My first Thanksgiving / Joha's perfect turkey

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

When I was a kid growing up in Latin America, we often watched movies and heard music from the United States.

I have fond memories of my brothers and I lying on the floor of the kitchen watching TV while my mom cooked dinner. For some reason, we liked it there, rather than the living room or elsewhere - life happened in the kitchen.

I remember watching shows like “Full House,” “Saved by the Bell, and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (I can still sing the theme song in Spanish!). I remember seeing Cory and Topanga fall in love on “Boy Meets World.”

Yes, I was a ‘90s kid! I wore overalls and plaid skirts, and danced the original Macarena. I saw the Lion King at the cinema (and cried), and can quote parts of the Karate Kid.

Since I was a little girl, I was always excited to hear about other cultures and traditions - and there was one American tradition that I was always particularly interested in: Thanksgiving.

TV shows always had an episode where all the family sat around a big table feasting and enjoying a delicious looking turkey.

Over the years, I participated in Thanksgiving-ish celebrations around different parts of the world with American friends. I always saw the nostalgia in their eyes. One friend told me while in Singapore, “It’s good to celebrate here, but it’s not the same.”

They explained the traditionally held beliefs of the holiday’s origin – a festival where the pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated and shared their harvest together.

After getting married in 2016, I was finally able to experience Thanksgiving Day in the United States. I was curious and very excited about the authentic flavors of all the different foods on the table. Knowing that my mother-in-law is an awesome cook, my expectations were extremely high.

The dinner started very early in the day. In my Hispanic mind, I assumed that the celebration would begin in the evening (as most of the parties in my city do, and continue throughout the night).

The table was filled with all kinds of delicious looking dishes: turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, a couple of casseroles, macaroni and cheese, breads, collard greens, gravy, stuffing, and even salad.

Then there was a whole other table filled with desserts: pies, cakes, and delightful concoctions.

I wanted to taste everything … and begin to learn all the flavors (for science reasons, not gluttonous ones haha). I piled my plate high, ate, and went back for seconds. And thirds. By the end of that evening, I had eaten so much that I literally could not move! Everybody around me was having a good time, laughing, playing games, and chatting. The kids where playing and running. And I was on the couch, completely immobile.

As I sat there in my food coma, I remember looking around at everything and everybody, and my friend’s words came back to my head, “it’s good to celebrate here, but it’s not the same.” I finally understood what he meant.

By the time I was supposed to be headed to bed, I had the feeling that I was going to die of asphyxiation by food in my sleep!

My husband said, “Thanksgiving is a marathon. It’s why we start eating earlier in the day. You learn to eat little bits all day.”

I told him I had eaten too much and I felt like I needed to walk.

He smiled, and told me we cold go to the mall and walk.

“At midnight?” I asked.

“It’s Black Friday,” he answered. “Let’s go walk. You’ll be surprised by all the people out this late.”

We jumped in the car with our nephew Jayden, and drove to the mall. The place was packed with Black Friday shoppers. Businesses have the fairly recent tradition of having their best sales, discounts and giveaways the day after Thanksgiving - also known as “Black Friday.”

In some cases, shoppers wait outside of a store overnight to be the first inside to get super discounts.

I remember that night, walking around the mall for a couple of hours with my husband of one month, and my new 13-year-old nephew. While talking and getting to know him, I told him that I was so full of food that I couldn’t even laugh. For the next hour, he did everything he could to make me burst out laughing. If it was a game, he won.

If anyone is looking for a clown, let me know, I am sure he can be hired for that ;)

My first thanksgiving experience taught me to enjoy small portions of everything in order to endure the entire feast! But it also taught me how much love my new family has for me, even when they didn’t know me very well. Each of them took the time during that weekend to get to know me, and allow me to get to know them and their culture better. I am thankful for each one of them!

Thanksgiving is a very special holiday to me, because I only celebrate it with my American family. It is a beautiful tradition, taking a day to say, out loud, what we are thankful for.

I, for one, am thankful for the family and friends that God has given me in this nation.

Happy thanksgiving everybody!

Here is my turkey recipe, try it and enjoy your bird!

Joha's thanksgiving perfect turkey


*Feeds comfortably around 14 people and we had left overs for a few days.

*Experts recommend calculating approximately 1 pound of turkey per adult (14 lb. turkey = 14 people)

INGREDIENTS (Marinating mix):

3-4 Tbsp of kosher salt

2 Tbsp of thyme

2 Tbsp of sage

10 Branches of fresh parsley

10 Sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp of fresh ground white pepper

2 Tbsp of olive oil

1 Lime, halved

6 Gloves of garlic, halved