Yesterday was one of the first times I haven’t eaten Thanksgiving dinner with my parents (the other being the year I spent teaching English in Paris, celebrating among other American teachers with a plate of spaghetti with canned red sauce and a glass of wine). This year instead of making the trip from New York all the way to Arizona (a brain-zapping 7-hours, with no direct flights), my fiancé Olivier and I decided to stick it out in New York and host our own – and first – Thanksgiving dinner together.
My friends already had plans with their own families, but because Olivier is from Paris and he met most of his New York buddies as an international student at Columbia, we had our picking of “homeless” non-Americans who were stranded with a day off but nowhere to go…and no pumpkin pie to eat. So we decided to have our own version of a newcomer pilgrims’ feast: five Frenchies, one Indian, one Italian, one Chilean, one Moroccan, and one Arizonan (that would be me).
Like most things in New York, our kitchen is “cozy” (to use a common euphemism) – if you raise your arms you reach the walls elbow-to-elbow in width and arm-to-arm in depth. Features include: no dishwasher, 12 square inches of countertop, a four-burner gas stove that’s about 50 degrees off, and a microwave lightning machine that rattles when it gets to hot and literally lights up inside with fiery white bolts of energy (yeah, we should get that checked out).
Given the conditions and my limited experience cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to do what any good New Yorker does in times of culinary crisis: have someone else do the cooking. We ordered a “pre-cooked” bird online from Whole Foods and picked it up Thanksgiving eve, along with cheese (didn’t want to chance a riot by depriving the Frenchies of a meal without their national food) and ingredients to make homemade cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
When we got home that night I got to making the latter two. Turns out cranberry sauce is harder than I thought – even though it only requires boiling the berries with water and sugar, I bought two different sizes of cranberry packages but followed the instructions for just one of them, so the result was a bit overly sweet and watery (I got lucky – cranberries aren’t really grown outside of the US, so no one at our dinner table knew any better). The pies, on the other hand, turned out perfect – gooey and with just the right amount of spice and sweet, even though I had to improvise with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in place of pumpkin pie spice (I got lucky, improvising usually doesn’t work out too well when you’re baking).
My biggest fear was our Thanksgiving turkey, which needed to be oven-heated for two hours before it would be ready to eat. At 12 pounds it was going to be a tough fit in our pint-sized oven: its foil pan only fit in one direction…and then only when we folded up the sides. But in the end, it fit!
I have to admit I was proud we started preparations for our feast the night before, because we avoided my usual last-minute panic to prepare (the last time I hosted a “formal” event at our apartment – book club for a few girlfriends over the summer – I decided the apartment needed a scrub-down after I got home at 6:30 but before the guests came over at 8, which resulted in answering the door with fat sweat stains down my back and the first guest setting out most of the food for me while I scrambled to finish wiping down the bathroom sink).
This time the timing was just right. As our friends arrived we drank wine, munched on crackers, cheese, mixed nuts, and olives, and talked. Guests commented on our artwork and instruments (all Olivier…though he works in finance he’s always singing or painting or coding on the weekends). We laughed about how Frenchies ruin Thanksgiving for Americans living abroad. You can’t buy cranberries or stuffing in Paris. A friend accidentally ordered a GIANT 12-kilo (that’s ~30 pounds!) turkey when she meant to order 12 pounds, and when she couldn’t even fit it in the oven the typically French grocer refused to let her return it. Another friend asked the butcher to stuff her turkey and ended up with one filled with foie gras that set her back several hundred Euros. Then in a couple of hours we sat down to dinner:
Yep, that’s a piano bench and two fold-out chairs. But despite our inept space and the roaring steam heaters drowning out parts of the conversation, we still popped champagne and stuffed our faces with turkey, potatoes, and pie. And even though I did miss my family, it will probably remain one of my most vivid memories of Thanksgiving for life.