Friday, November 23, 2012

A French Thanksgiving

2012 Thanksgiving crew!

  As I wrote last year, it's always a bit strange to spend Thanksgiving abroad. It's the only holiday I spend overseas that isn't celebrated in Europe. So while my American friends and family at home are readying for a big feast together, life goes on, just like any other day for me in Europe.

  My willingness to do something special for Turkey Day while in Europe always depends on the people I'm around: if they want to have a Thanksgiving dinner, I am more than happy to oblige.

  Thanksgiving Dunkerque 2012 Edition wasn't too different than the previous year's version -- except the addition of 10 more people to the dinner table. This year I would cook for my teammates as well!

The tedious task of cubing loaves of bread!
  Since my team would have two practices on the real Thanksgiving, I would have to settle for celebrating a day early. Having only a midday practice on Wednesday would allow me to cook the majority of the day, and prepare a hopefully-delicious meal for everyone.

Dressing: the final product.
  After we finished practice, I went straight home to begin my marathon day in the kitchen. I had done a little prepping the night before, but not much. (Note to self for future Thanksgivings: it's okay to prep the night before!)

  Dinner was to be around 7:30. And I knew my guests would start to arrive around seven, so I had roughly five hours to get everything ready. Time was ticking!

  Here was my menu:
  • Oven Roasted Turkey Breast & one thigh, for those dark meat lovers (no whole turkeys to be found this time of year in France!)
  • Homemade Dressing from scratch
  • Sweet Potato casserole
  • Green Bean casserole
  • Peas & Pancetta
  • Cranberry sauce (made from dried cranberries, since fresh cranberries are nowhere to be found here)
  • Mashed Potatoes (this was the one thing I would NOT be preparing! Thankfully. my friends V and Bruno would take care of the taters.)
Yum yum!
  I was to take care of the Turkey Day food, while I left the drinks up to the wine experts: my French teammates and coach. They also brought a little dessert as well.

  The tricky part about Thanksgiving, as many of you know, is managing your kitchen so everything is ready on time! For me, this is always where the panic sets in. I have a TINY kitchen, with counter space the size of a checkerboard, to go along with a microwave-sized oven.

Bon appétit!
  The turkey and the dressing (cooked separately) monopolize so much oven time on their own, I had to cook the casseroles ahead of time, and plan to heat them up as the turkey and dressing were finishing up closer to eating time. I started getting stressed as I sat, chopping onion and celery for the dressing, when I was realizing I needed at least two more sets of hands, and at least one more oven!

  Thankfully, one of my teammates lives next door. So I was able to put her oven to good use. But you forget how long it takes to chop everything up! I chopped as fast as I could, while concentrating not to chop a finger off, as the sweet potatoes cooked in the oven.

  The rest of my afternoon was spent running between ovens, checking and re-checking recipes, stirring, tasting, and Skyping with my mom for re-assurance. I was finally able to jump in the shower, and be somewhat-presentable for dinner, and get my apartment ready for my guests.

  The food was the first, and only thing on my mind. Delicious food trumps all, so that was my focus. I knew my teammates, coach, and friends would give me some leeway in the hosting department as long as I put a good dinner on the table.

My plate. Think I need some more turkey.
  My favorite Thanksgiving day food is the dressing (stuffing, whatever you call it). It's not really Thanksgiving for me unless I've had a heaping helping of my favorite breaded food. Since there's no prepped/pre-packaged dried croutons in France (that I can find), I have to make my own.

  I actually kind of enjoy this aspect, but it's just incredibly tedious! I buy a few loaves of fresh bread, cut them into one-inch-or-so cubes, and then leave them to dry out overnight. This is the only time when stale bread is a good thing!

Lots of first Thanksgivings here.
  I'd made dressing (I guess it's not stuffing if it's never stuffed inside the bird!) the same way the year before, but I remember it being a little too dry. So this time around, I made sure to have extra liquid on hand to keep that from happening. That definitely did the trick, cause I have to say my dressing was delicious!

  It was finally time to eat! I could see a few puzzled looks on some of my teammates' faces as they sat down to the table. So I explained to them what everything was, what my favorite things were, and encouraged them to dig in.

  You're always nervous about the food turning out. You spend so much time and energy preparing everything, your worst nightmare is be bad food -- and with all those people there no less! But after I loaded up my plate, and took my first bite, I was happy! And when I heard a few  'ahhhh trop bon' from my teammates, I could relax.

  All in all, I had 14 people over for Thanksgiving dinner this year: 10 adults, and four kids. It was a lot of work, and I was truly exhausted after the night was over. But I had a great time cooking, and sharing some of my family's Thanksgiving traditions with my team. And I loved that I was able to provide several first Thanksgivings as well!

  While celebrating holidays are never quite the same without your family, this year's Thanksgiving was a pretty good alternative. Hope you and your families had a great Thanksgiving!

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