Give Thanks….giving


The smell of cinnamon filled the air this morning at 6:30am as I stumbled into my shift at Fedora. Courtney (my fellow American shift buddy at the bakery) and I were given the task of preparing 50 small apple pies for dinner at Ganzo, the school’s restaurant where I myself would be enjoying Thanksgiving.

I was completely in my element and sporadically burst out in song and smiles as I cut 12 pounds of yellow delicious apples, filled the short-pastry shells, and sprinkled on the crumble. I can’t use words to describe how thankful I felt. It was Thanksgiving. I was celebrating joy. I was celebrating simplistic happiness.

Today, November 22, 2012 is a very unique day. As my loved ones are sitting around my Grandmother’s table, enjoying an assortment of meats, carbohydrate dense side dishes, passed down family recipes, and my Grandma’s famous cranberry salad, I am here, walking the streets of Florence alone.

I may be alone now, but it doesn’t mean that I’m without a family. In fact, I have adapted and enjoyed the birth of a new family, consisting of an overachiever from Penn State, a sister from another mister from Australia, roommates who I share a living space with, an Italian professor who often says the word eat instead of heat, and 10 baking and pastry students who have shared a kitchen prison with me.

This family, though not by blood, has challenged me, encouraged me, cried with me, and experienced newness with me. This random set of people IS my family now and I’m blessed to have shared a time of fellowship, laughter, and most importantly FOOD with them.

I believe that this Thanksgiving is one of the most memorable of my entire life  because I was able to share it with so many people that I love. Not only am I able to share it with a new family, but I was ALSO able to share it with my REAL family. Although I didn’t get to “sit around the table” physically, I actually sat on TOP of the table, virtually surrounded by all of those dishes that I was longing for from home.

Thanks to technology, I was able to hear my dad tell me that I’m spending too much of his money, I saw my Grandma tear up when I said the prayer for my meal, I experienced nausea because my brother kept turning the skype camera around and around, and was able to see my full-grown grandfather stick out his tongue at my cousin.

I was home. I didn’t need to be there to feel welcome there.

I didn’t even need to be there to appreciate how dysfunctional we all are.

However, I did need to be there to enjoy this food (that you can’t really see).

Yet, the caloric intake of my meal with them was slightly less than my brothers, who still had two additional Thanksgiving feasts to attend.

This Thanksgiving is also memorable because I am celebrating it with a family that I just met. I’m simply able to enjoy a feast without planning the guest list, stressing about the unnecessary details, or strategically selecting the perfect recipe for pumpkin pie. I am honoring the true meaning of Thanksgiving with both families, which are the relationships and circumstances of life.

And for me right now, those circumstances of life are completely different than ever before. But because of the new situation that I have come to know as my home, I am able to deeply appreciate all of the things that I used to be immune too, those things that I used to take for granted and simply…forget.

  • I’m thankful for my mother’s smile as she helps me clean dishes
  • I’m thankful for my father’s passion for the Lady Lions soccer team
  • I’m thankful for my Grandma Dreese’s soft heart
  • I’m thankful for my Papa’s sassiness
  • I’m thankful for my Aunt Catherine’s personality
  • I’m thankful for Jared’s kindhearted nature
  • I’m thankful for a shower head that I don’t have to hold
  • I’m thankful for a home that isn’t situated across from a bar
  • I’m thankful for sweet potatoes
  • I’m thankful for my brother’s inadvertent desire to remain and act like a child for the rest of his life
  • I’m thankful for Valerie’s decision to marry him and save him from his own celibacy.
  • I’m thankful for my cousin Jayme’s incredible style (that makes me feel like I’m stylish too)
  • I’m thankful for my Grandmother Brubaker’s encouraging comments and supportive letters while I’m away
  • I’m thankful for my Grandpa Brubaker’s smile every time I give him a hug and call him “Grump-pa”
  • I’m thankful for my Uncle Neil’s obsession with fruit salad at the Easter table.
  • I’m thankful for silly family traditions, like adult Easter egg hunts, Christmas pajamas, and midnight Christmas Eve Sheetz runs.
  • I’m thankful for how extremely generous my father is, and that he passed it down to me.
  • I’m thankful for the ability to work with my father, Papa, and Grandmother when I graduate.
  • I’m thankful for Susquehanna’s  incredible Entrepreneurship program that has given me and my business a MULTITUDE of opportunities and connections.
  • I’m thankful for whoever created the whoopie pie.
  • I’m thankful for my two kitchen-aid mixtures.
  • I’m thankful that I live in Pennsylvania, because it’s beautiful, quiet, and my home.
  • I’m thankful that my parents love me, value me, believe in me, and are proud of me.
  • I’m thankful that every one of my grandparents are alive and can celebrate and share life with me.
  • I’m thankful for my Pappy Elsasser, who is just an older Teddy bear-like version of my father.
  • I’m thankful for the bonding time between my Grandmother Elsasser and I when she teaches me how to make recipes from her childhood.
  • I’m thankful for Steve Barth, who gave me the incredible opportunity to see into the world of lending this summer and feel as if I was valued as a business woman.
  • I’m thankful for Sperry Shoes, because well…I just love them.
  • I’m thankful for bows and flowers that I can wear in my hair to feel pretty.
  • I’m thankful for newness, and all of the relationships and love that comes with it.
  • I’m thankful for Jessica Barton, who can say cardboard just like an American.
  • I’m thankful for Colleen Brennan and our obsession for salt and carbohydrates that is a bit concerning.
  • I’m thankful for Torey Reichenbach and how she feels comfortable enough to call me at 2 in the morning because of a crises in her life.
  • I’m thankful for Lauren Stahl, who shares my name and my passion for senseless humor.
  • I’m thankful for Rosie Mazzamuto, who came into my life because of a charity and is now one of my favorite people in the world.
  • I’m thankful for Deborah Smith, who birthed the man I love.
  • I’m thankful for life and liberty.
  • I’m thankful that I am not SICK this year.
  • I’m thankful that I can walk.
  • I’m thankful that I can see.
  • I’m thankful that I can taste.
  • I’m thankful that I can appreciate dry wine.
  • I’m thankful that I can smell fresh flowers.
  • I’m thankful for cake.
  • I’m thankful for OIP and their grilled chicken salads with cheese on the side, french dressing, regular bread, and mayonnaise on the side.
  • I’m thankful for Redbox, so I can enjoy takeout and watch movies with my family.
  • I’m thankful for restaurants, so that my family and I can gather their to share our day without stressing over the preparation of food.
  • I’m thankful for cleaning ladies, because I’ve realized that cleaning really sucks.
  • I’m thankful for giving me strength and wisdom to know how to clean.
  • I’m thankful for my mother’s decision to send me to a Mennonite babysitter, that of which has inspired my entire life.
  • I’m thankful for the ability to learn and retain information.
  • I’m thankful that my parents can be completely honest about their mistakes with me, so I can choose to learn and not make the same ones.
  • And if I happened to not mention you, don’t worry, I’m thankful for you too!
  • I’m thankful for Thanksgiving meals prepared by Australians and Chinese, served by Russians, and enjoyed by Israelians, Americans, Venezuelans, and Italians.

