Back in the Kitchen

Beautiful

In my last post, I mentioned that I’ve now spent four Thanksgivings in France. I think it’s probably the time of year when I feel most like an American expatriate. What I mean by that is that it’s the day when I feel the pangs of homesickness most acutely. Thanksgiving’s not a holiday here, of course, so I get pretty nostalgic watching my Facebook newsfeed fill up with status updates from back home about thankfulness, good food with family and friends, and even travel headaches. Looking back across the Atlantic at what you’re missing can easily give you the blues … which is why expats just have to make Thanksgiving right where they are! To be frank, I haven’t always succeeded on that score. Out of the first three Thanksgivings I spent on French soil, only the first featured a traditional American feast, so it really was high time for me to get back in the kitchen …

Michel and I have two dear friends here in Paris whom we manage to see every couple of months. With our busy schedules, it’s not always easy to coordinate a get-together. When we most recently tried to schedule something several weeks ago, November 30 was the first date that worked for all of us. And then it occurred to me: Hey! That’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Why don’t I prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal for us? Our friends — a Korean and a Hungarian who had never celebrated an American Thanksgiving — readily accepted.

So last Friday, while my friends back in the US were camped outside their local shopping malls in anticipation of those amazing sales, I was heading into Paris to look for a handful of ingredients that are indispensable to Thanksgiving dinner but aren’t the easiest to find here in France. I headed to a specialty store appropriately named “Thanksgiving” (no joke) to pick up fresh cranberries and canned pumpkin. Now, I was very thankful for the holiday stock at Thanksgiving, but I have to say that their prices were eye-poppingly and jaw-droppingly high. How much is due to import taxes and how much is due to the owner’s mark-up is anyone’s guess, but 11.75€ (about $16) seems pretty steep for 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, a can of Libby’s pumpkin, and a sweet potato. I probably should’ve bought the sweet potato at my neighborhood supermarket to save a few euros, but at least I didn’t drop $145 like the lady in front of me in line!

In any case, after a follow-up trip to my neighborhood supermarket for the more mundane ingredients …

Fresh ingredients for the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy
Fresh ingredients for the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy

… I got in the kitchen to start prepping for Saturday’s feast. At a minimum, I wanted to get the sweet potato pie baked and the cranberry sauce cooked and refrigerated so the flavors could marry overnight. I succeeded on the first count …

Sweet potato pie ... before going into the oven
Sweet potato pie … before going into the oven

… but every time I tried to turn on the range to make the sauce, I tripped the circuit breaker for the kitchen. D’oh! What is it they say about the best-laid plans? I didn’t fret (too much); it just meant that I’d have to do everything the next day at our friends’ place. After all, many hands make for light work!

And speaking of our friends’ place … they already had gone all out decorating for the occasion:

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, things were boiling and sautéing …

Fresh cranberries swimming in boiling sugar water
Fresh cranberries swimming in boiling sugar water
Sautéed eggplant and onions for the stuffing
Sautéed eggplant and onions for the stuffing

… and “cutting up” …

Michel "helping" in the kitchen
Michel “helping” in the kitchen

… and, then, after everything had been boiled, broiled, sautéed, puréed, salted and seasoned, we finally sat down to savor the fruits of our labor:

Not bad, huh? And the sweet potato pie, by the way, was a huge success! Cha-ching! That $5 sweet potato was worth it!

The finished product, with pecans and chantilly (that didn't quite pique)
The finished product, with pecans and chantilly (that didn’t quite peak)

Oh! After dinner, I introduced everyone to another Thanksgiving tradition. Remember the days of drawing turkeys using an outline of your hand as the canvas? Yeah … we did that:

As I wrote on Facebook after getting home Saturday night, it was an unforgettable and truly wonderful Thanksgiving celebration. Even though I was 4,000 miles from home, it wasn’t the blues that I was feeling Saturday night … it was gratitude for the abundance in my life: food, family, friends … and love!

 © 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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