Hello and Happy Thanksgiving from Aix!
This year I learned that Thanksgiving is huge in France! There is canned pumpkin, fresh cranberries, 20-pound turkeys and Stove Top box stuffing everywhere you turn!
Thanksgiving is as big in France as Bastille Day is in America. This means that when your host family comes to you and wants to celebrate Thanksgiving just like an American, you have to be prepared to get crafty. This year, the actual holiday of Thanksgiving passed just like any other Thursday of the week. Which, if you know me at all, you know that I am a Thanksgiving fanatic! I love to cook, eat, and nap… it is the perfect day! I never imagined that I would live through the 4th Thursday in November without a heaping plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, ect…
But alas, I got to celebrate the holiday after all! On the Saturday, November 30th, my host mom invited 13 of her friends over to our comfy little apartment and I showed them how to celebrate like an American. This may sound all well and good, but there is so much more to the story than the festivities of Saturday at 1:00pm.
It all began 2 weeks before the big day. I compiled a list of recipes for my host mom to look over, and we patch-worked a menu together that she felt her friends would enjoy. It wasn’t until much later that I realized she was deciding on recipes that she has never heard of! But luckily, when it comes to Thanksgiving food, it is hard to choose the “wrong” dish, right?
We meditated on that menu for a week, making changes almost every night until we ended up with the perfect line up. Meanwhile, I worked on decorations for the big day…
My host mom went food shopping every day after work for the next week. Mind you, she was didn’t know what any of these recipes looked or tasted like! But after a few phone calls, translations, and Google searches, we finally ended up with everything we needed. The cooking commenced on Wednesday when I cut up the bread for the stuffing.
On Thursday, I decided to prepare the turkey… the biggest we could find was a 7-pounder from the local butcher. Now I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but this may have been one of the most disturbing things I have ever done. Why? Because when you are expecting a Butterball Turkey that has been de-feathered, cleaned, and trimmed, and you get a bird that, in short, “needs more attention,” it’s an emotional experience! I was so unprepared for the task at hand and was so queasy that I almost had to stop. I was plucking feathers from the legs with my fingers, cutting off excess pieces of the bird, and literally crying through the whole process from the realization of what I was doing.. And the smell. Don’t even get me started. I rubbed garlic butter under the skin seasoned the top of the bird with fresh herb salt and put it back in the fridge. WHEW!
Once I collected myself (lol) I started on the cranberry sauce, using only dried cranberries since fresh cranberries apparently DO NOT EXIST in France. The same can be said for pumpkin puree. I had to solicit Zach’s help in bringing out 2 cans when he visited me during Fall Break!
On Friday, I got home after class, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work! I started with homemade mushroom soup for the green bean casserole, then made stuffed mushrooms with sausage, white wine, and cream cheese, and then began working on the pies. I made a pumpkin, of course, and my momma’s apple pie! (I quickly realized that we were at a shortage of baking vessels for these pies. However, through a little Macgyvering, I made it work!) I finished the dessert menu with a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies.
When my host mom came home, we finished up the dishes: creamed corn, marinade for the pork, maple-glazed carrots, and extra gravy. We then spent the remaining hours of the night putting up the decorations, rearranging the living room only to rearrange it all back to the way it was, and cleaning the apartment.
On Saturday, we woke up around 8:00, and tackled the most challenging task of all…Baking everything with the sometimes-working and unpredictable oven. This took some serious finessing, but we stayed calm and remained faithful. Guests started to arrive a little after 1, and by 1:45, all 13 of us were squeezed around the dining table with all of the food displayed as a buffet. It was all warm, the turkey was moist, and I was thrilled. Though there was a language barrier, I was happy to find that everyone loved the food and EVERYONE went back for seconds and thirds. I even got asked to share a few recipes!
For those of you who have cooked Thanksgiving dinner, you know that a direct byproduct of the delicious food is the mountain of dishes that lie in wait in the kitchen. Perhaps the best nightcap to this episode of “Thanksgiving in France: a Parody” is that the kitchen sink was clogged AND the dishwasher died. Every last dish ended up being washed in the bathtub…!
Overall, this was one of the most rewarding, enjoyable, and fun experiences I have had in my time here… and of course it involves cooking. I was talking to my host mom after all of our guests left, and she told me that I changed her friends’ opinions of American cuisine. In retrospect, this is all I could have hoped to do!
Hope you are well,