Thanksgiving Cheese

2005

 

It’s quite easy to buy a cheese grater in Oaxaca, a flat made-in-China tin alloy rectangle with a handle, for no more than a couple of bucks. But I already have a cheese grater. It’s somewhere, on route from Boston-New Jersey-California-Laredo-Nogales. And it might get here soon. So why buy another? The modern ones aren’t that good anyway, and mine has diligently grated on, for at least fifty years.

       It’s also possible to buy Kraft grated Parmesan cheese, in a plastic container with a green cover with holes to shake out the cheese. Which I bought, for our spaghetti, for several years until this week when I experienced my grated cheese epiphany and decided Kraft grated  cheese is not really cheese, it’s chemicals in powder form. From here on, only pure Parmesan, imported from Italy and enveloped in fine black wax.  Hence the need for a grater.

      It’s the night before Thanksgiving, and I’m thinking about how in my family days I would grate and chop, pare and cut, roll the crusts and stuff the birds, etcetera. Not being very good at expressing my affection verbally or physically, I relied on cooking one giant meal for the year’s worth of nurturing. It remains my most sentimental and cherished holiday: myself as mother.

       Here in Oaxaca many ex-patriots prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, including cranberry sauce flown down in the luggage of snow-birds. Not us, though. I don’t want to try to evoke that big early-winter family plus football game gathering, when I live with George in the warm sun. Oaxacans are succumbing to Halloween and Christmas, two absolutely poisonous commercial encroachments, but so far, no Thanksgiving. Even the American library will stay open, for those of us with no Thanksgiving spirit.

      But I do have the spirit. I sallied out to our local Gigante, the to-be-avoided Oaxaca commercial supermarket, to bring home a nice piece of imported Parmesan, for tonight’s spaghetti. I set about grating it with a serrated knife. It took me about two hours; my forearm stiffened and my hand cramped. George mercifully ate the last inch. I’m dusted all over the front of my embroidered Mexican blouse with a fine pollen of Parmesan. The table is sprinkled, too; I sweep up cheese and deposit it into the empty Kraft container which George so sweetly cleaned off for me in anticipation of this event. I saved the container for three months, and finally, here it stands, to serve its destiny. In goes the Parmesan, like dust in the vacuum cleaner bag which I anticipate arriving soon. The spaghetti is boiling, the vegetable sauce for it simmers with garlic and basil. George looks at me and remarks, I’ve never seen you so patiently preparing food. He didn’t know me in my Thanksgiving days, and obviously forgot the year I cooked at his house, which certainly I have no intention of reminding him of. Instead I reply, I used to do it all the time, for Thanksgiving, fifteen hours of labor for thirty minutes of eating. Ah, says George, you miss   Thanksgiving.

          No, not a bit of it. What I miss is the act of cooking as a display of nurturing. Don’t you notice, I say peevishly to George, that I chop and peel and cut and stir vegetables for you every damn night? This is more or less a lie; I do it a few nights per week, one night we eat out and on three we eat re-heated leftovers. It’s not really nurturing, it’s my half of our living agreement: I cook he washes.      
      Nevertheless, in reply to my surly assertion, he came around the table to kiss the back of my neck, the front being oily with cheese dust.

      I don’t know if it’s better to give or to receive, when it comes to nurturing. Maybe it depends on who’s cooking, and if you like spaghetti. I loved seeing grated cheese melted on hot sauce, unlike Kraft which sits in a sort of perky poison waiting the demise of the meal. But I have no intention of enduring two hand-paralyzing hours of grating again. I found my Thanksgiving moment, hecho a mano, like we say hereabouts, and now I’ll wait for my grater to arrive, or if it never comes, I’ll buy a new one, made in China.