The festive season is here, its advent marked by Thanksgiving. A full holiday in the US, and much more like a UK-Christmas than Christmas. I am feeling full, blessed and nostalgic, which I think is the point of this time of year and marks the end of a psychological evolution in me, which I can illustrate through my three thanksgivings. It also marks the start of my love for pie (the psychological and pie developments may be interlinked), and I share 2 recipes and 1 drool-worthy picture below. Finally, I do as I am supposed to, and muse on what (or whom) I am grateful for in my life today.
So, 2 years and 2 months ago (give or take) I arrived in the US as somewhat of a mess. 6 months previously I had been all lined up to complete a postdoc with a wonderful woman at Oxford University. Then I dated a Yank (actually, a Brit transplanted to Yank-dom some 25 years previously) and got a job offer at Yale. Then David Allison, in the space of a single phone-call, convinced me to chuck that in to come to UAB. What can I say? He was charismatic. And I am extremely impulsive. Said boyfriend-of-questionable-Yankdom hit the roof and said: it’s him or me (it’s OK, he doesn’t read this blog). I now kind of understand his reasons, which I will not share out of respect. But back then – I didn’t, so I didn’t believe the Yank-wannabe, so I just blithely signed the documents for UAB and sported their sweatshirt for the remainder of my PhD. Which, strangely enough, I am wearing as I type now. But I digress from my digression. Mr Failed-Brit was deeply unimpressed. To the extent that he started cheating on me, fairly obviously, which I did not admit to anyone else, except myself. Occasionally. (But everyone knew anyway).
This lead to a rockstar FIT about 3 weeks before departure in which I announced there was NO WAY I was going to UAB, and this Allison-bloke (of whom I had miraculously never heard) and this nice Arnett-woman (who had offered to mentor me) could stick their data and their postdoc where the sun don’t shine (which is a difficult place to find, indeed, in Alabama). My ex-officemate heard the howls from literally across the office hallway and talked some sense into me, with a cunning mixture of humour, and gentle pressing on my academic ambition. So, I boarded the plane, bawled my eyes out within 20 minutes of being seated, explained the situation to the hostess and got a swanky upgrade to Business Class.
Nice upgrade not withstanding I arrived in AL not entirely sure I wanted to be here. Heck – I didn’t. By the time thanksgiving rolled around, said not-quite-a-Brit-not-quite-a-Yank had moved in with another woman, still come and visited me (I don’t think that woman knew), been dumped by me, got together with said woman officially while texting / emailing me how we were meant to be, and 1 day before told me that I had harmed his children’s mental health by dumping him, and I could make it better by taking him back (while he was with the woman? That bit I never figured out). Luckily my best friend of much ferocity and protectiveness, Clio, was out for thanksgiving and banned me from Skype and the telephone. She also set me up with an awesome thanksgiving and I will ALWAYS love her for picking me up and keeping me going.
But, thanksgiving number 1 was marked by a distinct decision to be as British as possible. To cook things in the British way, with another Brit, and experience thanksgiving as a transient piece of fun that wasn’t going to be part of my life anymore.
I stayed another year. I got to have thanksgiving part 2. This was spent at the Chinese Buffet, with my boyfriend, and then driving to Tuscaloosa for a very messy night. It was great, but I call it ‘The Lost Thanksgiving’. I had no idea where my future was, and I was scared.
This year, times have changed. I got married. I fell in love with UAB. I fell in love with the American academic system and how it pushes and challenges you. The opportunities that are here. While I will always love genetic psychiatry, and I hope it will have a place in my research future, I also love lipoproteins and insulin resistance and specifically gene-nutrient interactions (both with genes mediating dietary influences, and diets mediating gene expression). My postdoc mentors taught me about integrity and thus I learned to trust myself and my decisions. I prayed a lot. I didn’t so much accept that I might stay here, but actively pursued doing so, and looked forward to it. I embraced that America, and American traditions will be a big part of my life.
