20 December 2009

Giving Thanks

Almost a year ago, my mom and I started planning a trip where she and my brothers would come to visit. Originally, we had considered the spring but were worried that schedules wouldn't work out... And so our next thought was Thanksgiving, one of the most important holidays in the Brosnahan household - one could argue that it's even more important than Christmas (but I'm still partial to the latter). That's because it is a four-day gorgefest, with my mom cooking for days in the kitchen before laying out an awesome spread for Thanksgiving. Which we dip back into that evening before bed, then again at lunch the next day, and then again and again until Sunday when we all have to head back to the real world.

It was exciting to think about having the whole family over to Liverpool for the holiday, and it also meant a lot to me, personally, since this would be the first big holiday I'd be celebrating as 'Mrs. Yates.' And not in a 'I'm going to dress up like Mark's mom' kind of way.

Mark and I started looking at recipes several months in advance. I decided I wanted to make something the day that the family arrived, so that they could wake up from their post-flight naps to something smelling delicious... After a lot of web surfing, I decided to make these cardamom cinnamon rolls, from one of my favorite websites. I liked how it would all be from scratch (my first time working with yeast!) and my brothers and I have some mad love for cinnamon rolls.

We wouldn't be celebrating Thanksgiving until that Saturday, since they would arrive on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and I'd planned a day trip to Ireland for that Friday. Wednesday evening I baked two apple pies, but wasn't sure about how they'd turned out (the grocery store didn't have Macintosh apples, or the right kind of shortening, so there was a lot of last minute substitution... the pie dough was pretty different from my mom's, and then I had no idea how much sugar and flour to add to the apples...).

Thursday, the whole family arrived and somehow managed to fit in the house. I wasn't able to convince everyone to nap until after the cinnamon rolls were out of the oven, but later that afternoon we were able to go for a walk and show them the neighborhood. Mark made a batch of his version of my mom's meatballs (everyone was impressed and there wasn't much leftover). Then Mark took Mike, Sandy and Toby to a concert downtown while Mom and I made cranberry sauce (with fresh cranberries smuggled in from America) and went to bed early.

Friday, we flew to Dublin and jumped aboard a bus tour that took us all over the city. We didn't really have much of a plan beyond stopping off at the Guinness Brewery for another tour and a perfect pint, but we managed to get off the bus a few times and see a few other Dublin sights.

It was a long day but a lot of fun - and the best part was knowing all the food we had waiting for us the following day...

Mark and I were up early and drove out of Liverpool to a small family-owned farm in Warrington. We had ordered a 12lb turkey a few weeks before, and the family had managed to get one and butcher it for us for our holiday (turkeys are traditionally eaten here for Christmas, so we weren't sure we'd be able to get one big enough for our feast). It was gorgeous, but still had quite a few feathers... Meaning a bit more prep work for me.

We came home as everyone was waking up and having coffee. Our farmer's market was back, so everyone trooped out and had some pain au chocolat and walked around a bit while I de-feathered the bird and began to get prepped. My mom came back and we had a lot of fun getting the bird seasoned and prepped for the oven, and slicing a stale loaf of bread for mom's awesome stuffing. Next came the mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes (a stand-in for butternut squash) with VT maple syrup and pecans, and garlic green beans.

A pretty awesome Thanksgiving, if I do say so myself.

(the pies were the weakest part, but I'm sure I can pull 'em off better once we're home for the next Turkey day)

A few weeks later, the night before I was supposed to return to the US for a business trip, Mark and I decided to return to Paul's Place, a tiny restaurant a few blocks away from our first Liverpool apartment. When he called to make the reservation, Paul himself answered and recognized Mark with a 'Long time no see!' Mark laughed and apologized, explaining that we'd moved but were excited to come back for another amazing meal.

We arrived in time for the early-bird special (we know, we're old) and sat down at a cozy table near the kitchen. We had just tucked into our appetizers and wine when the waitress came to Mark with a scarf in her hand. 

The last time we went to Paul's was in March, when Mark's mom and dad came for a visit. He'd left his scarf but never thought twice about it since - but Paul had held onto it and reminded the waitress when we came that it belonged to Mark.

We had an amazing meal (clean plate club, no question), had a personal good-bye from Paul, and walked out into the cold night with their Christmas lights twinkling behind us.

This first year in Liverpool has been a lot of things - in some ways, everything I expected but in others, nothing like I could have imagined. It took seeing the city and our neighborhood through my family's eyes, and a moment with one of the many amazing people we've met along our journey, for me to realize what a special gift this experience has been so far. It's easy to get bogged down in our homesickness, to notice and make light of some of the great sadness that lives in this old city, but Mark and I need to make more of an effort to appreciate what's beautiful around us as well. 

This year, I am thankful for my lovely husband, who laughs when I am cranky and walks the dog on Sunday mornings so I can sleep later. I am thankful that we have a lovely (if slightly water-damaged) home in a neighborhood where many of our neighbors know our names and say hello, and where our dog can walk off leash and meet his own friends in the park. I am thankful that my family was able to come and see us, and to share a special day that has come to mean a lot more than football and turkey. I'm grateful that we've had the chance to meet these people and make memories that Mark and I will cherish for years to come.