With twenty-two years of bacon-covered, avocado-filled Cuban Thanksgivings under my belt, I experienced a strong mix of emotions while preparing for this year’s November celebration – it was my first holiday spent away from home. Thanks to miniscule budgets and newly-acquired jobs, the rest of my Colorado climber family stuck around too – and we even had a Tally Rock Gym-er fly out to join us in the mountains.
I was determined to keep some of my Cuban meal traditions alive, and my fellow cohorts embarked on similar missions of creating dishes to mimic their favorite family fare. I cooked up black beans drenched in homemade sofrito with rice, avocado salad, and green bean casserole. McGoo experienced his first (and adamantly declared only) foray into chefdom with a delicious sweet potato casserole topped with pecans, and his grandfather’s savory stuffing. Niko made a great batch of garlic mashed potatoes, and donated a Honey Baked Ham gift certificate that got us a delicious brisket.
In addition to the first round of preparations, we had multiple waves of kitchen use that produced an enormous spread of Thanksgiving grub. Steve got a huge turkey from his new job, which Douso draped with bacon before popping into the oven. Steve’s mom pitied our homesick holiday and ordered a beautiful ham for our buffet. Hannah diced up a huge selection of yams, potatoes, peppers, and pearl onions that she doused in a brown sugar and butter glaze. Douso rounded things out with made-from-scratch pumpkin and apple pies.
And of course, McGoo made sure to keep the drinks flowing all morning, afternoon, and night long.
Before long, our guests arrived bearing edible and drinkable gifts. Jerimiah and Adam arrived with arms full of fresh bread from Whole Foods, exotic cheeses and prosciutto, and a hoard of spicy olives. Our bar was soon stacked with everything from Baileys, Kahluha, and cheap tequila to Absolute vodka, Red Stag whiskey, gin and tonic makings, and a huge variety of bottled beer. We made merry while the final casseroles and pies basked for a last few minutes in the oven, then it was time for our grand noshfest to begin.
The meal began with lots of chatter and silverware clinking against glass, then gradually grew into a quiet affair with a gut-clenching crowd. We pleasantly gorged ourselves on every morsel of food we could shovel into our mouths, and I couldn’t have asked for a better family to share my first ‘grown-up’ holiday with. We had all began our adventures down in Florida, and had journeyed to this very moment, crowded around a dinner table in Denver.
Our cookware was largely purchased last minute, upon realizing that none of us vagabonds had proper supplies of kitchen utensils suited for our needs. We purchased the table the night before our meal, and our chair arrangement consisted of every seating vessel scrounged up around the house, and an upside-down tub draped with fabric. It may not have been the fanciest meal, but to a vagabond like me it felt fit for royalty.
While my heart ached to have spent Thanksgiving shouting Spanish across the table and enjoying family traditions that I grew up with, this Colorado celebration was one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever experienced. We were all forced to spend the holiday away from home (besides Niko, who very sweetly came to Colorado to spend the holiday with me), but we had a beautiful time sharing this part of our current adventures. For some, this was the first holiday spent in their new home of Colorado, others saw their last true family meal before moving on to new countries, and some came from across the country just to spend the time together. Me, I was just in it for the bacon and black beans.