Ah Thanksgiving…it’s that time of year Americans come together to give thanks for all they have, celebrate family and friends and kick off the holiday season. Thanksgiving Day is traditionally a holiday to give thanks for the food collected at the end of the harvest season. The food remains today the centre of any Thanksgiving, no matter how small or where in the world Americans find themselves celebrating; the lavish menu spreads painstakingly planned for months bringing people together.
It can also be difficult for Americans living abroad who almost always miss home when they cannot journey back to spend the holiday with loved ones. But as I discovered in Paris, they find ways to incorporate the local culture and take traditional Thanksgiving to a whole different level.
Here’s how to do it with a French twist…or at least how we did it as expats living in Paris.
Firstly, sourcing a decent sized turkey from a local butcher is a task in itself when you’re looking for a 30lb one in Paris. It is not common so you are forced to settle for much smaller than you’re used too. In fact you’ll be lucky if it’s much bigger than an organic hen and quickly learn it has to be specially ordered through the butcher’s weeks in advance.
You are also fortunate if you have an “American” sized oven big enough to bake a turkey because European ovens are so much smaller. If not, make friends with the local butcher who will be willing to roast it for you. Yes along with all the chickens in the rotisserie machine on the street for the whole world to see your greediness at wanting an oversized bird.
It may not be a national holiday outside of the United States but it is a double bonus when Thanksgiving falls on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, which is a celebration of the release of the first wines from the season in France. So why not kickstart the Thanksgiving festivities at the local wine shop and take the troupe over for a wine tasting before dinner. When in France do as the French right?
Nevermind how much is drunk, you can all walk it off on the way back to the flat (even if it’s only ten minutes of cool November air to help). As a detour, take the troupe over to the local butcher’s to collect the roasted bird. Yes strength in numbers to collect the fattest bird in the street side rotisserie whilst the French look on confirming Americans are a bunch of crazies. Parade the bird as you continue home, pitstopping at the boulanger to get freshly baked baguettes…I mean no Thanksgiving in Paris is complete without freshly baked baguettes!
Once back at the flat, champagne greet the guests. Yes Sybil our perfect host and our Texan/New Yorker Julia Child herself will proudly transform her home into an orange cocoon in recognition of Turkey Day. Her stove was the centerpiece of the apartment and some dishes were finished while everyone sat at the table watching her work her magic.
Thanksgiving always saw at least one marriage proposal from Jean-Manuel Traimond, our favorite French tour guide in Paris. He would propose to whomever created a Thanksgiving dish he never had before but loved. Mom got one for her Trini style pumpkin…hmmmmm.
Another French course added to the meal that is a must is a butter tasting. Gorgeous specialty French butters from Le Bon Mache – salted, non salted, algae (yes algae, so unbelievably delish!), herb and curry quickly became favourites.
To end the night, there is no pumpkin or pecan pies at this table. There are French macaroons for a tasting of a selection of macaroons from only the best patisseries in town including Laduree and Pierre Herme. Well if you make it that far because after all the additional courses to give thanks for, you will easily look at the dessert table willing to save it all for the next day and choose to settle in with a glass of wine watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special on DVD – perfect end to the evening.
Food brings people together on Thanksgiving. It was no different in our celebration in Paris. With added wine, champagne, baguettes, butters, macaroons and local produce sourced at the farmers markets, a French Thanksgiving made us even more grateful for the opportunity to celebrate in the City of Lights and enjoy the best of both worlds with new and old friends. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you choose to celebrate and make the best of the holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone….wherever and however in the world you are celebrating!