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5 Lessons I Discovered While Living Abroad at Thanksgiving

5 Lessons I Discovered While Living Abroad at Thanksgiving

What does Thanksgiving mean to you?  Do you learn from experiences outside your comfort zone? What happens when things don’t go your way?  Are you open to new experiences?

These are some of the questions I asked myself this past week.  I thrive outside my comfort zone.  It doesn’t mean it isn’t scary just that I am open to it.  And probably what is scary to me isn’t scary to you and vice versa.  Today, I’m sharing a bit about my answers to these questions as well as the five lessons that I discovered (or rediscovered) this past week as I celebrated Thanksgiving in Peru.

I currently live in Lima, Peru.  I have been here since early June.  I picked Peru mainly because I had traveled here on several occasions and really enjoyed the food and liked many Peruvians I met here and in the US.

Living abroad has its challenges every day especially when there is an unfamiliar language and culture involved.  I find every day is a learning experience no doubt.  But, I feel like it can be especially difficult around important holidays.  What I am trying to say is…

What happens when your new home doesn’t celebrate a significant holiday?  Or how do you adjust to new customs?  My first grapple with these questions came with Thanksgiving.

Lessons learned - MeWhat Thanksgiving means to me

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday no doubt.  Of course, as a foodie part of the appeal is the food, but it also has always been a time I looked forward to being with family or friends.  I enjoy using the time to celebrate life and to reflect on all that I have to be grateful for.

I remember holidays with my immediate and extended family growing up.  The day always started with cooking early in the morning, and after eating, there was always lots of football to watch.  When I was older, I spent fewer Thanksgiving holidays with family and more of them surrounded by friends who in many ways were my family as well.

This year, Thanksgiving feels different for me.  For starters it’s the first one without my mom which is hard, but I am thankful that I spent the last few Thanksgiving holidays with her.    But another difference is that I am not currently living in the US.  And here in Peru, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday.

Lessons learned - the people
I wouldn’t have been the same without this amazing group of people!!! My Lima family!!!

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Peru

When I brought up the idea of celebrating *Friendsgiving* with my group of friends here in Lima, they all were super excited to participate.  We decided on a day that worked for us to celebrate and each person agreed to contribute to the meal.   I took on the task of finding and cooking the turkey as well as preparing many of the traditional favorites that I remember from my childhood such as Southern Cornbread Dressing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy and Pumpkin Pie.

Challenges I encountered cooking Thanksgiving in Peru

Needless to say, not all the ingredients required to cook these foods are easily found here and I ended up needing to make some changes along the way.  But that’s the fun!!!  I can easily get hung up on everything being perfect and making sure it all goes according to plan but of course life doesn’t always work that way and in this particular case, I realized that I was going to need to be WAY more flexible and open to whatever happened.

Lessons learned - the market
From left to right, clockwise…
1. Zapallo aka pumpkin here 2. Parking lot full of red onions. 3. Meat market, but sadly no turkey. 4. Papas

Turkey and market adventure

The turkey ended up being the MOST interesting part of this whole experience for me.

The plan on Friday (dinner is Saturday) was to go with one of the guys to get our turkey.  Now I know for most of us in the US that’s a bit late, but here you can often find meat fresh in the market. So, since it wouldn’t need to defrost, I believed I had was plenty of time.

The trip to the market ended up being a total adventure.   We drove out to Comas, a district in Lima, to go to the market, Unicachi, which is an unbelievable place.  In a way, it reminds me of Sam’s or Costco but outdoors and of course everything is fresh.  It was HUGE!!

One area of the market is more commercial where there are rows of stands only selling limes, onions, potatoes, or giant squash. Then there are other sections where there are stands selling a variety of produce, a meat market, a dry good section and much, much more.  Truly amazing and I was sorry we had a timeline because I could have wandered around for hours.

However, when we made it to the meat section, we were shocked to find out that there were NO turkeys.  You see here in Peru, turkey is a Christmas thing and they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so it was way too early in the season for turkey.  The vendors in the fresh market told us to go to Metro, a grocery store close by and buy the turkey there.

So, at 3:00 pm on Friday end up buying a frozen, giant turkey because that is all they have.  And, before I can season or do anything with this turkey I have to thaw it out. UGH…the first major change I have to make.

The turkey tale continues

So, I get the turkey home and in the sink with cold water running over it.  According to google, the turkey will thaw in seven hours.  But, I am determined to shorten the time.  I checked on it frequently and turned it around in the sink, trying to thaw out as much of it as I can.

I knew that if I could get all the parts in the cavity out, it would thaw much more quickly.  At some point while I am trying to get these “parts” out of the turkey, I realize that the turkey’s feet are inside.  I’m not all that surprised since in my experience, Peru is a place where they use as much of an animal as possible without waste.

More time passes…and I realize that not only are the feet inside but there is a HEAD attached to the neck.  Not really what I wanted to encounter, but I braved it with only one gasp or yelp of squeamishness.  Thank goodness there was no one there to actually witness this entire situation.  But later, I think my friends had quite a laugh at my experience.

Lessons learned - turkey
The turkey was perfect!!!