That is not to say that this has not happened without hardship. I have faced that so much of who I am, and my culture, and my heritage is recessing into the past. It is just not going to be a part of me. Yes, I can occasionally cook British food but it is just that: occasional. An event. I have lost the British way of celebrating Christmas… I don’t dress as I do in London (quite frankly, sick of the back handed comments, or of plotting my route to my desk to avoid them)… it has made it especially hard to lose my name upon getting married. Husband said he ‘didn’t mind at all’ what name I used, so I hyphenated. I was upset to find out he won’t take on the hyphenated name (as is fairly common in Europe) and sick to my stomach to find he expects the children to have his name. So, not only am I going to be removed from my heritage a lot, but removed from my children too! It never occurred to me it would be a problem – but he just says ‘you came here… you take on American ways’ (AL-ians do often conform to the stereotype of not exactly embracing women’s lib), but it is so hard to do it all the time and lose more and more of myself. I already knew that I would raise my children the US way (it’s not like I am going to make them stand out) – even though so many things just don’t seem right to me…
Anyway, I had a very American thanksgiving and it marked my joyful willingness to embrace many aspects of this culture as part of my own. And it was very wonderful. I spent time with very close friends / pseudo family and felt safe, loved and grateful. I am honored to have been part of such a happy occasion, and will always be grateful to my hosts for making me feel so included for one of the first times since I arrived here. Which is all anyone can ask for, right? That and pie.
This year, I embraced the quintessentially American PIE (not crumble… or tart…. or pastry but PIE). And not mince pies neither. With help (and ensuing hilarity) from the hubby, we made pear pie, and plum-frangipani pie (OK, the last one was not very American as every American I know (with the exception of Stella) shocked my multi-cultural foodie soul by saying ‘what is frangipani?’ over and over again).
Here is where I got the recipe:
Even if you don’t make the pie, check out this blog for some of the most gorgeous food-porn photography. Passionate about baking: I am your slave. It was good – I would have sweetened the base slightly, with Demerara sugar, as that part was quite bland. But otherwise the tartish plums worked well with the sweet (but not overly so) frangipani. With the addition of some homemade leaves:
it also looked pretty stunning.
Then came the pear pie. This was easy peasy.
1 Pilsbury pastry case
6 firm slightly underripe pears
1.5 tsp cinnamon
.5 tsp all spice
1/2 cup white sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
Basically: Line pie tin with crust
Get husband to peel and slice pears. Toss pears in other ingredients. Layer in pie crust and bake. Devour
And then, Stella brought over a pie for the college football! She made an Amish funeral pie, and it was my p0st-workout carb up with a large dollop of fat-free Greek Yogurt. And it was delicious. Think sweet raisins, with a tart filling, and then an addictive bite with the nuts.
So what am I grateful for? I am grateful for many, many things. But, mostly for people. For Wes, who is kind and caring and good at teaching me what true selflessness is. Who is a steadfast and loyal husband, and full of many jokes. Who loves me, and professes his love, through my best and worst. Who counter balances my impulsive ‘let’s do it’ with a considered ‘let’s plan for it’. For Matthew who far more often than me, stands up for what he believes in, and remains true to his values. For Clio, who is going through the worst time, but displays awe-inspiring strength and is still the girl I have the most fun with (and is really my one-true love). For Stella, who not only bakes great pies, but has given me my drive and ambition back, and shown me that it is OK to stand up and go ‘no… I have thought about it, and decided to do it MY way. And if you don’t like that, that’s OK, but I respectfully disagree’. And who also taught me to set goals and strive for them, and be pleased when I reach them, but not lose my sense of self worth if I don’t smash every one. For Donna and David who have been supportive, kind and caring mentors through a tough transition. Who have helped me exceed any expectations I had for my postdoc, and who remain unbelievably dedicated to my future happiness. For David who challenges all my preconceptions of myself, and Donna who stands behind me while I smash them. To all of David’s family who genuinely treat me as one of their own, when the very worst thing to me is that mine are so far away. For my (old) family who are very brave and supportive about me being so far away and for my (new) family who are so welcoming (I got called Auntie Lekki – woo-hoo). And for Walter, Dinah and Bobby. Who keep me warm at night (occasionally because they have peed on the bedsheets, but mostly because they are snuggle bunnies). And that names just a few.
Right! That’s thanksgiving done. Onto Christmas (the VERY BEST holiday of all).