Thanksgiving Improv

Tomorrow will be our Thanksgiving, since all of our guests are working on just-a-normal Thursday, when the rest of you will be celebrating. It’s a jet-lag kind of thing. This means that I’m tearing my hair out before you are, although possibly not for the same reasons. Judging by the cute little Martha-esque carrot garnish I made for the salads, all is going well on this, my third day in the kitchen. But if you could see my dining table, which according to Martha should be set with gleaming silver by now but is instead papered with printed-out recipes covered with scribbles, you’d think otherwise.

Why all the scribbling? Because, oh what was I thinking? I knew we’d be here for Thanksgiving, and still I didn’t bring any measuring cups or spoons with me. Normally when in France I just cook with French recipes, so there’s no problem. But Thanksgiving requires American recipes, like the cornbread for the stuffing, measured in American units. However, since there’s no actual cornmeal (sub fine polenta) and no actual buttermilk (sub an Arab fermented milk) it’s a kluge at best, so why worry about eyeballing a teaspoon of baking powder? Oh wait, I forgot to bring baking powder too, so I used levure chimique, which is sort of like baking powder except that it’s different but I don’t actually know how, nor how much to sub for the American stuff. Close eyes, open the little envelope, dump it in.  Hold breath to see if the cornbread will rise.

Anyway the cornbread gets all crumbled up in the stuffing, so nobody’s likely to complain about the texture. However, the biscuits might be another story, but if they don’t rise properly, Shel will run next door to the bakery and no one will complain about that either, because they’ll never know. Nobody’s likely to complain at all, in fact, because whereas in years past we’ve had Thanksgiving guests that were a mix of French friends  and other ex-pat friends, this year we invited all French people, only one of whom has ever had Thanksgiving before.

Paradoxically, for me it can’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie and pickled peaches. I don’t eat either one anymore, since I don’t eat carbs, but if I don’t make them and serve them, it’s just not Thanksgiving. Only thing is, there’s no pumpkin here. I used courge muscade, and I’m hoping it’ll work out. A piece weighing over a kilo amazingly reduced to just this small jar of purée, enough for one pie. The pickled peaches posed no problems, and I’m expecting them to be as big a hit as they were in 2008 when we had our Rock and Roll Thanksgiving; you can find the recipe here.

At least shallots are the same the whole world round, so I can make my roasted shallot vinaigrette en toute tranquilité, easily and peacefully, without hair loss. It’s a perfect Thanksgiving salad dressing, and you can find the recipe here. We have a splendid turkey this year, although after our last French Thanksgiving, when we thought we might never come back, I shipped home the roasting pan, stock pot, and platter I had acquired here. Thus, no poaching or brining the turkey this year, giving me an excuse to try dry brining for the first time, and heaven help me if it doesn’t work. Roasting the bird right on the oven rack and serving it on a disposable platter? Just one of those things.

The pies seem pretty normal, except for the fact that they’re actually tarts. Pie pans don’t exist here, hence the flatter shape. Plus, heaven help me again, because the butter and flour are different enough here to make a real textural difference, and because I can buy all-butter tart crust in the store, and basically because I have enough other worries, I didn’t make the crusts. (Lucy, I can hear you tsk-tsking all the way from Lyon) It’s utter heresy, and the end result doesn’t look American, but hey, they won’t know, and since I don’t eat pie, by that point in the evening I probably won’t care.

So think of us tomorrow, as we’re trying to explain the meaning of Thanksgiving, and who the Pilgrims were, and what happened to the Indians, and why the turkey has to be so huge (since the French aren’t big on leftovers), and why every American family eats basically all of these same foods all heaped together on the same plate at the same time, the rich, sweet, tart, and savory mix that is the essential Thanksgiving plate. I’m counting on the food speaking for itself, measured or not. And come Thursday I’ll be thinking of all of you, thanking you for being part of my life.

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11 Comments on “Thanksgiving Improv”

  1. Gigi Petery Says:

    Abra, it all looks so fantastic! Your friends are in for a real treat. It’s 9:15 in Portland as I type this, so chances are you are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at this very moment. I give thanks that you and Shel are living your dreams. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. nancie Says:

    For me: double Puff pastry fresh pumpkin pie (saffron spiked) ala mode w. brandied cranberry sauce; parker house rolls: never made them before…giving them a bit of a french grey salt garnish

  3. Abra Bennett Says:

    Nancie – Yum, saffron in pumpkin pie, I love that idea.

    Gigi – nope, it’s tomorrow, thank goodness. I have a whole schedule of things to do tomorrow, right down to the quarter hour, just as if I were catering. A good old habit.


  4. And then you’ll plop down so tired trying to figure out if you want to rest or enjoy the fruits of your labor!! Happy Thanksgiving Abra & Shel!

  5. Margaret Hall Says:

    Happy pre-Thanksgiving to you both. I’m sure the meal will be scrumptious and a treat for your guests. I will be eating the big buffet here with the other oldsters—no cooking at all for me. XXX


  6. Your guests are very lucky.

  7. Lori Says:

    Well, you are probably digesting all of that work by now, or at least well on the way. Funny, I was just working on a post for tomorrow about not stressing about Tgiving — don’t bother with apps and soup, etc. — be American and dump everything but the dessert on the table all at once and have at it!

  8. Emily Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the recipe for pickled peaches. My southern mother used to can them in large jars using fresh peaches off her tree. I never learned how to do it but just adore them. One used to be able to buy commercially prepared ones at the grocery store around holiday time but I haven’t seen any for years. I love them with baked ham as well as with turkey.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration.

  9. Zuleme Says:

    We’ll have a small family dinner this year, 5 of us. 9 last year. I skip the work and pick up a complete dinner at the local chef’s market. And it’s good!
    I’m a Mayflower descendent and grew up with neighbors who were Mashpee Indians. When I learned more about both of our families’s history I realized that my ancestors and my friend’s could have shared the first Thanksgiving together.


  10. We continue to give thanks for our friends such as you and Shel and send our best wishes for a delicious feast. The pecan pie picture made my mouth water.

  11. Sue Geisler Says:

    And I thank you for being a part of my life too – I think that much of my enthusiasm for trying new things is reading what you’re up to. Have a wonderful holiday. It’s fall and my 14 year old grandson is out raking leakes and jumping in the pile before he puts them in the yard barrel. And there’s a pumpkin pie in the oven. Cheers – I’ll raise a glass to you.


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