Carving New Traditions

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This summer when we took Noemi for a visit with family in Connecticut, I wrote a nibble about pondering the traditions you want to pass on. Now, as I sit down to write my take on Thanksgiving tradition, I’m taking that nibble for a little spin.

I’ll be honest; I never liked Thanksgiving all that much. The traditional dishes just aren’t up my alley and it always seemed like a whole lot of fuss for a meal that was over in thirty minutes. I played along, but it always felt like something I was supposed to love but never really, in my heart of hearts, did.

But everything changed between Thanksgiving and me three years ago with one little word: Noemi.

My husband Christopher and I had spent the bulk of September and October working through endless papers and forms and notarizations and fingerprints and exams to be put on the waitlist to adopt a Guatemalan baby, and on November 13th we’d finally turned in the last bit and were settling in for what we’d been told would be a long wait.

I doodled our daughter’s name—I’d picked out Saramaya in part because Sarah is one of my favorite names, in part to pay homage to her homeland—in my organizer. We wondered aloud whether she’d be born before the New Year. But never, ever did we think we’d get official clearance for a referral before January, let alone an actual match.

And then just four days later on November 17th, the week before Thanksgiving, the phone rang and Kelly Jo from Heartsent was on the other line. “I have something to tell you,” she said and I knew immediately from her voice—which I had gotten to know very, very well over the preceding months—that she had news. Big, big news. I told Kelly Jo to hang on as I raced to my husband’s office with my heart thumping out of my chest. “Oh my God,” he said when he saw my face and ran over to clutch my hand.

“I have a referral for you!” Kelly Jo unleashed the news. “We have your daughter. Her name is Noemi de Leon.” And, of course, all our predictions and plans and even the name we’d picked went right out the door. Noemi was Noemi from the moment she was born; and she was our daughter too.

The following Thursday, with our heads still spinning and our hearts gushing with joy, we propped up our very first pictures of our daughter on the table and made Pollo en Jocon—a simple Guatemalan stew. It was the best Thanksgiving we’d ever had.

In the years since we’ve pondered what, exactly, we wanted Thanksgiving to look like for our Huber clan of three and we’ve decided on a few things that are about as traditional as the way we became a family. We’ve agreed to indulge our thirst for exploring unknown places and people—a passion that was the seed to our adopting Noemi to begin with and one we’re eager to share with her. We’ve decided to keep it small so we can focus on deepening our ties as a family. And we’ve adopted Pollo en Jocon as our family’s “traditional” Thanksgiving dish so that, every year, we’ll be able to let our daughter know just how thankful we are for her while honoring her roots . . . no matter where the three of us may be.

This Thanksgiving, think not just about the traditions you want to pass on, but what new ones you’d like to begin too.

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Guatemalan Avocado Salad with Arugula and Chile-Lime Dressing

This is the salad I’ve settled on serving with the Pollo en Jocon we’ll be having for Thanksgiving—a mixture of creamy and rich and light and crisp (it’s a variation on a traditional Guatemalan recipe from the excellent book, False Tongues and Sunday Bread). I could tell you about how healthy the monounsaturated fats from the avocados are, but you already know that. Instead, just enjoy the dish.


2 large, ripe avocados
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and coarsely mashed
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
1/4 cup jicama, peeled and cut into a 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup lime juice, divided
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh hot chiles
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Canola oil
6 cups arugula, cleaned and dried

Scrape the flesh from the avocados into a bowl and roughly mash it with the egg. Mix in the onion, jicama, 2 tablespoons lime juice, oregano and salt and pepper to taste, but take care to only mix enough to blend, not so much so that it becomes smooth.

In a tight sealing jar, shake together remaining lime juice, chiles, vinegar, oil and salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.

To serve, toss arugula with dressing and arrange on a platter. Mound avocado salad on top and serve with hot tortillas.

Note: This also makes a great variation of guacamole — just omit the arugula and serve with chips.

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side

  • mountainrn

    I appreciate your sharing the story of linking Thanksgiving and Noemi. For me Thanksgiving has always been my favorite because it focused on relationships and not the “stuff” that Christmas can become. Being part of my husband’s farm family, where we celebrate Thanksgiving around the same farm table every year with a family that is growing bigger and bigger every year has been one of the best parts of being a Heringer. The children who gathered around that table when I first got married to Scott have all grown up and have children of their own. That makes our surprise baby, Danny, very happy because he is 8 and loves having second cousins to hang with. The nice thing is everyone loves to try new things as long as there are some traditional foods too. I look forward to having grandchildren to join in the tradition and pray that my inlaws live long enough to see that too. The sad part of this is our family farm was sold with life time tenancy of the homes until my inlaws are gone and then all this ends and we will have to start a new tradition. It will break our hearts, I know.

  • Anne-Liesse

    My eyes are all teary now… Have a great Thanksgiving and gros, gros bisous to Noemie and her parents !

  • Edie Bates

    Hi Lia – I just now got to your wonderful new web site, and in the midst of oohing and aahing over the food and the endless possibilites I clicked on your Thanksgiving message. And POOF – I was transported back three years right along with you and Christopher to the days before and after Noemi came into your lives. I recognize the power of the word “nourish”, because that is what you and Chris have always done for each other, your friends, your readers, your clients. Although I didn’t think it was possible for you to impact my senses and my heart more than you already have, familyhood has truly transformed the Hubers. Having been a very willing “victim” of Noemi’s considerable charms, and loving her parents as much as I do, “nourishing” takes on a whole new meaning of thankfulness for me from this day forward. Thank you Lia, for sharing this abundant joy with the rest of the world. Happy Thanksgiving! Love and hugs – Edie

  • Lia Huber

    Steph . . . What fun to have such a big gathering! I’m always fascinated by the different “shapes” family gatherings take depending on what your family’s composition is.

    Anne-Liesse . . . I remember my Thanksgiving in Paris–so wild to celebrate a national holiday in another nation. What fun we had in Paris! Now we just need to get to Lyon to visit you all.

    Edie . . . Edie, Edie, Edie, you got me all teared up. Thank you for your sweet, sweet words! I hope to see a lot more of you here!