For what seems like years now, I have been telling the sanitized story of Thanksgiving to seemingly hundreds of French students–“The Pilgrims thanked the Indians for all their help and welcoming and they all lived happily ever after, together in America,” paired with a clip or two of Charlie Brown.
So…that’s not exactly how it really happened historically, but it is a lot easier when attempting to explain America’s most gluttonous holiday (they really did not understand moistmakers or that sweet potatoes mixed with sugar and topped with marshmallows is a side, not a dessert).
David Lebovitz, always my expat spirit guide, wrote about how easy it is to forget that it’s Thanksgiving when living in France. He is so, so right. Instead of watching “Friends” repeats all day or arguing about how much I didn’t want to watch football, I still had to go to work. Earlier in the day, I went to the market to buy food for the assistant Friendsgiving, where I was met with bulging eyes as I explained I needed enough sweet potatoes to feed 20 people. But despite the lack of attention Thanksgiving gets in France, I managed to celebrate with two feasts, one international and one expat.
Thanksgiving No. 1
For many French people, the concept of a “potluck” is elusive. Why would someone invite you over for dinner and then ask you to bring your own food?! Paired with serving it as a buffet in lieu of courses is enough to trigger heart palpitations. But, as poor assistants, we did just that. Many of the assistants are American and brought their favorite traditional Thanksgiving dish–stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, etc. etc. But, in an international crowd the dishes became much more diverse, with friends bringing their favorite traditional dishes from home, everything from haggis (you had me at sheep eyeballs, Jenny…) to tortillas de patatas to cod fritters, and of course a few baguettes and cheese thrown in for good measure.
But, I imagine right about now you are wondering where the turkey centerpiece was. Buying turkeys in France can be done, but requires much more effort than just picking a frozen bird from the grocery store and giving it a day to thaw–but more on that later. For our budget and our sanity (because have you seen a French oven? My Easy Bake is comparable), we decided just to go with rotisserie chickens from the market, which likely is what I would have requested in America, anyway.
I arrived with my family’s favorite–sweet potatoes with sugar and marshmallows on top. This year, I am thankful that the pink and white Chamallows I used from the Monoprix were not secretly strawberry and vanilla flavored.
Thanksgiving No. 2
I am so so lucky to have family nearby in Saint Cannat. My cousin Ben, his wife Jackie and their two adorable kids moved here in July and it was just by chance that we were able to connect–before moving to France, we had never met! Saint Cannat is only about a 20 minute bus ride from Aix, so it really was serendipitous.
Thanksgiving at their house was a far cry from my international fête the night before. I arrived to find the most adorable Hershey kiss and Nutter Butter acorns made my by little cousin Nico next to an herb sachet on every plate. But these weren’t just bundles of herbs from the market–they were straight from the forest, where earlier in the day they all went on an adventure to pick some fresh thyme and rosemary.
Around here, you need to order turkey from the boucherie a few days (or weeks!) in advance so it can be delivered by a local farm. Whole turkeys are just not a very common thing to order (in Lebovitz’s post he wrote about a friend who somehow ended up paying 400€ for a turkey!). After my cousin Ben had requested the turkey, it arrived–fully feathered–at the butcher on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and thankfully, the butcher cleaned it up and removed the feathers. When Ben went to pick it up, there were still a few feathers remaining, so the butcher pulled out a blow torch and started singeing them off. If that isn’t fresh turkey, I don’t know what is.
Their feast was filled with American contraband Ben’s parents had brought over with them–Jet Puffed mini marshmallows in lieu of the pink and white Haribo impostors I had used the night before and turkey rub from Whole Foods. The meal was traditionally American in cuisine yet French in preparation–you couldn’t have found fresher ingredients or dishes anywhere else. And, as it turns out, it’s not turkey I don’t like–it’s frozen, dry turkey. Now I know to order mine while it’s still alive from the butcher. ♦
Christmas lights and the market are up in Aix! Expect a post soon from that, Paris (encore), and the Lyon fête des lumières this weekend.