Posted tagged ‘Thanksgiving in France’

Nathalie’s Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014


If you’ve read here or here, you’ve seen my stories of how I managed to make Thanksgiving in France. But today was an entirely different experience. I’m at the Institut de Français, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, doing a month-long French immersion program. Where, as far as food goes, Chef Nathalie is my guardian angel. She totally gets the no-carb thing, and prepares a separate plate for me every single day. But today, Thanksgiving, that’s not the most amazing thing she did.


Today she prepared a French-inflected Thanksgiving lunch for 50 people, a few of whom were American, many of whom were not.


Here she is with Emilia, who sets and clears our tables, together with Onur, a Turkish classmate of mine, under the American flags hung especially for today,


and here with her assistant Mila, turkey already in the oven, pies ready to be baked, just as you are at 9:00 on Thanksgiving morning.

Heroically she prepared such classics as squash soup,


vegetable tarts,



tiny tartlets of airelles,


which taste a lot like cranberries but are more closely related to lingonberries,



adorable little corn pancakes, as well as the beautiful platter of turkey, stuffing, vegetables, and gorgeous edible leaves that you see up top. I tried to convince her to give me a turkey leg to gnaw on, but I think she thought I was joking, and instead she made me this much more dignified plate,


including that most American of vegetables, bean sprouts. I have to say that it was all delicious, absolutely and completely.


Then the carb-eaters among us had these beautiful apple tarts, with ice cream, while I had some really nice cheese.


The table was decorated patriotically for Thanksgiving, and honestly, I can’t imagine how it could have been any better. It was the most French of all my Thanksgivings in France, and really, one of the best. Thanksgiving was always Shel’s favorite holiday, and I didn’t know how I would get through it without him this year. But Nathalie made it easy for me. Merci, Nathalie.


November 24, 2011

Although we already had our French Thanksgiving on Sunday, today we had a sort of Belgian Thanksgiving with our dear friends Henk and Grete. They made us a beautiful raclette lunch that lasted until after 7:00 at night, thanks to a rousing games of boules, accompanied by half a bottle of good cognac to protect us against the shivers. It’s the south of France, but it’s cool when the sun goes down. Just like little kids we didn’t want to go in, and so kept playing until we were a bit blue around the lips and ears, but happy, oh so happy.

And so, we had turkey and all the trimmings when it wasn’t yet actually Thanksgiving in America, and we had raclette when it was. And it was all wonderful, because it was all about gathering around the table with those we love. And when I say love, although our love for those with whom we celebrated the day: Nadine and Jean-François, Dorindo and Thierry, Alice and Christian, Maryse and Noémie, Henk and Grete, doesn’t represent all the love in our life, we were so thankful to be with them all, even though we weren’t with you. And we hope that you’re surrounded by love too, and great food, and if you’re playing boules out there in the shivery twilight, I hope you have a great bottle of cognac to cheer you on, and I hope you’re not too competitive, because someone’s bound to knock your balls out of place, and that’s just the way it is.

And if you’re as lucky as I am, you’ll discover that what used to be just a nondescript bush in the yard actually grows pomegranates, or at least, one pomegranate, which is a lot more than I expected, since as far as I was previously concerned, it was just something to be pruned and raked up after, with no nutritive or even decorative potential whatsoever.

There’s always something to be thankful for, and I’ve got way more than my fair share. I hope you do too.

Thanksgiving Improv

November 19, 2011

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.

Let There Be Plenty

November 24, 2007


Thanks to Monsieur Amarante, the fabulous florist on our street, the house looked exactly like Thanksgiving. 

Sage and cinnamon filled the air, just as they should.  The stuffing was one we could all agree on, and if you find yourself in need of a great stuffing recipe, try this Sage Stuffing.  Alice’s vegetables were just as delicious as they look.

Little Basque appetizers


made with the ham and paté we brought back from the Pays Basque along with some spicy cheese and piment d’Espelette biscuits, started off the evening with a hint of heat and nostalgia for the great time we had on that trip.  The “cranberry sauce” which was concocted from quinces, apples, little berries called airelles, and actual cranberry juice, ended up tasting almost exactly like the real thing.  The carrot cake was a true taste of home, while the tart of reinettes de Vigan apples with an almond custard reminded us that we’re in France, as if we could possibly forget.


And the turkey?  Let’s just say dinner for 7.  Leftover plates for 3. Two lunches for 4.  Dinner for 2.  And soup for 10.  That’s how our turkey is serving us, and I’m not mentioning various nibblings and pickings.  Roasted on a heap of shallots and celery root, blanketed with poitrine fumé, which is closer to American bacon than you’d imagine, it was absolutely good.  Not earth-shattering, but far more normal than its uncooked appearance would lead you to believe.

As for the company, for four of us it was our first Thanksgiving in France, for three of us, the first Thanksgiving ever.  Two spoke only English, one only French, and the remaining four of us spoke varying degrees of both languages.  As you can imagine, it was a lively muddle of discovery, with a lot more discussion of politics and a lot more French wine than you’d find at an American table.

We tried to explain what Thanksgiving’s about.  Is it about the Pilgrims?  Famine and salvation?  A simple celebration of the harvest?  It’s the only uniquely American holiday, and there’s a lot one can say about its meaning.  But for me it really came down to this: I’m so thankful to be here now, doing all this.

Turkey Talk

November 20, 2007


Now that’s a turkey!  Or is it?  It’s une dinde, a French turkey, all 7 kilos of it, which is about 16 lbs.  Big.  It doesn’t look like any turkey I’ve ever cooked.  It’s dark and wild looking, although the few remaining feathers are white, so it must be farmed.  The skin is stuck tight to the breast, making me rethink my plan to rub the breast under the skin with herb butter.  I won’t be brining it, who even knows if French turkeys need brining?  Besides, I don’t have anything big enough to brine it in, the fridge couldn’t handle it, and it’s not cold enough outside to make an outdoor fridge.

And notre dinde is too big for any pan in the house, so I bought a pan big enough for the bird, but that’s too big for the oven.  All of this is the reason I got the turkey today, to have an extra day to scurry around trying to make things work out right.

In other Thanksgiving news, if there’s a cranberry to be found in town, I’m not going to be the one to find it.  I did find some cranberry juice, however, so I’m planning to cook some quinces in cranberry juice and call it cranberry sauce.  I got some sweet potatoes from Israel, and I’ve made a sort of cornbread for the stuffing using fine polenta for the cornmeal and an Arab fermented milk product for the buttermilk.

I shouldn’t even be giving away all these secrets, since our French guests might be reading this, and I really want to give them an authentic Thanksgiving dinner.  But in truth scraping and scrounging and doing the best you can with what you have is authentic, when you come right down to it.  That must be what the Pilgrims did, and they sure didn’t have any Calvados to add to their apple tart.  Put like that,  I guess really have a lot to be thankful for.