Empty Kitchen, Full Heart

Holidays and other special events are among my favorite things because I get to be in the kitchen all day, cooking up a feast for what seems like a small nation. Thanksgiving I usually spend with my mom's side of the family in Georgia. I always cook up something "non-traditional" like Cuban lechon, Indian curry or Mexican tres leeches cake, for my very traditional, very southern family. They think they are being cute, indulging me in this opportunity to share something new with them, and even if they don't care for whatever weird recipe I've prepared for them, they try it. The house is peaceful and calm but filled with the sounds of laughter from the beautiful women that elegantly dominate this annual gathering while the boys watch football. When we eat, we do so together at a well-dressed table, say grace to bless our food and enjoy the meal in grandeur southern style. 

If I'm not in Georgia, I'm with my Dad's side in south Florida having a cook-off or bake-off with my father who still to this day thinks he's a better chef than me. Ha! I always tell him I'm the more refined, better version of him. A holiday at my father's is always loud and boisterous, due to the dozen or so kids that my parent's have collected through adoption, fostering, babysitting or temporary care-taking as well as the kids from their friends. It gets hectic. There is no grace, no eating quietly together, because once you hand a 5 year old a plate they have already started eating with their hands before they even find a seat. We eat wherever we can find a spot: the couch, the table, the bar, the pool table, the patio, the floor, the lid of a cooler, upstairs, downstairs, outside. After dinner, there is always a plethora of dessert options. Pies, cakes, puddings, breads, ice-cream, cookies, everything homemade of course. Dessert is our thing on this side of the family. We might run around the house or outside, plays some cards, watch some movies. Actually, all of these things are going on at the same time, but we all eventually end up snoozing away in some little corner we can claim for ourselves. 

This Thanksgiving was different. This year, I followed my dreams to California, away from the comforts of home and family. I've been here just under 3 months. I planned to do some small gathering of girlfriends at my house and cook a Thanksgiving meal for us misfits but plans changed. I ended up with no real plans at all for Thanksgiving. A group of people from work wanted to play football on Thanksgiving morning and it sounded like a fantastic idea to me. It was adults versus kids and I was the only girl playing. I don't play well but I somehow managed to throw a touch-down pass, although I think by actual game rules, it wasn't legit. I came home after some invigorating time outdoors, put some carrots with honey, butter and salt in the crockpot and made a pot of lentils with stewed onions for myself. I had invited people over for a bonfire in the evening, after everyone was finished eating with their families. The yard needed serious attention so I spent the late morning cleaning and organizing everything just right so we would have an intimate space for our fire. My girlfriend Reyna came over to keep me company during the day and brought me food from her mom's house. We heated it up in my awesome new convection oven, ate our Thanksgiving dinner on my west-facing back porch as the sun began to set over the canyon. The two of us sat there marveling at the silence around us and took it all in. After, we made brownies, which I swear she stirred for 30 minutes, and sangria. We spent the last bit of our time together jumping on the trampoline, talking about love  and life. 

People started to show up just after 8pm for the bonfire. A friend brought a truckload full of desk or dresser or cabinet parts that we turned into highly flammable firewood. My friend Paco shows up with a plate of pie and a plate of leftovers his mother sent. Ahh, heavenly leftovers. Once the majority of the group arrived, we played music using the remains from a larger collection of instruments I've collected over the years that made the Florida-to-California journey. Ricky and Alex are amazing musicians, their energy is contagious and it never fails that at some point when they're playing, everyone has an instrument in their hand or is playing percussion with their own body adding to the electricity that is already buzzing. I was having such a warm time, surrounded by an eclectic mix of people, a strong fire, the constant sound of some instrument being strummed or drummed and a giant jug of sangria. I came downstairs to get some water and I find Paco eating the very pie that he brought me! Oh but I love to share so we had some together. For some reason, this was so funny to me, because he acted so guilty when I caught him. My friends never fail to make me laugh. Slowly people left as it grew late and we wrapped up around 1am. Everyone helped me cleanup around the fire and brought everything downstairs to my kitchen to be put away properly, a helpfulness I couldn't be more thankful for when I woke up this morning a little wobbly from the sangria. 

I awoke later than usual today. Five cups of water and those yummy leftovers cured me of the wobbles. I'm sitting here now on my porch playing FaceTime-phone tag with my mom. We have an online date scheduled so I can see the whole family but we can't manage to be available at the same time. So of course in my free time, I'm pondering my first holiday "alone", away from all the comforts of home, without the traditions I've grown accustomed to over the last 29 years. This Thanksgiving was so different than any other I've ever had. There was no huge Turkey dinner, no "family time", no card games, no bake-offs, no football watching from the couch, no cousins or brothers or sisters. Yet I am thankful. I am happy. I feel fulfilled beyond measure. I am thankful for the day that turned into night that turned into morning, spending time with various friends and making new ones. These friends are my family. These people have enveloped me with love and generosity and kindness. No, of course they don't replace my family back home, but they certainly have the power to heal the holes of my heart. I'm thankful for dreams that have turned into reality. It was scary leaving home but California has been a dream of mine for so long and now here I am, being sustained in this new environment by an amazing group of people. I've been fortunate.  

This Thanksgiving was beautiful in its untraditional, unusual simplicity. My belly was filled with food brought by friends, my home was filled with genuinely beautiful and interesting people and my heart was filled with love and adoration for these friends-turned-family. 

A special thanks to Reyna and her mom for supplying me with Thanksgiving lunch, to Jerika for providing me with Thanksgiving dinner that turned into post-thanksgiving breakfast and to Arcelia for bringing me pie (even if your brother ate most of it). Your food filled my soul.