when my father arrived around 11am, we started packing things into the car. earlier, i'd already moved everything by the entrance so they'd be ready to go: 2 cases of specialty polar seltzer, a case of zero gravity beer, some takeout containers (for leftovers), 2 bags of mussels in a lasagna dish, and of course two trays of flan (16 count). before my father left, victor came by and introduced himself. after my was gone, victor and i continued chatting for about 15 more minutes. he's got a bit of world cup fever, and had actually been watching some of the games. i asked if he had any thanksgiving plans, he said no, just called his mother (who's in her 80's), said he might be coming with a cold (i recoiled a bit). seems like he just wanted to talk to someone, especially apparently after he broke up with a girlfriend, who moved in with him for less than 2 weeks before she left to go visit an ex-boyfriend. i finally had to excuse myself, as victor went back to the laundromat to collect his clothes from the dryer.
i went to the cafe. my father had dropped off my 2nd aunt, who was there preparing some thanksgiving dishes. he was about to leave with some food ingredients (including the turkey which had been brining for a few days). i got there to make sure the ice machine - which i started remotely this morning at 9:30am - was turned off. my aunt was also having some phone and ipad issues which we managed to fix with a phone restart and a volume increase. she also told us that yesterday she got both her flu shot and her bivalent covid booster, which seemed like a weird thing to do right before thanksgiving.
i made it to belmont around noontime. the sky was clear blue, with temperature in the lower 40's, but earlier this morning we were at the freezing point. it was still cold enough outside that my father didn't set up his tent stove like he did last thanksgiving (it was his first time using it, so there was that motivation). the sunroom was warm, but thankfully it was cold outside that i could stack the drinks on the steps and have them stay cold. we also had 3 coolers inside filled with ice cubes, including the igloo thermoelectric cooler. i stashed my flan in the largest one.
the "tablecloth" was dirty (actually just a large folded patterned bedsheet), i wanted to throw it in the washing machine, but my mother was against the idea, said it was a waste of time. instead i simply turned the tablecloth over, with the clear vinyl tablecloth on top of that.
thanksgiving is all about football, and normally a football game would be on in the background. this year was especially strange, since not only was there a trio of american football games, but there was also a slew of world cup football (soccer) games, courtesy of the qatari's regime to get the games moved to late autumn to avoid the desert's summer heat. i don't think we'll ever have another thanksgiving where there's so much football to be had.
everyone seemed pretty relaxed, almost too relaxed, given the amount of work required to pull together another thanksgiving. maybe it all felt routine by now, with not much to worry about. we did almost forget to roast the turkey, until i suddenly remembered. we basically followed the cooking schedule from last year: preheat the oven around 2pm, put in the turkey about 2:30pm. our turkey this year was a 21.7 lbs. bird, slightly smaller than last year's 22lbs. turkey, which at the time i thought was a smidge small. checking last year's notes, we put a solid aluminum tray underneath the disposable turkey pan to give it some stability when we move the turkey to and from the oven. we cooked on convection setting, 325°F, timer set to a 2-1/2 hours countdown.
guests wouldn't arrive this year until 5pm, although typically my 2nd aunt and sister's godmother arrive earlier since my sister's their ride. in the afternoon we realized we were missing a few essential ingredients: white wine for the mussels, corn starch for the shrimps, and thai sweet chili sauce for the fried spring rolls. other than the wine, everything was available at the cafe. so at 2:30pm i left the house and went back home to grab my wine and corn starch and old chili sauce, then went to the cafe to pick up my 2nd aunt. my sister was supposed to do that, but she said she had to pick up her godmother and couldn't do both, so i was given that task. my 2nd aunt was making a glass noodle salad and a sweet ximilu (西米露) soup. she managed to scorch the bottom of the soup but decided to serve it anyway, rationalizing to herself that it was too badly burnt. we got back to belmont around 3pm.
