Friday, November 28, 2008

Spending Thanksgiving Abroad

It started with a pumpkin. No, not a chair. This isn't Juno, this is real life, and I'm not pregnant. It started with a pumpkin. And really, it started weeks before, with a stubborn determination to make Thanksgiving dinner in a foreign country.

But last weekend, it started with a pumpkin. My friend Sarah came down from Rennes to visit, and asked if we could make pumpkin pie during her stay. We couldn't find a can of pumpkin filling anywhere, and we weren't sure about the funny gourds and squashes found in French supermarkets. They were orange inside, but the outside didn't look right, and the shape was all wrong. While I was teaching last Friday, Sarah walked around town looking for a store that had cut one of these squashes and put it on display, wrapped in plastic. Taking care to ensure that no French people were looking, Sarah peeled back the plastic wrap and sniffed. Those funny squashes are, indeed, pumpkins. After visiting four different stores to get all of the correct ingredients (spices, condensed milk, whipped cream, etc.) we carted the pumpkin back home, chopped it open, scooped out the seeds, and put it in the oven to roast, just how they made pie in the good old days when the white man and the Natives lived together in harmony. Not having a blender, we pureed the pumpkin glop with two forks and a bit of elbow grease. A few hours later, we had a lovely, hard-earned, delicious pumpkin pie. And lots of leftover pumpkin glop.

Two days later, I received my care package from my family, which included pumpkin pie filling, condensed milk, and all the necessary spices. Merde. Ah, well, the pie was good, and now I have enough glop to last me through Christmas. :) My care package was such a nice surprise, even though I knew it was coming! I had peanut butter toast, threw on my sweatshirt and slippers, and sat on my floor unpacking everything and crying. It was a happy cry, but I bet I would have looked really odd to any onlookers. Also, on Monday, internet in my room started working, but alas! the glorious perfection could not possibly last, and the connection stopped working Wednesday. Oh, France. You slay me. And not in the LOL way.

So, I had planned on using the internet in my room to access the recipes I wanted to use for Thanksgiving dinner, but as I couldn't really do that, I had to head over to Karen's and hand-write all of the recipes I needed. That afternoon, I began preparations for my foreign Thanksgiving extravaganza. I decided a while ago that I could not live without a Thanksgiving dinner, even if I was in a foreign country. I started looking for essential ingredients, and managed to find just about everything I needed (no whole turkey, but I couldn't fit a whole turkey in my tiny oven anyway). I began with the pumpkin pie, this time using the ingredients my family sent. I also made the dinner rolls and cranberry sauce (made with dried cranberries---no fresh cranberries here) that night. It's nice to be able to bake again. Thanks, Joanne! The day of Thanksgiving, I had to work until 3, so I didn't get to start cooking until 4. But, OCD case that I am, I had sat down the night before, figuring out the correct order for cooking everything, to make sure that everything finished at the right time and nothing got cold. It worked almost perfectly! I started with a stuffed turkey breast roulade. Basically, I made stuffing (thanks, family, for the Stovetop!), and spread it on flattened turkey breast filets, then rolled them up and roasted them. Here's the before cooking picture:
And here's the after:

They actually turned out really really well--and the stuffing inside was delicious, too (although I did manage to burn the stuffing that I made outside the turkey). I also made a sweet potato casserole with a streusel-type top (no marshmallows in France, either, but thanks for the sweet potatoes, Scarlet!), mashed potatoes and gravy, almond green beans, and a salad. All the other assistants had to work until around 6, so I had no helpers in the kitchen (I had to cut the onions myself! Can you imagine?!? I was bawling my eyes out), which effectively means I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for 8 by myself. I am quite proud, actually! None of the other assitants were American, and none had ever celebrated Thanksgiving before, nor did they know anything about it. It was weird to actually explain Thanksgiving--we don't really ever have to do that at home. So I explained the tradition of Thanksgiving, why we celebrate (I was speaking with one of my students last week on the topic of Thanksgiving, and she asked me this question. Before I could answer, she guessed, "Are you celebrating turkey?" Hahahahaha! Hilarious.) et cetera et cetera. I also looked up how to say, "I am thankful for....." in French, so that we could each say something we were thankful for around the table. It was really quite nice, and I don't know if I could have spent a better Thanksgiving away from my family. I am so thankful that I have met these people, for their support and company during probably the hardest year of my life. It's wonderful that we are able to come together as total strangers, and become such a close-knit group so quickly. Of course the situation helps, but I appreciate it nonetheless. It was much better than spending Thanksgiving alone, or eating spaghetti like it was a regular day. It started with a pumpkin, and it ended, of course, with a pumpkin pie:Now, there are seven foreigners out there who all love pumpkin pie, just as much as any good American does. Spreading the American tradition all across the world!


Chelsea said...

Awww...your pumpkin pie looks amazing (as does the red wine lurking in the background)!

B-Gabbard Fam said...

We missed you Shlee! I am glad that you had a good time... your food looks amazing! Love you! ~Mess

dawnmesa said...

Thanks to your dad for giving us your blog site Ashley. I am enjoying reading it. So glad you had a good Thanksgiving over there. -- Love Aunt Dawn & Uncle Frank

Lyla said...

I enjoyed reading about your Thanksgiving experience Ash. And I am now thinking about all the Thanksgiving dinners you and I cooked together over the years. I am sure your friends enjoyed the Thanksgiving feast you prepared and also your "lovely" company. Again...I am So, So Proud of You!!!
Love & Hugs, Mom