was a bit hard to come by on the days leading up to L’Eid, I went to souq the day the sheep was bought buy my neighbors. Nothing but men standing next to their sheep as buyers grab the sheep’s backside and lift its back legs to size it up. We wove in and around the bleating mass and kept track of the favorites until a purchase was finally made.

I found my turkey on Thanksgiving morning. She was a beautiful bird, and what they call a “country turkey” meaning she probably had a free-range life in the countryside surrounding my town. I grabbed her firmly by her tied legs and took her back to my courtyard (which, if you remember, also housed chickens at one point). I made sure she’d be comfortable for the few days she would occupy my home. Seeing her stand up on my courtyard also gave me reference of how much larger she was than my chickens. I wouldn’t allow her to intimidate me, however, and she showed no signs of being particularly feisty.

The big day came, and the animals were assembled on the roof of my neighbors’ house: two sheep (one from their daughter and son-in-law who came in), two kittens (not to be eaten), and one turkey. The oldest son present is in charge of slaughtering the animals, one by one, while everyone else takes action in immediately skinning and taking apart the animal, or else keeping the tile-ground constantly clean. There is an order and efficiency to it that makes its regularity obvious.

Having not grown up practicing first hand what it means for an animal to go from farm to plate, I mostly stay behind my camera. Although this is the second year I’ve celebrated L’Eid and seen the slaughter, it is still a very powerful and sad thing to witness the death of the animal. It is also amazing and disturbing how quick the transition is from animal to “meat”. The way my brain processes the two is very different.

I did put my hands to work in de-feathering my bird. I knew this was everyone’s concern about my extra contribution to the event. Usually chickens are de-feathered at the chicken seller’s around the corner, but of course no one would be open the morning of L’Eid. It ended up not being as terrible as I thought it would, many hands made light work, and I made sure every last feather was gone.

Lunch was grilled liver wrapped in fat, the traditional first meal. The second traditional meal, a stew of stomach, lung, and esophagus, I managed to miss out on this year. When I asked when would be a good time to serve my turkey, I was told the evening of the first day would be fine, turkey would be a healthy break from all the lamb-meat. So that is how I ended up preparing a Thanksgiving dinner on L’Eid. Okay, okay, so I only prepared one side of roasted veggies, but I did have stuffing and gravy to accompany the bird. I received much praise for the meal, which was well consumed despite the day of eating cookies and mutton. Afterwards I went back to my house, left my kitchen a disaster for the night and went to bed.

This year, although I have an ocean between any blood relatives and the assortment of pies and sides that make Thanksgiving what it is, I have my “family” here as well as a will to cook, and a can of imported cranberry sauce. That will do this year, and I’m more than thankful for it.