Two Thanksgiving dinners. A Spanish turkey and a French turkey. Only one American family. Swedes, Mexicans, and Brits, most of whom had never celebrated Thanksgiving before. After the 4th of July, Thanksgiving is the hardest American holiday to celebrate abroad, mainly because it is so food specific. I just couldn’t pull it off in Brazil, for example – too hot to stay in an un-airconditioned kitchen, even if you could de-pickle the turkey. Not to mention the fact you can never find the right food: no cans of pumpkin puree or cranberry in Latin America. China, amazingly, had both. Vis a vis the poultry, as my photos amply demonstrate, I have not cooked enough turkeys over the years to overcome foreign obstacles; given cooler climates I will persist.
The Spanish turkey, for example, had most of the neck on it and was scrawny at 4 kilos. The Skinny Swede and I each cooked one. She tied the legs of hers together with foil. I did not, kitchen twine not being in stock. I, however, used a Williams Sonoma flavor injector and, although the bird was splayed, it was flavorful and moist. The head of the baby you see emerging from my turkey is an apple. The Skinny Swede’s husband brought fresh cranberries in his suitcase from Philly so we had fresh cranberry relish. That alone almost made the meal. Then there was the wild rice and “duck butter”, the latter of which is a recipe my grandfather picked up from a Minnesotan while they were on a ship in the merchant marines together in WWII. Numerous bottles of wine, new friends, Swedish love cake, Tres Leches, and staying up past our collective bed times – next year demands a repeat performance.
Then there was the French turkey, cooked this past Sunday and purchased by my friend BananaJo at the American School of Paris. (We met the British BananaJo family in Brazil.) Double the size than the Spanish turkey, it was a much cleaner bird and it’s neck was chopped off closer to its base. The French, as we all know, know their way around a guillotine. I got up at 7:30 Sunday morning, after an evening out with the families at Cremerie Restaurant Polidor, to wrangle the poultry into the oven, after first smearing the inside of skin with herbs and butter. It barely fit in the oven. Again confronted with the question of the legs, which, I might add, were naturally tighter together, I googled how to tie them together. BananaJo has even fewer cooking accoutrements than me and I could not find the twine she said she had in her kitchen. Solution: unwaxed dental floss. This worked well enough but was rather thin and I had to really wind it around. Bronzed, gleaming, the finished product was a work of art and delicious to boot. The side dishes were typically British: cauliflower with cheese sauce, brussel sprouts, yams, stuffing, carrots, most of which was prepared by Mr. BananaJo. BananaJo bought escargot for hors d’ouevres, which I actually tried. Unlike Thing 2, I did not gag. Nor did I when she forced me to eat a brussel sprout. Mr. Understanding carved the turkey and forced everyone to eat cranberry from a can. The pecan pie, a first for the Brits, was pronounced yummy. Next year demands a repeat performance. Perhaps BananaJo can fit a French turkey in her suitcase?
Like my new-fangled flavor injector, Thanksgiving in Paris with old friends was a much-needed shot to my psyche. It was not just the Eiffel Tower, the Christmas lights, and the Champs Elysee. Walking arm-in-arm with teen Thing 1 through the grounds of Versailles during dusk, after a lunch at La Flottille, a restaurant inside in the park, and sharing her iPod, one ear bud a piece, and listening to the theme song from Mulan was exhilarating. Previously, I had been thinking that Europe was wasted on teenagers but it’s not. Paris certainly isn’t. I forced BananaJo to take me to the Flea Markets, which, once we got to the correct arrondissement, was just as good as Martha Stewart proclaims. Champagne with lunch, shopping, and old friends, can it get any better? Je ne pense pas. But next year, I’ll remember to order the kitchen twine …
Question of the month (?): what is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?