30 November 2009

Thanksgiving Feast

You know you’re a good host when your guests show up on time at 1:30pm, eat until 4:00, play games until 11:00, and dance until 4:00am.

This year’s epic Thanksgiving began Thursday with an extended Skype session with family. The wonders of technology placed me right in Grandma’s kitchen, next to the pie and not too far from the cheesy potatoes. If only food and hugs could cross the Atlantic so easily…

Friday afternoon marked the beginning of food preparation for the Saturday meal that my Spanish and German roommates allowed me to impose upon them. We invited nine others, a mix of teachers, friends, and community members, including our token seven-year-old who obliged us with decorations and songs. That afternoon I prepared, in one very small oven, pumpkin bread, corn bread, rolls, and pumpkin pie.

The evening brought Shannon, the friend I stayed with in Brest during the Toussaint vacation, and she joined in the decorating frenzy (and washed many dishes). Out of yellow, orange, and red paper, we created hand-stenciled turkeys, maple leaves, feathers, a mascot turkey, and a cornucopia of apples, pumpkins, pears, carrots and potatoes. We put up the decorations, blew up balloons, cleaned the apartment, borrowed plates and bowls and glasses and dishes and blankets and chairs from the landlord, finished the mixture for the turkey pot pie, and called it quits at 2:00am!

All our preparation allowed for a lazy Saturday morning, thankfully. We set up the second table, creating one long table running the length of our common room, and scurried for twelve chairs.

If you think your Thanksgiving dishes fight over oven space, imagine ours! Serving in courses and the God-given French custom of eating slowly were the only habits that saved us from all-our oven space war. Morning faded all too quickly into afternoon, and when all our guests were assembled we toasted and began eating the lovely apéritif nibbles that Victoria had prepared:

Then we sat down at the table and I explained the basics of the Thanksgiving tradition to my attentive guests. I warned them that, for the Pilgrims, this meal celebrating the abundance of the harvest usually followed a fast: light eating before Thanksgiving is as necessary to the holiday as elastic waistbands. Then I sang Johnny Appleseed, a song of thankfulness my extended family uses as grace, and we went around the table saying one thing we were thankful for. Among those listed: friends, shared meals, French language practice, sunny days, and new clients (the very helpful man from the bank we’d invited said that). Traditions satisfied, we then dug into a tasty pumpkin soup Susi had made, accompanied by rolls and red wine.

Out came the side dishes (while the pot pie baked), including mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with nuts and cranberries, and classic stuffing. All home-made, all delicious, and all more filling than expected. So much so that, when I presented the finely-decorated turkey pot pie, everyone sighed with relief and thought it was dessert! A large dish the size of two pies, it was gratefully consumed, although half is currently languishing in my refrigerator. I made a pot pie in lieu of a turkey (whole turkeys being expensive and difficult to find in France before Christmas) and excused it as a traditional leftover dish, our meal being Saturday instead of Thursday. Unfortunately, now Victoria and I are consigned to leftover leftovers!

Needless to say, when I put out two splendid salads, no one was interested. Poor endives and nuts, lentils and raisins. We washed the dishes while our guests attempted to enlarge their intestines, because no one wanted to miss dessert. And voilà, everyone found a small niche for the specialty breads and pumpkin pie:

After observing everyone’s distended bellies, I decided not to test their constitutions any further and left the two bakery-delivered cakes in the refrigerator. It was a good decision to favor traditional over French: I received plenty of compliments on the quality and quantity of American cuisine—and no jokes about McDonalds. It was an absolutely splendid and convivial Thanksgiving meal.

To help the digestion, we continued with group games. Lena, our token child, taught us a German song about days of the week, a multilingual miming game, and various guessing games. The company started winding down and drifting off in the early evening, leaving us young folk to our own devices. I took advantage of Julien’s presence to dance a little tango, salsa, and swing, and much to my surprise everyone else joined in! Julien and I became impromptu instructors, and we danced the night away.

I could not have planned such a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for delicious food shared with adventurous guests.

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