Friends That Eat Together: Part I – Ahsal

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for my stomach! Tis the season for loosened pockets as well as waist bands as Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas breakfast collide. The time of year where all that is merry, bright and smothered with gravy is upon us and it is particularly more enticing when there are a multitude of houses where one can indulge in holiday decadence. Every year I attend two Thanksgiving dinners. Sometime during the nearly 20 years of friendship between Ahsal and I, the tradition began and the anticipation and excitement for the day’s festivities never gets old. Her family's home is just an extension of my own. As elementary and middle school classmates, bus riding comrades and fellow neighbors we got quite close rather quickly. Amidst afterschool homework sessions and weekend endeavors to quilting meetings, we spent a lot of time sleeping over and talking about boys; on many of those nights her mother made us dinner. In the comfort of her kitchen I discovered rabbit stew, potato soup and spicy beef patties. I never knew such a pocket sized treat could pack so much punch. It quickly became a premium pick, especially after discovering them in my local 7-11.

The Thanksgiving House Hop, as I’ve coined it, is both a blessing and a curse. Both of our families are masters in the kitchen and Thanksgiving is prime time to show off those master chef skills. How can I possibly refuse my grandmother’s ham (which we have coined the side meat of the holidays since no one just puts ham on their plate without another main meat, like turkey, to round out the meal), my aunt’s delicious greens, my other aunt’s world famous mac and cheese (Ok…family famous), and any other array of items we may decide to throw on the menu for good measure. I don’t even bother with counting calories nor exercising my right to portion control; I just shove my face until my stomach’s content and wobble to my car to head over to my second serving of greedy holiday cheer.

You'd think “How much more turkey and stuffing can a human take?” but her Afro-Caribbean background make’s this particular spread unique. Sure there's the traditional turkey, always fried and injected with Mrs. Major's secret sauce, but there's also oxtail, jollof rice and purple potatoes. I had never seen a purple potato prior to my first Thanksgiving there. Not wanting to be rude, I hesitated on asking what it was and for many years avoided it just in case it wasn't my forte. It wasn't until I discovered taro frozen yogurt that I became open to eating any food that was purple and not an onion or berry. Surprisingly, they weren't half bad. I even managed to stomach my arch nemesis, the carrot, in its transformed state of delicious, sweet soufflé.

Before gorging on the wonderful feast set before us, they always start with a prayer and announcing one thing you're thankful for. One particular Thanksgiving proved to be quite eventful. As we neared the end of our prayer and round robin of thankful recognitions, I opened my eyes to stare at the prized turkey I'd soon be devouring. I could almost taste the spices and herbs injected into this year’s breast. Just as soon as we were about to wrap up thoughts of thanksgiving, Aunty Jay Jay's son sneezed all over the turkey. My eyes widened with horror as my heart sank! I had plans to dive into that moist turkey breast as soon as we said amen but now I couldn't tell which part of the turkey's sheen came from juicy fat drippings or spittle. It was a game I didn't intend to play and neither was Aunty Angel as the turkey was swiftly discarded. As gut-wrenching of a loss it seemed, I can’t say it was really missed for I had plenty other meats and sides to fill up my plate.

Although I never missed an opportunity to partake in the main feast, I was really there for the dessert! Aunty Angel is a master baker and what would Thanksgiving be without cakes and pies. Ahsal would always go for the sweet potato pie and I'd help myself to a generous portion of the chocolate cake. That's exactly why our friendship endures; we never encroach on each other's dessert territory.

After lazily lounging, we'd all slip into the tryptophan trance that surely ensued. Before retiring for the night, I'd pack my Styrofoam takeaway with goodies I either didn't manage to make it to or planned to demolish during tomorrow's breakfast. Inevitably, I'd end up nibbling pieces off every addition that was intended to be "to go".

Since the induction of this tradition, holidays have never been the same. It's double the love, the fun and definitely the food. It's endearing to have a second family that interrogates you on the contents of your plate to make sure there is enough for "the old man" or to offer you a helping of whatever is cooking and if you politely decline they tease that it's ok because it means more for them. It's also a good thing they don't celebrate Christmas as lavishly or I'd be one overstuffed holiday bird...but then again, what are besties for.

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