Hosting your first Thanksgiving is not an easy task. If it was, there wouldn’t be a million Thanksgiving-themed sitcom episodes with that exact plot point. Add in that you’re hosting Thanksgiving in another country and technically you’re hosting a lunch and a dinner and things just got a whole lot harder. This day was going to require a lot of time management, creativity, and butter.
I began explaining the concept of Thanksgiving to my host family earlier in the month. Basically all they got out of it was it that this was and America-specific holiday with a lot of good food. (Yes, I know Canada has a thanksgiving but they celebrate on a Monday in October and I’m sure there’s a sharp reduction in casseroles at their meals so I don’t count that.) I drew some handprint turkeys with the kids and promised them a special meal for dinner that night.
My thanksgiving prep started on Tuesday night when I began planning the menu. I was going to be providing the turkey for a friends-giving lunch with my au pair friends at my house and a full spread for my host family’s dinner that night. After reading probably 12 blogs about expats trying to recreate Thanksgiving in Paris, I realized my biggest mistake was not starting earlier! Everyone said that boucheries, or butchers, would only have turkeys this time of year by special request but it would take them about a week to get it. I literally needed a cooked turkey on a table in 36 hours. I decided to put turkey idea on the back burner for then and moved on to making my shopping list.
The first stop Wednesday was at the American grocery store, aptly named, Thanksgiving. There was already a line 10 minutes before they opened but I was on a mission for Jiffy cornbread mix and cream corn. I was also able to pick up a can of cranberry sauce for the equivalent of almost $7 but it was worth every penny. From there, I did the rest of my shopping in my usual grocery store.
The last item on my list was the turkey. Wednesdays are my busiest days so I didn’t have time to search all over Paris for a turkey. My game plan was to try a few boucheries on my street and if I struck out, I would go with a rotisserie chicken. The first boucherie had two, very small turkey breast slices available, about the size of a chicken breast. I told them I’d be back and found another boucherie close by. They miraculously had one turkey leg and thigh! I bought it immediately. I went back to the first boucherie to get the turkey breast slices. In broken french, I asked for both turkey breasts. In broken english, he was concerned that it was too much. I was cooking for 10 people! This wasn’t even going to cut it! I tried to tell him I was cooking for a lot of people and needed all the turkey he had. And then, to my surprise, he turned around, reached in some hidden cooler, and pulled one 1.7 kilo, skinless, boneless turkey breast! I could have kissed him I was so excited. A few minutes and many “merci”-s later, I was the proud owner of approximately half a turkey. I was on a turkey high for the rest of the day.
That night, after the kids went to bed, I made the apple pie. I knew homemade pie crust was out of the question so I used store-bought tart dough. I also only had a tart pan, not a pie pan, so this was going to be a real interpretation of a classic apple pie but can you really go with cinnamon, sugar, and apples? I think not.
Spoiler alert: it turn out delicious!
Finally, Thursday morning was upon us. I skipped french class that morning to begin food prep. After conversions for Celsius to Fahrenheit and a regular oven to a convection oven, I surmised the turkey would need about 2 hours of cook time. Because the turkey breast it was skinless and boneless, I was really worried about it drying out. I covered all of the turkey with butter then marinated it with a mixture of olive oil, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. I set up alarms on my phone and basted the turkey every 15 minutes. Tedious, but worth it.
At this point all of my friends had arrived. They warmed up their dishes and I set the table. The day before, I collected some big fall leaves from the Polo club to line the table. One of my friend’s host dad gave her a 12 year old bottle of wine for us to drink which was a very nice diversion from our usual 4€ bottles.
After pictures of the table, we sat down and feasted. Everyone’s food was so good! Seriously it’s all we commented on for about 5 minutes. The turkey was so moist and delicious! I was so unashamedly proud of myself. Our french Thanksgiving looked a little different than the usual- we swapped the Sister Schubert’s for a baguette and included foie gras on the menu- but it still felt like home. I’m so thankful for friendships here in Paris and what a better way to celebrate this.
After cleaning up from friends-giving, and school pick-up, I was right back in the kitchen to finish up that night’s dinner. Earlier in the day, my host dad informed me that his sister and brother-in-law were joining them for dinner later that night! That meant two more mouths to feed. Luckily, in true Thanksgiving fashion, I had prepared more than enough food.
The menu for dinner was turkey, mac and cheese, corn casserole, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans and bacon, and apple pie for dessert.
We served dinner buffet style, the way my family and friends celebrate Thanksgiving. The kids were skeptical at first but they could not have loved it more! They it up so fast, I forgot to take a picture of everything before they tore into it all! I had my host dad explain to the kids in french the concept of going around and saying what you’re thankful for. At first, the oldest said he was thankful for the turkey! I was considering that a win until after that he said “and my au pair.” I almost cried right there. They share their culture with me everyday so it was nice to reciprocate that a bit, even if that’s just through an old fashioned casserole.
My host parents were going to be eating later but could not resist some taste tests right then and they loved it too! My host mom said the macaroni reminded her of one of her american au pairs growing up, calling it “a taste of my childhood.” Later that night, she texted me and said everyone had loved dinner and that even her sister-in-law, who was on a diet, could not resist the food! What a compliment.
I missed my family back home but I was thankful to still be able to celebrate my favorite holiday (twice!) in my new home. Later that night, I met back up with my friends. We ended Thanksgiving in a Canadian bar, drinking beer with full bellies, and full hearts.