my sister showed up with her godmother and hailey around 4pm. food started showing up on the dining table. my aunt and uncle showed up around 5pm. we hadn't even wrapped the spring rolls yet, although the turkey was done cooking by that point, even though the pop-up turkey timer never popped, which made me afraid the turkey might be undercooked (it wasn't). i've never seen a turkey timer pop in the oven, the only times it happens is when it's out of the oven resting. we kept the turkey in the kitchen, before its grand entrance in the dining area later on.
food preparation quickly escalated by that point, since all the guests had arrived. my father started frying the taro squares on the stovetop, followed by the spring rolls as they were coming off of the human assembly line happening on the dining table. once that was done, he cooked the mussels. we decided to only cook a bag, since it seemed too much to cook both. we paused briefly to eat some fried taro and spring rolls and mussels, before we moved on to the last of the dishes, wok-fried salt and pepper shrimps.
the shrimps were prepared outside on the wok burner. we moved the station closer to the house for more light but also for people to look outside from the window. i was outside helping, but my aunt and uncle came out onto the steps just to get a closer view. we seemed to have more shrimp than could easily fit inside the wok. after my father fried them all (coated in corn starch this time), he stir-fried them again in 2 batches.
i presented the fried shrimps to the guest. i noticed my sister had already carved up half the turkey in the kitchen, so we never got to formally present the turkey, which i believe is an essential component of a proper thanksgiving. turkey was almost a footnote to the other foods. the shrimps were a big hit, everyone was raving how good it was, crispy enough to eat the skin. i thought it was a success, but maybe more salt & pepper next time, and make the shrimps even crispier. i think my sister's godmother was most impressed: not only did she get to experience wok-fried shrimps (a first), but she wasn't here last thanksgiving when we brought back the mussels, so that was also a first for her. besides myself, only my sister's godmother, and to a lesser extent my sister, were taking photos of the food.
with the shrimps cooked, there was nothing left to do but to finally sit down and eat. i made two turkey rollups, which my sister made fun of me for how big they were. i drank a nearly inexhaustible supply of seltzer. we didn't have sodas this year. most of the guests drink some kind of wine seltzer mix, while both matthew and my father had beers (my father drinking some stella artois my sister's godmother had brought on the recommendation of my sister).
matthew was pleased with this thanksgiving's selection of beers from zero gravity, his hometown of burlington, vermont. he was familiar with all 4 varieties. he got to drink 3 of the flavors (cone head, little wolf, iipa). later i also brought out a can of winter hill brewery chad pop for him to try, which he'd never tried before. he also could not taste any of the advertised coriander and sea salt flavorings. my 2nd aunt tried one of the IPA beers, she immediately said it tasted like lychee, which matthew agreed with, and something we never noticed, but now concur as well. hops taste like lychees! just bitter instead of sweet.
after we finished eating, the table was cleared for tea and dessert. my aunt had brought some kiwis and strawberries. i carved out 8 flan from ramekins and served them from tea trays. flan this year was good, barely any bubbles. i also tried some sweet ximilu soup; it was good, but you couldn't mask the burnt flavor.
my sister left around 8pm, taking her godmother and hailey. everyone else stayed behind to chat to nearly 9pm. we were entertained by the google home mini speaker, which can not only understand english but mandarin chinese as well. for some reason it couldn't understand matthew's chinese, but could understand ours just fine. we also tried asking (in chinese) who the leader of china was, and it kept giving us a convoluted answer. only when we asked it, "who's the president of china?" in english did it simply tell us with a straight answer. we also made it play various chinese songs.
my aunt and uncle gave my 2nd aunt a ride back to her house, saving my father a trip. that was a good thing, because after they left, he immediately went to go use the bathroom. i left soon afterwards, getting back home by 9:30pm. there was hardly any cars on the road, it was a very quiet ride back home. there was also plenty of parking spots. after using the bathroom and taking a shower, i came back out and put the cover on my motorcycle, since it's expected to rain tomorrow morning.
i finished the evening watching the patriots-vikings game. it was a close game, one that new england could've won, but there were a few costly turnovers, and a touchdown that was overturned by the officials. basically, the patriots were robbed. i have no grand aspirations for this season anyway, how ever far the team goes, i'm happy with it, so long as they continue to get better.