The Australian restaurant manager did some serious research into what a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal looks like in America. The meal began with me giving a speech to everyone (thanks to the restaurant manager’s prodding) about what Thanksgiving means in America.

I said something to the effect of,

“We don’t eat until we are full, we eat until we hate ourselves.”

But I also said that Thanksgiving is like the perfect precursor to Christmas. It is a time that doesn’t involve the stress of decorating or gift-buying. Its a celebration of what really matters: relationships.

I also shared with the 48 other guests that in the fashion book of Lauren Elsasser, Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of the red Christmas wardrobe. I think they appreciated that.

Chef Paul also decided to spoil us with homemade cornbread.

We were greeted by Chestnuts roasting on an open-flame candle.

Our taste buds were tantalized with a creamy pumpkin hazelnut soup, delicious.

Deviled eggs were presented to us. Apparently in some families, this is traditional?

And then, Paul (on left) brought out the gigantic Turkey, that had been stuffed with vegetables and herbs and rubbed with truffle butter.

I mean, seriously…look at that thing.

I drooled as he began to slowly slice the moist turkey from the bird. Chef Paul mentioned that the secret to the Turkey was not only the “low and slow” technique, but also NOT tying the legs shut. Aparently it tenses up the bird and causes all the juices to flow out.

“Let it all hang out,” he said.

Below, was Ganzo’s version of sweet potato casserole.

I will say, I was a bit confused.  In Italy, there is a lack of availability of the orange sweet potato and it is supplemented by the less flavorful “white” sweet potato.

I appreciated the attempt, but I really wanted my Grandma’s.

But…it was…cute.

The green bean casserole had bits of goat cheese and mushrooms, and was an excellent twist on the classic.

The stuffing was the most unique Thanksgiving dish of the evening. It consisted of fried onions, sausage, bread and herbs. However, there was more sausage then herbs. It was like meati-ing. It was actually really good.

And those mashed potatoes.


The meal was lovely. I sat at a table with people from all over the world and was able to pass lots of dishes and lots of love.

And of course, we were able to consume that American apple pie that I had been mezmorized by this morning.

We also had a pumpkin tart with bitter chocolate.

Definitely different, but a valiant traditional effort.

Italy, Israel, Dubai, Australia, and America, celebrating like we are a family.

Because, well…we are.

 And I did get my taste of home this morning, when a fellow culinary student from the States let us taste her homemade pumpkin pie baked on a short pastry crust.

It was fantastic.

Psalm 100:4 (RSV) Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!

I pray that you would instill inside of me a heart of thankfulness that never fades away. Continue to remind me of my blessings, and inspire me to bless other people. I pray that I would always keep a smile on my face, a song in my heart, and praise on my tongue. Thank you Lord for giving us the ability to be thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. Thank you Lord for giving me the opportunity to have the most incredible day of small simple blessings and thank you for giving me the chance to start my day early and make apple pie.

Thank you Lord for life.

Ciao for now!