Thanksgiving Greetings from ExPats
Our friends who make the wonderful travel clothes and products you can find at TravelSmith invited us to write a piece about how ExPats celebrate Thanksgiving, so here’s what we sent them:
I lived in Dublin in the early nineties for two years and back then the supplies of American food were seriously limited. When the Thanksgiving holiday came along I was glad that I’d made friends with my butcher and greengrocer because those gentlemen were willing to scour the island to find at least some of the ingredients I needed. We lived among a large contingent of Americans who were working in that country and since I was the only cook in the bunch most of the feast preparation fell to me. Cranberries and sweet potatoes were not to be found, so expats who were making trips back to the United States were charged with bringing “home” those delicacies. I managed to produce an almost-authentic turkey dinner for twenty, and I can assure you that copious amounts of Jameson’s Irish Whisky and Guinness made the whole event much more celebratory.
This year we’ll be celebrating with family in Florida, so there will be no difficulty in coming up with all the marshmallows, Karo syrup and cornbread we’ll need, but I thought it would be fun to see how ex pats are celebrating Thanksgiving far away.
Our friends Jeremy Schuster and Suzanne Flenard tell me that the French are fascinated with Thanksgiving because it’s the only major holiday without religious ties like Christmas or Easter. In France, the world capital of fine cuisine, the traditional American menu takes on a more haut epicurean flair. For instance, Jeremy mentioned that the host of the pot luck celebration they attended last year served foie gras instead of sausage in his turkey dressing and added white truffles to the cornbread. Suzanne describes her recipe for mashed potatoes this way, “We put potatoes through a sieve with tons of great French butter until they’re absolutely silky. They’re really just a delivery system for all that wonderful butter,” she laughs.
Many ex-pats in Paris share a pot luck meal, while others prefer to sample the exquisite offerings of famous French chefs. This year, instead of grating their own truffles, Jeremy and Suzanne will be joining others at the world renowned Guy Savoy Restaurant. It’s not without a little envy that I wish them bon appétit!
COTE D’AZUR, FRANCE
Suzanne and Jeremy found turkeys readily available in Paris, since turkey is the popular fowl for Christmas meals, but our friends Mary Webb and Howard Walker, who live aboard a Dutch trawler cruising Europe’s canals, escape Northern Europe’s harsh winters on the Cote D’Azur in the the south of France. Procuring the ingredients for a Turkey Day fete is a challenge. Says Mary, “Searching for ingredients is like a treasure hunt. Pecans are sold in Nice around Thanksgiving for expats, and last year I found a non Karo syrup recipe for Southern Pecan Pie because Karo syrup was not going to jump into my shopping cart. Picard, the fabulous frozen food stores that are all over France, had frozen sheets of dough that worked okay for pie crust. I was even able to find a beautiful, frozen turkey breast stuffed plums and armagnac there. Best of all, I managed to find a round pie pan, thanks to a neighborly Irish woman. The French don’t do round pies – just delicious tarts. Brown sugar wasn’t to be found, so for the sweet potato souffle I serve in orange cups I used a bit of regular sugar and honey. Sadly there were no marshmallows on top!”
Mary continued, “This year, however, we are anxious to meet other expats in the Menton area, since we are newbies to this eastern end of the Riviera. So we have booked reservations at a casual restaurant called Stars ‘n Bars on the port in Monte Carlo, just around the headland from Menton, for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with all the trimmings. The dinner is sponsored by an expat group called Monaco USA, so we will be seated family style with our countrymen. My mouth is already watering at the thought of digging into my favorite holiday meal and giving thanks with fellow Americans.”
I managed to catch up with friends, the Keanes, who have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador, for three years. Amy told me, “Our first year, we were invited to a large gathering of expats, where our hosts deep fried a huge pavo (turkey) and all of us pitched in, preparing a potluck of the traditional side dishes. It was just like a huge extended family with mismatched table settings and second helpings galore. We’ve also celebrated Thanksgiving “American style” at a local restaurant, where a place catering to Gringos pulled out all the stops with a special turkey based “menú del día.” Chatting with expats from many states often turns into “recipe recitations,” with everyone recanting our regional favorites across the tables. This year, we will be celebrating with a quiet Thanksgiving at home, inviting our next door neighbors, a young Peruvian expat couple to join us for the day. With satellite TV, I can even indulge my North American football addiction. While our turkey and stuffing roast away, our condo in the Andes will fill with the delicious aromas of the season, AND we’ll have leftovers for days! Of course, a late afternoon Skype call to the grandkids and our aging parents in the states will round out the holiday.”
Tim and I lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a colonial town in the high desert of Mexico at one time and we once departed from tradition and attempted to cook an entire suckling pig. Although the main course didn’t turn out too well, we certainly had a jolly day enjoying an American/Mexican potluck that was hard to beat. Homemade tamales assuaged our sadness about the overcooked pig that year.
Our good friend Ben Calderoni usually smokes a turkey while his artist wife Merry is in charge of the typical Thanksgiving side dishes. She tells me that several bakeries in town have discovered there’s good business in producing pumpkin, pecan and mincemeat pies, so guests who don’t cook have a chance to participate, too.
Another great friend, who is also an excellent cook, David Manning, suggests that with so many excellent restaurants offering authentic Thanksgiving menus with a Mexican twist, there’s almost no reason to hunt for hard to get ingredients and chop all that celery…especially when you can be toasting the holiday with a great margarita and let someone else do the dishes.
London expats Margo and Rick Riccobono have lots of reasons to be thankful this year. Their daughter, who lives nearby, has a darling year old boy and has just announced that a little brother or sister is on the way. Margo says, “I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess, because Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the easiest thing to produce here in London. There are always interesting challenges: For starters, on my first attempt the roasting pan wouldn’t fit in the oven, so a little pre-carving to fit the bird in another pan slowed down the process by an hour or so. They don’t sell round pie pans here, so my square pies looked strange but were eaten to the last drop! One of my biggest problems is that there is not much fat from the turkeys in this country, so making gravy is a real challenge. I find myself using lots of butter instead and guess what, they gobble that up, too! All the other staples, sweet potatoes, stuffing ingredients, and homemade cranberry sauce can be found. Even finding Karo syrup for the pies is possible if you’re willing to go to about a hundred stores,” she laughed. “I walk enough gathering the ingredients that I can afford to enjoy that big meal without any guilt,” she continued.
She told me that since working people love home cooked food she usually has ten or twelve at her table for the big day, and I’m sure this year will the the most delicious feast of all.
Whether in London, Fort Lauderdale or Abu Dhabi, we know that millions of turkeys will be consumed offering a chance to gather together and count our blessings no matter where we are.