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Saturday, November 28, 2015


Ah, the holidays. In many duty stations single Soldiers go back to visit siblings and parents, feasting and cherishing the fleeting moments they share before duty calls again. Married Soldiers tend to either go home as well, or stay behind and enjoy the home they're making at their current duty station. Overseas is tougher. The trip home isn't a simple road trip; the flight isn't a couple of hundred dollars. When you're stationed overseas just being able to take head back home is rare, and if you're granted the opportunity the trip is very difficult, and very expensive. Every year, regardless of whether we are stationed CONUS (Continental United States) or OCONUS (Outside of the Continental United States), I plan a feast for the holidays and send Sweet Baboo in to the office in search of any Soldier who may potentially be sad and lonely.

This year, Thanksgiving fell precisely 10 days after the girls and I arrived in Korea. As soon as Sweet Baboo and I were granted the Command Sponsorship, we did the math and realized we would be together for Thanksgiving. And then he realized that none of his Soldiers were planning to make the trip back to the States. And I realized that I would potentially be one of the only wives affiliated with his unit, so I couldn't get lazy this year.

Our travels halfway around the world would be no excuse to not host dinner. Lack of cooking tools would be no excuse to skip the feast. Not knowing how to use Korean appliances would not be good enough to not use those appliances. I would have to step it up this year because I was going to be here this year. And if another Soldier were granted Command Sponsorship when Sweet Baboo was here without me, I would hope that his wife would do the very same thing.

So I prepared for the feast weeks ago. When I separated our household goods, I set aside the things I couldn't do without on Thanksgiving to pack in our checked bags. I had things like carving knives, pink Himalayan salt, and my bamboo carving board checked so we would definitely have them. Then I put the items that I would prefer to have in our express shipment. I had things like my serving dishes, my roasting pan, my stoneware pie pans, and my recipe notebooks. The express shipment wasn't supposed to show up until the week before Christmas, but it showed up a month early and we rejoiced!

The first wave of Soldiers that showed up. Another half dozen showed up later, making our tiny apartment full of life!
The first SNAFU (It's an old Army acronym. It stands for "Situation: Normal. All F*&#ed Up.") I came across was my cookware. Most of my normal stuff didn't fit. And I'm kind of set in my ways when it comes to my cookware. I make the same dish in the same piece every year. We have one of the biggest kitchens in our town (as far as apartments go), but coming from the glorious kitchen I had in Alabama this is itty bitty.

See my cute little kitchen? It looked bigger in the videos Sweet Baboo showed me when I was CONUS.
The oven looks pretty decent-sized, right? Check this out!

My super awesome Pampered Chef Roasting Pan is too big.
The roasting pan is too big?! How will we cook our turkey? With this monstrous thing we are able to pull our turkey out of the freezer and plop it right into the oven every year. Sweet Baboo has perfected his technique so the bird comes out tender and juicy every time. But if the pan won't even fit, how will the bird get cooked?!
My Pampered Chef Large Bar Pan didn't fit.
 This bad boy holds all of my yeast rolls. I have this amazing recipe that is nothing short of a labor of love, and when the time comes for those things to get cooked I stick a dozen and a half in at a time on this large bar pan. But it doesn't fit!
My Pampered Chef Rectangular Baker didn't fit.
 Say hello to my green bean casserole holder. Now say goodbye because it doesn't fit in my oven. And at this point I'm about to start crying because my entire game plan for the meal is completely shot. It was bad enough that I was having to plan to cook each dish separately because of how small the oven was, but now almost a quarter of my recipes go into dishes that are too large to even fit in my oven!
My Pampered Chef Square Baker fits!
~Sigh of relief~

The dish I use for the second round of rolls fits. I usually have a large number of rolls go in for the first round, and that is generally enough for the first helping of food. But when everybody sits down to eat this little puppy goes in with about 10-12 rolls so there are warm rolls ready for round 2 of the feast. It's good enough to keep the rolls coming.
Thank goodness my Pampered Chef Stone Pie Pans fit!
My apple pie and my pumpkin pie are anticipated in my home for weeks. When the costumes come off after a long night of trick-or-treating, my family starts salivating at the thought of my pies in the coming weeks. Sometimes I surprise them with "warm up" versions... just to knock the dust off the old recipes before the big day. But this year we didn't have time to do any dress rehearsal baking. With the big move, I had to get it right the first time and hope that my years of preparing the recipes would take over. Thankfully, my oven was large enough to handle the pie pans!

So Sweet Baboo and I started discussing ways to overcome my oven's shortcomings. His fix: this year we do a ham on Thanksgiving. So we bought a ham. And it fit into my square baker. And the girls and I swallowed our sadness over the loss of having turkey.

Three days went by and the girls and I discussed our feelings about the ham: we didn't like it. Not one bit. Ham is for Easter. Ham is for sandwiches... sliced thin with lots of cheese mixed in. Ham was not for Thanksgiving. When you do school crafts, you don't color a pig; you color a turkey. When retail establishments create artwork to signify Thanksgiving, they use a turkey not a pig. When the President of the United States pardons an animal every year, he doesn't pardon a pig... he pardons a turkey! So we started looking for other solutions.