Cooking the turkey

After getting the bird thawed, I seasoned it with a dry brine made of salt and herbs, wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator.  Hoping that the 8 hours or so it would have to brine would be enough to give us a nice juice turkey.

I have NEVER cooked a turkey this big before – at least not on my own.  Plus, since I don’t eat a lot of meat, I haven’t really cooked any type of meat in ages. I really have no idea how it is going to come out.  I have no idea how I will know when it’s actually ready to eat because I have no meat thermometer so really in a way, I was just winging it (no pun intended).

Lessons learned - dessert
Pecan Pie and Pumpkin Pie…a little bit of both!!!

Adjusting when things don’t go the way you want

I discovered making pumpkin pie a bit challenging too, but I made some slight adjustments and I must say, it was the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.  It was so good, I will share the recipe with you soon.

Canned pumpkin doesn’t exist here.  I had already heard that, so I bought one of the small pumpkins they had in the stores in October for Halloween.  I roasted it and pureed the pulp and then stuck it in the freezer until ready to cook the pie.

I also had a difficult finding a lot of the spices here for the pie, so I went to google for substitutions and I feel like the flavors of the pie filling turned out way better than any other I’ve had.

Lastly, I couldn’t find pre-made pie crust in the store close to me, so I decided to try out using a cookie crust instead.  Wow!!! Talk about a game changer!!

The end results

My Saturday Friendsgiving Celebration ended up being spectacular.  The food was amazing – everyone brought something they prepared and combined it with the food I cooked.  The turkey was the best I have EVER had – I swear!!!

But MOST important for me was to share this holiday with people who are all far from their family along with me!!  We come from all over – Colombia, Venezuela, Belgium, Peru, United States, England and Spain!!  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my first Thanksgiving outside the United States.

Experiencing others’ customs

Now that I have shared this incredible experience with these peeps, I look forward to sharing some of their holiday traditions over the next several weeks leading up to Christmas.

Lessons learned - panetone
Cutting into the panetone

In Peru, it’s all about the Panetone during the Christmas season. Panetone, a bread with crystallized fruit cooked into it, is already out in all the stores, so someone brought it for dessert on Saturday. It’s slightly similar to what I know as fruit cake from growing up but this version is lighter and more bread-like.

Then in a few weeks, there is Dia de la Velitas, a custom in Colombia where you light candles to welcome the arrival of Christmas. And, also there is the Spanish custom of eating 12 grapes on each strike of the clock to welcome in the New Year and bring yourself good fortune in the new year!!!  I am sure that there will be other experiences to celebrate and I can’t wait!!!

Lessons learned - finished cooking
Done cooking and now ready to eat!!!

Lessons I discovered (or rediscovered)

Holidays are more about the people than the food.

In my experience, the food ended up being spectacular.  But what TRULY made the occasion SO special was sharing it with such an amazing group of people.  I feel so lucky to have had this experience.

If I don’t know the answer, ask Google.

I used google, so much during this experience.  Not only is it helpful to find answers to questions when you need them but it’s also a reminder that our experiences aren’t unique and there are others facing the same questions in life.

Being open to change leads to great discoveries.

A willingness to allow things to just unfold whether perfect or not is just much easier.  Plus, without being open I wouldn’t have discovered this amazing pumpkin pie recipe and so much other stuff.

Having a sense of humor and willingness to be adventurous will get you through anything.

I admit, I love to laugh but don’t think I am actually very funny.  I have a hard time laughing at myself.  But this time around I just went with it.  The turkey experience was quite hilarious when I look back on I now.  But also allowing things to be as they are rather than how you expect them to be is actually way more fun.

Sharing our traditions with others makes them more meaningful.

Learning to appreciate our differences but also sharing our customs with others is a meaningful experience.   This one will stay with me for a long time. 

In closing…

During all the planning and cooking for Thanksgiving this year, I realized how much I really enjoy doing these things for others.  And it occurred to me that the joy it brings me is one of the driving purposes behind why I started this blog and what I am currently trying to do with cookeatlivelove.  It’s as if in a way you are here at my home, I am cooking and sharing a meal with you when I write these posts and create recipes.

I leave you with one last thought.  The holidays can be tough for some people.  Not everyone is surrounded by huge families.  Or maybe they are just far away from them this year and on their own.  The gaping hole that is left in you when people leave your life seems to be all the more obvious around the holidays. I know for me, Christmas without my mom is a huge vacuum.  Be kind.  Be thoughtful.  Be loving.  And most important, be grateful for what do you have because others may have much less.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!!  I am grateful you are here!!



P.S.  You can send me a comment here on the site any time.  I promise I will respond.  Send me a favorite recipe and I will look at making it over for you.  Or tell me what you’d like to see posted here more frequently. Or maybe you just want to say hi.  Click here to leave your comment.

3 thoughts on “5 Lessons I Discovered While Living Abroad at Thanksgiving”

  • What an amazing story and such great insights! Thanks for sharing Lyn. So happy you’re part of my Lima family. See you soon. Sorry missed the friends giving and looking forward to cooking together soon.

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