Thanksgiving in the United States is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November and (typically) involves cooking a large meal and/or traveling near or far to gather with family and friends to enjoy an epic, all-day feast of turkey, stuffing/dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and other iconic or family specialties while watching football and taking mid-day naps.
While I’ve spent Thanksgiving in a number of US cities (Louisville, Bowling Green, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC, Charlottesville), this was our first celebration abroad. It definitely felt different, but it was still special and (of course) quite memorable.
Our initial Thanksgiving planning happened many months ago while dining with our French neighbors who were curious about this “food holiday” Americans celebrate. Of course, we told them it’s wonderful and asked they keep the Saturday after Thanksgiving open so we could celebrate it right.
Fast-forward a few months to November, and our more detailed planning really started to take shape. One Sunday afternoon we sat down and finalized our menu:
McNamara Toulousain Thanksgiving Menu:
- Roasted Turkey & Gravy
- Homemade Stuffing with Sausage, Apples, Celery, and
a baguette(Cranberry/Almond bread from our bakery)
- Mashed Potatoes
- Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan cheese (a la Audrey Claire)
- Roasted Vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Butternut Squash, and Carrots)
- Homemade Parker House Rolls
- Cranberry Sauce
- Homemade Pumpkin Pie
- Chocolate Mousse (a la David Lebovitz)
- Red Wine
Jacira/Alexander Toulousain Thanksgiving Appetizers & Desserts:
- Homemade fois gras
- Jamon avec fromage et cornichones
- Homemade macarons (these blew mine out of the water)
I wasn’t concerned about many of the menu items above, as potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, carrots, and even brussels sprouts (to a degree) have been easy to acquire on demand at Marché Victor Hugo, but I was concerned about: (1) finding a turkey, (2) the turkey fitting in our oven, (3) finding pureed pumpkin, (4) finding cranberries, and (5) finding an alternative to shortening for the Parker House Rolls.
I’m happy to report, the turkey was easier to acquire than I thought. A few of Jim’s coworkers’ wives had commented turkey was not (ever) available in November (apparently it’s more of a Christmas dish in France), so imagine my surprise when I was met with this huge sign at Maison Samaran in Marché Victor Hugo, “Commandez une dinde pour Thanksgiving ici!” I immediately placed my order for one turkey and felt pretty relieved it had been easier than I anticipated (though I will admit it was an interesting exchange back and forth where the butcher switched to English and quizzed me a little about Thanksgiving…extra fun fact, I went back to the same place and ordered three more turkeys for Jim’s actual Thanksgiving day lunch with his coworkers where they were impressed I handled the whole thing in French the second time around). So, should you find yourself with a kitchen in a foreign country for Thanksgiving, ask a butcher if they have turkey – they probably will 🙂
With our turkey figured out, I next started looking for pumpkin pie ingredients. I figured some of the American sections in the grocery stores would carry the Libby pumpkin pie filling, but they did not. So, I looked online and found an American grocery store not too far from our apartment called The American Corner. They had a can of Libby’s as well as some Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce and full cranberries. We picked up a can of each and then laughed when we got to the register as the cranberry sauce had been there since last Thanksgiving and had expired (so we didn’t get that one). Goes to show, the French are definitely not into cranberry sauce…not that I think the French are ever going into this store.
Sidenote – American stores are one of the most comical places I’ve come across. They are full of American candy and junk food (and this one had a lot of Yankee Candles, as well) – the shelves were well stocked with Nerds, Laffy Taffy, Bubble Tape, Pop Rocks, Airheads, Marshmallow Fluff, and other things I haven’t seen in a store (or thought about) since I was maybe seven and emptying my bag of Halloween candy. The marshmallow fluff most surprised me, as I can safely say I’ve never had marshmallow fluff before, and I definitely don’t associate marshmallows with being American or even something that Americans consume a lot of (though this has been cleared up by some of Jim’s French coworkers…the French associate s’mores with America, thus they think Americans consume a decent amount of marshmallow fluff, too. Hah!).
This left me with (really) only needing to find a good alternative to Crisco shortening. I’d turned to David Lebovitz, but his articles didn’t really talk much about an alternative, but a few other websites mentioned they didn’t see the same results when using alternatives. I contemplated simply eating bread from our local boulangerie, but a good roll is probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving. So, I looked around and found a second American store called, My American Market, and purchased some Crisco from there.
The week of Thanksgiving had me running around grabbing last minute elements and doing a little pre-meal cooking. Jim and his coworker (Frank) had volunteered to roast the turkeys for their Thanksgiving lunch (with their international coworkers). I ordered the turkeys, Frank bought the spices and supplied the recipes, then Jim & Frank set up the brine, then I roasted two turkeys (first time, ever) on Wednesday afternoon, and Lucia delivered the goods to their office on Thursday. They turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself.
Actual Thanksgiving day was a little strange. Jim went into the office, we ate a normal meal and went to bed at a normal hour. Black Friday also felt a little different, as I spent the day making desserts and doing a little Thanksgiving meal prep work (that’s never happened before). There’s something interesting/funny about celebrating a huge cultural holiday within a country/culture that knows hardly anything about it.
On Saturday/our Thanksgiving Day, Jim picked up the turkey around 8am, and we started the brine around 8:30am, then cooked our stuffing, prepped all the vegetables for roasting and sautéing, make our bread dough, whipped up the mousse, relaxed a little/got cleaned up, prepped our potatoes, made our gravy, roasted the turkey, roasted the veggies, and sautéed the brussels sprouts.
Frank was our first guest to arrive, delicious wine in hand. Our neighbors (Jacira & Alexander) arrived later and brought more wine & beer, fois gras, jamon, and macarons with them. With their arrival we popped some bubbly and began our feast.
It was the most lovely meal full of great company, laughter, anecdotes, and delicious food. The French appetizers made it feel extra special – something we could only enjoy here in Toulouse. Of the traditional American food, the stuffing was a huge crowd pleaser (they’d never heard of stuffing, but loved it) as were the brussels sprouts (I was even asked how to make it), turkey (“so moist”), and even our “pain de la maison.” Everyone tried a little of everything (I even put a little stuffing on my plate). Jim commented on the beautiful plate of food Jacira set up – “everything had a place on the plate – it looked like it could’ve been for a photo in a magazine.” The macarons were AMAZING, but unfortunately, the pumpkin pie seemed to please Jim and Frank, but not me, Jacira, or Alexander.
It was a really magical day/evening, one in which I can’t stop smiling about. I’m incredibly thankful for the wonderful neighbors and friends we’ve made in our first eight months here. Dinners like these really make Toulouse feel like home. What a perfect beginning to our first, French holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed!