I live in what I affectionately term a “Vagabond House”.
This is a house which is rented for 3 months or more (sometimes up to a year) by bonafide transients, typically (and in my case) foreigners without legal residency in the host country and with plans to move forward to some destination once said lease is up.
Due to the nature of the “vagabond house”, it doesn’t make sense to invest in too much furniture, because we’ll just have to sell it. We have a stove, a washer, a fridge, mattresses, and some left over surfaces from whoever lived here before. Also, we bought one couch and 12 plastic chairs.
Everything else we have in here was constructed by us (i.e. Jorge, or Martin and Amanda….okay, mostly just not me) from dumpster diving acquisitions: a side table which Jorge nailed together from disparate found pieces, which he and I then lovingly painted wild colors; multiple crates that now hold tomato, chard and kale plants; decorative items such as the rusty children’s bike that hangs suspended from our ceiling, etc.
While the Vagabond House doesn’t have everything in a material sense, it has everything we need. (Well, a real French Press might be nice, but…hey. Vagabonds can’t be choosers.)
But the key word there is “we”; the 5 of us that live in this house.
The Vagabond House doesn’t have everything to accommodate the oh, let’s say, 15 guests who are planning on showing up at your door for an Ex-Patriot Orphan Friendsgiving.
When my friend Peter and I were talking about Thanksgiving plans back in early November, it was a natural decision – yes, the feast must be here! We have a very large house with an established reputation for fun times and hosting. Despite the lack of accoutrements for said wildly-large-Thanksgiving-feast, I told myself, “Hey. It’ll be fine. It’ll work out somehow.”
It was around one day before Thanksgiving that I realized that it might not actually work out. My guest list was 20+ people, with an established rule that “any American who doesn’t have a place to spend the holiday is welcome to come”, which meant that the 20+ people could swell considerably, depending on how many adrift Americans were found.
Aside from the 20+ guests, I realized something else: only 5 of us live in the house. Which means we bought/inherited our dinnerware based on this number. We have 4 coffee mugs, 9 regular glasses, and 2 wine glasses. There were less than 10 each of forks, spoons and knives; two pots for boiling water; one large casserole dish type thing that wasn’t a casserole dish but could be used as one; and one large bowl for mixing and serving purposes. Furthermore, we have 8 large dinner plates, 6 bowls, and one tiny plate that isn’t good for anything except, well, a pat of butter.
The math in my head went something like this: 6 + 5 + 9! / 17 – 4(x) + 33 =…..DRASTIC SHORTAGE.
The solution? Strongly urge people to bring their own cups. And silverware. And go buy a couple more casserole dishes.
I did these things, and on the morning of our Thanksgiving, we started baking and preparing extra early in preparation for the hassles of transferring dishes into holding bays while certain things were used and then unoccupied and then eventually re-transferred and…phew.
But I didn’t mention the best part—the Chilean stoves. Instead of clearly-defined temperature marks and an ability to know the difference between broil and bake, the Chilean Gas Oven features an infuriating knob with no lines, no numbers, and no indicator as to whether or not you are scorching the crap out of your casserole or just lightly heating it for 12 hours. “Turning it on” requires a terrifying 10 seconds of sticking open flame into two inconveniently placed holes where, once it lights, sometimes you can smell your eyebrows burning.
But you know what? Despite the shortage of items, implements and objects typically associated with Thanksgiving-Without-A-Hitch, despite not having an electric stove or any idea if I was baking at 245 degrees or 750 degrees….it worked out perfectly.
I made a literal vat of homemade mashed potatoes, the Bradford-Famous Corn Crop, AND vegan stuffing. Not to mention Amanda put TWO turkeys into the Chilean Thinly-Veiled-Inferno Oven, and neither were scorched, singed, or lightly caressed by heat for half a day.
It was a wholly successful Ex-Patriot Thanksgiving: made somewhat easier by the fact that the final count came to 17.
My general premise was as follows: any attending American should bring a homemade and/or beloved home dish, and all non –Americans bring something for drinking purposes. This way, we maintain the “typical food” of the holiday while nobody breaks the bank on supplying beverages for so many people. In addition to what Amanda and I created, we also were treated to the following dishes: a basic salad, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, apple crisp, bread pudding, cheesecake, home made bread, and pumpkin pie with cream. Oh – and a crap ton of wine.
I don’t know if I would have ever agreed to host even 17 people in the USA prior to moving abroad, much less the original estimate of over 20. I think I might have been too overwhelmed by a perceived “lack” of things for such a big number.
But this year, as I saw the number of guests climb and the number of dinner plates remain resolutely at 8, what became very clear to me was the following idea, which has permeated my life abroad as I follow the regular rhythms of life under very different circumstances: if I have something to share and you have something to share, we can make something work. Thanksgiving 2013 proved to me just how far you can go with far less than what you’re accustomed to.
Sure, most of my guests were sitting on the floor (re: vagabond housing), leaning against the wall, or otherwise disobeying every rule your grandmother ever set forth for proper dinner etiquette on a holiday. I mean, for god’s sake, there was no autumn leaf-themed napkins!
But we were happy as hell. Delicious food, excellent company, and just enough spoons to go around.
And like every Thanksgiving in the States…there’s always leftovers, no matter how much you stress about feeding everyone. We had enough turkey and potatoes left over to have a Thanksgiving on the Ocean the next day!!