Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy Chicken Day, and Pass the Niakhuri!

We're not exactly Pilgrims, and Georgia is nobody's idea of the New World, but we certainly needed the help of some friendly natives to pull off this year's Thanksgiving.

Celery, you see, is a bit of a problem. I mean, so is everything else ingredient-wise, but celery seemed the biggest obstacle to overcome. Stuffing, you know.

At the big German supermarket on the far edge of town, the night before Thanksgiving, we bumped carts with roaming Americans at every aisle.

"You seen anything like cranberries?" one would ask.

"Cranberry varenyie, two aisles down. Close enough. Celery? Any celery?"

"Keep dreaming on the celery," they'd say. Then the voice would dip to a hissing whisper. "But I know a lady. She was arranging a special shipment from the states."

"Of celery?"

"Ssssh. Yeah. Of celery. Look I'm calling her tonight and if she has any extra, I'll let you know."

"We'll pay premium"

The celery dealer failed us, and it was Thanksgiving morning. C and I had been up until the wee hours the night before throwing together pies and soups and quiches and starting the stuffing. But celery? What to do? What's a stuffing without it?

The call came early, and it was C's boss, who is married to a Georgian. Niakhuri, the wife had said. Niakhuri will save your ass. It's some Georgian veg, but tastes just like celery. I rushed to the market where the rotund guy in the bloody apron hunched over his counter like hoarding gold. I looked at him and uttered the word like I didn't really think it was a real one.

"Um. Niakhuri? Do you have this?"
"Da, da. Vyi Amerikanka?"
"Da, Amerikanka."
His smile broadened and his arms went wide and he yelled, "S praznikom!" which is "Happy Holiday!"
He grabbed a bunch of herbs which looked like cilantro or parsley. I looked skeptical then buried my nose: ah! Celery; it's exactly celery. The stuffing turned out perfectly, though the pecan pie suffered from the lack of corn syrup. And pie pan. And appropriate crust. But the pecans, those were golden.

And so nearly 30 of us gathered to celebrate our arrival on the shores of America at the home of a British Embassy officer in Tbilisi, Georgia. Our turkey was actually 2 chickens and a goose grudgingly procured that afternoon at the bazaar by another British friend, and prepared belligerently through the lingering fog of his wicked hangover. One-by-one, guests arrived, peeked into the kitchen and, upon spotting the chickens, announced, "What the hell? Those aren't turkeys." But G's bloodshot eye would fix them squarely and he'd bark that it's not his fucking holiday and they'd shuffle back on out muttering how chicken is nice, too.

We gave our British hosts the skinny on our regional Thanksgiving specialties. Said one host, hoping to please, pointing at the deviled eggs, "And these, they have this lovely name. Killer eggs, is it?"

John offered the toast to our motley crew. "It really is something that I've had only chicken and goose for my Thanksgiving, and somehow I'm still thankful."

"Then go to the fucking bazaar yourself, you fucker!" howls our chicken-buyer slurrily. "We're all bloody thankful that you left our bloody shores!"

"Good," John continues. "Thanksgiving is traditionally a very belligerent holiday. But seriously. We all know that Thanksgiving is a time to share with friends and family, and here we are with our good friends who are, for all purposes, our family. The family we have chosen. And if there's a little incest?" John shrugs. "Well, then it's just like back at home. Happy Thanksgiving!"

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