Then my sweet Mother in Law heard of our plight. I told her that the PX (Post Exchange) had a roaster for sale, but it was a bit out of our budget. She immediately sent the money so we could go get it. She literally saved Thanksgiving! But more on that in a bit.

Edit: I forgot to tell you how our food made it from the Commissary to the house for us to cook! I'm pretty proud of this, so the fact that I forgot it is quite shocking to me. I shoved close to 80 pounds of Thanksgiving food (plus a few extra for our general consumption) into my ruck and hiked them back to our home. But I didn't take it straight home, we had a couple of other errands to hit up along the way. So I rucked the food for approximately 3.5 miles on hilly ground so I could feed the troops. We didn't have our car yet, and I wasn't going to let that get in the way, so I went old-fashioned... I walked it home! Again: I'm quite proud of this.
I didn't want to crush the precious cereal, so some things had to hang on the outside of the ruck.
I got an 18 pound turkey, 10 pounds of flour, 8 pounds of sugar, canned food, butter and lots more into this bag. And then I put it on my back and hauled it home!

The day before Thanksgiving is Pie Making Day in our house. We clear the calendar of all things except for two things: make sure we have everything for the Big Feast, and make the pies! First on the docket was the pumpkin pie. This is where I hit my second SNAFU: no rolling pin. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and I'd have to agree. I improvised:

When you forget to pack your rolling pin, slap some electrician's tape on the edge of your aluminum foil and use that!

The crust was a bit thicker than I usually make, but it definitely did the trick!
With the crust made, we mixed up the rest of the ingredients and tossed pie #1 in the oven. SNAFU #3 was pretty quickly solved: converting our Fahrenheit recipes to a Celsius oven. A quick Google search got us through that problem.

Our beautiful pumpkin pie that miraculously fits in our wee oven.
This pie usually takes close to 90 minutes to bake (it's a deep-dish pie), so we got to prepping the apple pie filling next. But first, the girls love to squish the leftover dough and play with it while I get the area set up for pie #2.
They usually get cookie cutters and other fun "tools" to play with as well, but we're living simply without all of our household goods these days.
 The apple pie that I make is low on sugar, ridiculously full of apples, and very rustic. I don't peel the apples, I don't cut out the "ugly spots", and there may be times when I cut too close to the core and it makes it into the pie. It is what it is; I don't fuss too much over the look of the apples.

These apples be triflin'. (Get it? They're in a Trifle Bowl.)
 I don't normally let the apples sit in the Trifle Bowl for too long, but we had SNAFU #4 pop up: the oven doesn't work. After 90 minutes of "cooking", I grabbed the pumpkin pie out of the oven only to find it cool to the touch and very soupy. Ours is a gas stove; we have to turn on the gas via a pipe that runs from the apartment to the oven each time we want to use the stove. It doesn't stay on all of the time. I checked to make sure that didn't get closed off accidentally; it hadn't. I checked to make sure the oven knob didn't get turned off accidentally. It hadn't. So I relit the oven, set the timer for another thirty minutes, and went about my business.

The girls enjoy watching Korean television because it's so different from what they're used to. But sometimes they enjoy the comfort that comes with computer games they know. PBS Kids is great!
When the timer buzzed again, the pie looked a little more done, but it wasn't quite there. And the oven wasn't very hot. So I turned off the oven and relit it again. I put the timer on for another hour and figured my calculations for the temperature differences was a bit off. I started cleaning the apartment for the guests the next day.

Sweet Baboo called to tell me that the car had made it in country, and he was leaving work a little early to go pick it up. This was exciting because we weren't supposed to get it until 8 December, and the walks from the apartment to post were starting to get pretty cold in the morning for SB. He told me that there was a Hail and Farewell scheduled for dinner that evening, and asked if we wanted to go. I said that we would love to join, and hung up to go finish cleaning.

By the third time I went to pull the pumpkin pie, I had had enough with the dang pie! It had barely cooked any more than a hour prior, and I had already dumped 3 hours into that thing! Determined to figure this thing out I shut off the gas, turned it back on, relit the oven, and literally stood in my kitchen watching the oven to see what was happening. That was the longest five minutes of my life. The oven would light every time; but about five minutes later the fire would go out and the oven would cool off. I relit the oven right when the fire went out and the oven stayed lit for about three minutes before it would go out.

Frustrated, I texted our realtor to see if she could send a technician out to look into this problem for me. Our landlord does not speak English, and we do not speak Korean. Our realtor does more than just finds us an apartment and leaves us be until we need a new apartment. She acts as our translator for our landlord, she reads our Korean mail for us so we may know what they say, and she pays our bills for us (we obviously need to give her the won to do so) so we don't have to open a Korean bank account. Basically, she's amazing! I actually woke up one night fretting that she would have the need to change jobs one day while we were still living in Korea, and the thought freaked me out! That's how much we rely on her.

