* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dual Thanksgivings

Dual Thanksgivings 1Once again, another American Thanksgiving has come and gone.  While it has always been a special occasion for me as an American, it just happened to be our first American holiday we experienced as new foreigners living in a country where it was meaningless.  We shared it with our new French neighbors, and we’ve been sharing it with the French ever since.

This year, as last year, was interesting in that we were also guests as non-Americans put on a big spread, too.  Here’s how we enjoyed both events!

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Ellie’s pretty table

Being a totally American holiday, I found it really amusing last year when my good British friend decided to do a dinner.  Why?  But hey, why not?  But I was surprised all over again this year when another one was rather taken for granted. 

While being invited to any dinner is always a treat, sharing this particular one was really fun.  It’s always interesting, and sometimes quite amusing, to see how foreigners try to do traditional American meals.  I can be amused, because they’ve had over a quarter of a century to be amused by my efforts to be French (I wouldn’t even try to be a Brit).

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Table decor
As my friend is a working mom of three very active and involved kids, we went over early to help her out (it was her day off).  As I couldn’t help much in the kitchen, her girls helped me find some live decor to enhance the table settings.  We dug out some of the nicer dishes not normally used in a family setting, and I was really pleased at how pretty we made the table for her.

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Cooking up a feast

Because the traditional enormous turkey is both difficult to get this time of year (small ones are the Christmas fare here) and not very practical if it’s not your own tradition, she served roasted turkey legs.  She even found cranberries and made a cooked sauce, but that might be a bit British anyway. 

However, it was rather cute when she called me in advance to find out what cornmeal was, wondering if it was corn flour or cornstarch.  Um, it’s neither one! 

As she didn’t have any (it’s readily available here in a coarse form as polenta), we didn’t have whatever she was planning.  Perhaps it was cornbread?

The guests included her French spouse, us the Americans, as well as another Brit, a Frenchman, and a Spanish family who spent a few years in Miami so knew what Thanksgiving was all about.  We had some kind of apple pie and a pumpkin cake brought by some guests.  The only thing missing was that I somehow never ended up getting any photos of the cute kids’ table or any of the kids!  I felt bad, as my photos are all she has for visual memories.  Perhaps next year!

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An international American banquet

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Our typical table
Several days later, I had my own totally traditional dinner.  Unfortunately, our son and his family were not able to join us this year, the first time since he first starting coming down.  So we were back to only sharing with friends, as we’ve had to do most of our adult life. 

But none of our annual friends were able to come this year, either!  So as we had a totally new group, I was able to serve the really classic menu I usually try to vary  from over the years.

Normally, my guest list is fairly eclectic.  But this year, as we have developed a really fun group within our Chorale, I invited several couples from there, including our director.  I also included a dear American friend, who came to our summer concert, so he and his French wife fit right in!

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Serving up the unpardoned bird

None of this group had ever shared a Thanksgiving dinner before, although they did know it involved a big turkey.  But that did not really prepare them for the reality of seeing one, even though this year’s was smaller than normal (I have to order it in advance and am at the mercy of whatever the supplier sends).  As is usually the case, they all broke out in spontaneous applause.  (Does that happen at US tables?  I don’t remember it years ago.) 

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A carved masterpiece

After the master carver sliced it all up into serving pieces with our wedding present German carving set, they were all surprised at how moist and tender it was. 

I think they thought such a large roasted bird had to be dry and tough, but my method of slow roasting is always quite successful. 

I served a variety of vegetables, hoping that there would be enough to appeal to all palettes, as this meal can be a bit strange to the unsuspecting.  One of their favorite dishes was the creamed green bean casserole with mushroom and onions. 

Of course, the most shocking was the sweet potatoes with marshmallows.  I have to do that one at least once for new people, although our family loves it anyway.  I think they never had toasted marshmallows before (didn’t they go to camp?) and were totally amazed by the crunchy surface and the melted interior.  Most of them actually liked it, too, once they got over the concept!  I also served a salad of beets, potatoes, and Belgian endive, something I knew they should like, as I learned it over here.

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Enjoying a totally new experience

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Mmmmm, dessert and champagne!
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The host pours
Having to make my own desserts, I did the traditional pumpkin pie (I tried changing it one year and got booed by everybody) plus a Bundt apple cake.  But instead of the called-for glaze, I melted some Nutella and dribbled it all around.  An additional nice treat were the two bottles of name brand champagne the guests provided.

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A British pub poster

I did some research trying to figure out why the Brits (not just my friend, apparently) seem to be embracing Thanksgiving in recent years.  While it’s a historic tradition for us, the Brits see it as filling in a social hole without all the stress events like family Christmas meals can create. 

It is interesting to see what kind of spin they tend to put on our traditional dishes they may have never experienced.  You may also enjoy some holiday reading, so I've included a couple of links for your pleasure.

From 2014: Why are Britons embracing Thanksgiving?

From 2015:  How British people can get into the Thanksgiving spirit

From 2016:  There’s nothing British about it but one in six Britons now celebrates Thanksgiving

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From my inbox

I’m not sure if they follow their meals by shopping, but Black Friday has taken Europe by storm the past couple of years. 

I’m not sure they understand where it came from, but marketing has exploded the concept. 

My email mailbox is flooded with Black Friday advertising.  It often lasts four days, it seems.

I came across a new term while I was researching, Friendsgiving.  I don’t know how widespread it is.

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Current familial sentiments!

The concept seems to be that being with friends instead of family on this most family-based holiday is preferred. 

I find it all a bit ironic, as most of my adult life I’ve had to socialize with my friends as any family was way too far away.  I never felt a need to rename the day.  None of us would be here without our family. 

To compensate for lack of family, I tend to invite special friends as substitutions.  As you can see, we all had a lovely time once again this year.  As usual!

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A perfect ending to a perfect evening

And now I am off to our chorale practice, which includes this group, for one of our last practices for our Christmas concert coming up in a couple of weeks.  As several of the songs are totally in English, it provides yet another cultural experience.  This time, they are the ones with the funny accent!


  1. The tables are beautiful and your turkey looks divine! So many happy faces 'round your table... good to see! Happy Thanksgiving, dear Alpine Queen...I think yours really was!

  2. Thanksgiving is so special to me, especially like you, I live outside the US. But since a huge turkey at Christmas is traditional in Mexico, the stores have them in November as well.
    Loved your story and photos.


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