2019 is the first year that we’ve been in Panama during the holidays. We wanted to experience the celebrations and traditions of the Holiday Season at least once in our adopted country. We learned there’s a Spanish name for Thanksgiving: Dia De Accion. The grocery stores started stocking up a couple of weeks prior to the holiday and we began to get very excited.
We invited our neighbors (and long-time friends) from across the street, Lupe Abrego, her granddaughter Morgan McGowen and Morgan’s daughter, Leighton. We were asked if Leighton’s daddy could come too, and of course we said yes…the more the merrier. We also invited our good friends William Jaen, his wife Xiomara and their two kids. Lupe and Morgan lived for a number of years in the US (that’s actually how we met…we all worked together at the Flamingo Hilton Laughlin, in the early 2000’s). So they were completely familiar with the holiday, and the traditions surrounding it. However, the Jaen’s have never lived outside of Panama. While they were familiar with the holiday, the feast at our house was something new to them.
Counting noses, we figured the turkey we picked up simply wouldn’t be enough, so we also picked up a ham. Groceries in Panama have always been different to us. In fact, other than the language, grocery shopping is the one thing we find most challenging about day-to-day life here in our “Slice of Heaven”.
We weren’t sure that we could find all the items needed to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We couldn’t find the box of cornbread mix with which I’m familiar, to make my Grandma’s cornbread stuffing. Nor could we find fresh cranberries (but we found the canned variety). We brought some poultry seasoning down with us on our last trip, and it was a good thing because we still couldn’t find it available…nor could we find white pepper nor kosher salt.
In the days leading up to T-Day, we tried several different cornbread recipes, using the bag of cornmeal that is readily available in the super markets here. Jim had just about perfected his iron skillet cornbread, when …Ta-Da!!! I found several boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix at our local market. We were disappointed to not have fresh cranberries, but much to our surprise, the dish, when prepared with the same recipe that calls for fresh berries, was very good.
In addition to the cranberries, turkey and the ham , the menu included a green bean casserole, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, Jim’s “stupid rolls”, cornbread stuffing and pumpkin pie. The turkey and ham both turned out ok, as did the creamed corn and mashed potatoes. However, cooking in our Panamanian oven continues to be an adventure in frustration. The pumpkin pie wasn’t done in the middle and burned on the edges, the rolls were burned on the bottom and the green bean casserole …. well….it simply wasn’t good.
Despite the less-than-stellar food, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and our guests as we celebrated all things for which we are thankful (and there’s a very long list). Xiomara presented a wonderful and heartfelt prayer, which reminded me again that we are very fortunate to have met William and his family. And sharing this special holiday with Lupe meant a lot to us.
The mound of dishes were quickly dispatched by William and Xiomara, and we all relaxed for a bit, digesting. While we missed our American friends with whom we’ve celebrated “Friendsgiving” for several years, this first Thanksgiving holiday in our adopted country was very satisfying.
Now it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas around Las Tablas and Guarare. The stores are packed with decorations, trees, and special gifts, just like in the US. The next post will be all about our Christmas in the “Slice of Heaven”.