She called me to tell me that a technician could come to the apartment at 10am the next morning. But we were planning for everybody to come over at noon to eat! So she called the technician back to see if he could do an after-hours call for us. He couldn't. He was already scheduled for two hours after normal business hours at other homes. But we weren't ready to give up just yet.

While Lucy was making calls, I was texting the two Soldiers that Sweet Baboo had introduced me to trying to figure out what to do next. Apparently, the barracks has ovens in their common areas. Granted, there is only one oven per building, but one of Sweet Baboo's Soldiers thought that we had enough Soldiers in the office who live in different buildings that we could probably make the cooking work on post if we needed to. That was a good backup plan. But then Lucy called back to tell me that they had a "loaner oven" that I could use until our apartment oven was fixed. I jumped on it! She texted me saying, "We're going to save Thanksgiving!" I was just as excited!
We quickly moved to Table-Top Cooking.
The loaner oven came in about an hour after we should have been at the Hail and Farewell, so we plopped it on the table and headed out to participate in this time-honored Army tradition (more on that later). We got home late (really, do H&Fs ever end early?) and went right to bed, vowing to get an early start the next morning.

The first thing that went into the loaner oven was the apple pie. The pumpkin pie was trashed because it never fully cooked, and there were 4 raw eggs in the batter. I didn't think I should greet Sweet Baboo's office with food poisoning on a plate, so we decided to err on the side of caution and trash it. SNAFU #5 slapped me right in the face: I didn't get any kind of manual for the convection oven, and there was nothing online. The oven is Korean, and I couldn't understand what half of the icons meant. I winged it.

My glorious apple pie! The crust was a bit thicker than normal, but we still fight over slices!
With the first recipe successfully cooling off in the living room, I moved the next recipe (the ham) into the convection oven. Then I prepped the bird for the roaster and got that started.

The ham was still cooked and served at Thanksgiving. We didn't want the little pig to feel left out!
Sweet Baboo was so excited to have a car in Korea that he volunteered to go pick up his Soldiers from post as I was cooking. They live a little over a mile away from our apartment, but I'm glad he went. One Soldier was severely hung over, and the other was still drunk from the Hail and Farewell. I offered to make coffee, and when I was turned down I started to delegate (if they didn't want coffee, they could be helpful... right?) I was running about an hour behind schedule because we were having to cook everything one at a time. Still Drunk and Severely Hungover were happy to pitch in, and Sweet Baboo left to run more errands... in the car of course!

Nobody showed up on time to feast, and I was perfectly fine with that. I had a sneaking suspicion that part of it had to do with the festivities of the Hail and Farewell the night before, and the other part of it had to do with a rumor that we started just before everybody left the H&F: lunch wasn't happening before 1:30.  But in the end, we had a fantastic turnout and some very happy Soldiers. And I was happy to have provided a warm place for people to go and be fed. Their other option was the D-FAC (Dining Facility), or random restaurant out in town. Since Koreans do not celebrate Thanksgiving, the restaurants would not have served traditional Thanksgiving foods. Here are some photos of some of the moments during the day:

Everybody who came over ended up pitching in. This fellah was our official Meat Carver. He did great!

I eventually got Sweet Baboo to stop driving places long enough to wash the dishes for me. He always does a great job helping me put on events!

Some Soldiers spent time writing emails to family while they waited for the feast.

Others spent time on Facetime, enjoying the technology of the day to help overcome the miles that separated them from family.

Board games were brought out and played.

New Friends were made.

Clearly, selfies were taken!

American Deviled Eggs and Korean Grapes.

The Army-issued table wasn't big enough for all of the food. Some of it had to sit next to the television in the living room!

The turkey was the biggest hit this year! The only leftover was one wing. We have plenty of ham leftover, but you'll hear no complaining about that here!

Some of the Soldiers didn't have a way to contribute food. So they brought booze. Old Fashioneds were made, and enjoyed by many!

Some Soldiers bought enough food for Round 2, and came over to prepare it!

There was a rush to eat the food on the table so more food could be put out.

And everybody ate enough to be put into a food coma.

There was already talk of doing it again in December for Christmas. We're planning it as we speak!

One good thing about hosting Soldiers: if you don't have enough chairs for everybody, nobody complains. They are just happy to be sitting on heated floors!

In fact, very few people sat in chairs. The heated floors are just that glorious!

Korean culture: leave your shoes at the door. Shoes are for outside.

Spunky Thanksgiving Tradition: Sweet Baboo plays horsey for the girls. He may be getting too old for this game. Or the girls may be getting too big. Or both.
One of the locals gave a gift to Sweet Baboo for Thanksgiving. They may not celebrate the holiday, but they do understand that it is an honored holiday for Americans. And they give a token of their appreciation to the Soldiers they honor as a way to show respect.

The bottom says "Thank You U.S. Army for Saving Korea". We were deeply touched by this gift.
After everybody had gone home, the girls wanted to go out on a walk. We rather enjoy our daily walks, and couldn't let this magnificent day pass without one. So we went to our favorite ice cream shop for another heavenly cup of ice cream with hot coffee on top. It really was a glorious Thanksgiving!

This is quickly becoming my favorite treat.

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