As a child of immigrants, American traditions have always been an important part of growing up. When I came home from preschool babbling about the man in a red suit who delivered presents via chimney, my parents got a Christmas tree and played Santa. They also played tooth fairy (although I’m sure my six-year old’s explanation baffled them), and my mum made many of my Halloween costumes. She-Ra was my favorite.
We’d spend Thanksgiving with the Bengali community. Our extended families mostly lived overseas, so we’d bring all of our nuclear families together, and the same auntie hosted every year. She’d make a full Thanksgiving menu for the children because we all wanted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pie, and she made a second feast for the parents who had a slightly different palate, and her menu of curries changed from one year to the next. Thanksgiving was a special, other holiday, one we played at until we developed our own, annual traditions.
Andrew grew up celebrating what I grew up believing was a traditional Thanksgiving, with a mom who knew the difference between cranberry sauce and cranberry chutney. His parents had moved from Michigan to Massachusetts when they got married, so he grew up away from the extended family, as well, but with four children, their family celebrations always involved the chaos and energy of a much larger group. Thanksgiving with his family involved hanging out all day and eating almost constantly, brunch beginning with bagels & lox, an egg dish, shrimp cocktail, mimosas, coffee, and various other items. Dinner would fill the table, extended to include an extra leaf, and the pumpkin and pecan pies would nearly kill us at the end.
This was our first Thanksgiving away with only the two of us. Neither of us had made Thanksgiving dinner before, and cooking here has already been an experience because basic ingredients differ. For example, it’s nearly impossible to find vanilla extract. Instead, one buys vanilla pods. When our friend Jeff, aka Cooking for Geeks, visited us here, he showed us how to slice the pods open with a paring knife, scrape the good stuff into a glass tube, and add cheap, flavorless vodka to make our own extract:
It took me months to track down baking soda and baking powder, which I finally found in a high-end, import store. And brown sugar? For light brown sugar, add one tablespoon of molasses to a cup of sugar. For dark brown sugar, use two tablespoons of molasses. Mix well:
Here we don’t have appliances, only an oven and a stove, so no microwave, toaster, blender, food processor, or Kitchen Aid. We don’t even have a potato masher. Still, we were going to have Thanksgiving, and I dove into recipe research and ingredient hunting.
First problem? The turkey. I’ve been able to find whole chickens in the grocery store, but I’d heard that to get an entire turkey, people go to France. Even if I found an entire bird somewhere in Switzerland, the two of us couldn’t eat it, and I didn’t think it’d fit in our small, European oven! Instead, I decided on a fusion meal. The grocery store always carries turkey breasts, so I asked Andrew to make turkey schnitzel (he can schnitzel anything).
When I went Thanksgiving shopping, I realized that pumpkin pie, our favorite, wasn’t going to happen. All of the canned pumpkin that had sat untouched on the shelves for months was sold out (*shakes fist at ex-pat community*), and I couldn’t roast a pumpkin and puree a filling without appliances. Well, I could, but I didn’t have it in me to do that by hand on top of the rest of the meal. Instead, I made apple cobbler (with my brown sugar and vanilla extract) and Nanaimo Bars, because if we were going to be international, why not add a delicious Canadian bar cookie into the mix?
I went to four stores and finally found fresh cranberries for sauce, and I discovered that cranberry sauce is basically chutney without black cumin. Mashed potatoes were managed with the aid of a whisk (great replacement for a masher!), the stuffing included a day old baguette and Vaudois sausages from our canton, and I used sausage fat and bacon fat (from the maple-glazed bacon chocolate chip scones that I made for brunch) to make gravy. More of that brown sugar went into glazed carrots. And ta da! We had our first, solo Thanksgiving, and a Swiss-American-Canadian, Thanksgiving feast:
As with every Thanksgiving, we had the problem of leftovers. This year, it was easily solved: Andrew had to install an art piece the next day at a gallery that’s down the street from our flat, and he brought a few of our European friends back who had only ever seen Thanksgiving in movies and were very curious about the food. We followed tradition and shared a meal with friends in our distant, new home.