Perfecting Thanksgiving


I’m pretty sure they were photographing the wine

It’s been eight Thanksgivings since I purged my turkey roaster, sold my double oven and threw in the house as part of the deal. Thanksgiving stopped being my headache. As a matter of fact, it stopped being anything at all.

Thanksgiving became a work day. It’s a day Europeans don’t understand, but why should they? My Thanksgiving is a uniquely American affair. The smells. The tastes. The heartbreak of the Detroit Lions.

My Thanksgiving is my 100-year-old great-grandmother toddling through our back door, clutching her homemade oyster stuffing and mincemeat pie.

It’s my father-in-law, Skippy, mixing up a vat of braunschweiger (a liverwurst concoction whose secret ingredients–thankfully–died with him).

It’s my grandmother forgetting to pick up her pre-ordered turkey. That year we scrounged around until we found a canned ham–plus a chicken from a butcher willing to open his shop on Thanksgiving morning for his former kindergarten teacher. My grandmother.

How can I recreate this? How can I not recreate this? Slowly, my Thanksgiving mo-jo has returned.

It started in Budapest in 2014. My friend Abe plopped a sack on the table between us at a coffee shop. “That’s for you from my dad. It’s a goat leg.”

What do you say to the gift of a goat leg?

You say, “Thank you.”

I stuffed it in the fridge and warned Pat that we’d be eating goat leg one night soon. Then it hit me–Thanksgiving reincarnate.

I would take the day off. Spend it in the kitchen. Roast a goat leg with all the traditional Thanksgiving sides: cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie. The week before Thanksgiving, I would search for those sides. And search some more.

Thanksgiving evening, Pat and I sat at our table. Alone. As we feasted, we counted our blessings. I recalled meeting Abe’s father, Zoltan. The event was a pig killing on a farm in Komárom, Hungary. As I frantically searched for a greeting from my ten words of Hungarian, Zoltan jumped from his car and wrapped me in a bear hug.

Words are so overrated.

The next year, we returned to the US for a blow-out family affair.

In 2016, we celebrated in Barcelona on our way to Paris to sign our lease. I’m still thankful for that year.

Last year, our son Ryan met us in Morocco. How can parents not be thankful for that? (Ryan too gave thanks, when two weeks and 10 pounds later his intestinal distress subsided.)

This year, I considered how to recast our celebration–our first Thanksgiving in Paris.

Our vendors on Rue Oberkampf would play leading roles, bien sûr: The cheese man selected his most celebratory cheese, a Mont d’Or, and instructed me how to cook it infused with garlic and white wine. Bouba roasted a turkey, promising “It will be perfect.” He didn’t lie. The wine man selected something that would flawlessly pair–and it did.

Our neighbors, Mark and Mary, joined us. Mark made a traditional chestnut stuffing. Mary brought an apple tart from a wonderful bakery (because seriously, when you live in Paris, why would anyone bake dessert? And what’s more American than apple pie?)

Alain Ducasse chocolates. An extortionist’s cranberry sauce. Add a baguette, and it’s culinary magic.

We sat around the table for a few hours: Eating. Talking. Debating. Reminiscing. It was American. It was French. It was everything I had wanted from my Thanksgiving. Afterwards, we joined American families everywhere as we recounted our thanks:

-Good neighbors

-Vendors who share our passion for food

-The humble baguette

-Our life on Rue Ternaux


The view from our kitchen window




Categories: Life in Paris

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6 replies

  1. Great read, Julie!

  2. Recalling our overseas Thanksgiving in Cyprus several years ago with a few fellow American ex-pats, plus a Brit or two thrown in for good measure. It was memorable, too. Somehow I made an apple pie despite no food processor to do its magic on a crust. The hosts found turkey from somewhere. ( who knows where it came from?) The fellowship was the thing. Thanks for reminding me.

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