Saturday, November 30, 2013

An expat Thanksgiving...times two

For Americans, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with those who are special and to be thankful, of course. Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday and besides Christmas, it's when most* US stores and businesses are closed so people can spend time with family and friends.

This is the second time in my life when I've been thousands of miles away from my family for Thanksgiving. The first time, I was a student in a suburb of London (England). I spent the evening with two of my friends, who also happened to be American. We took the train to London and ate dinner at Cheers (yes, it's based on the show!). As we walked through the park and to Buckingham Palace after dinner, I called my family to wish them a happy holiday. It was a neat experience.

That was thirteen years ago. I now live in Germany and faced another Thanksgiving far from my hometown. It was not a lonely Thanksgiving, though; thanks to the connection that expats feel and to my friend's kindness, a bunch of us gathered at her place for a lovely meal on Thursday evening. We had a late dinner since only the two Americans had the day off. It was to be quite an international event, with Americans (just two of us), friends originally from the UK (the largest group there, strangely enough, and I teased them that we had this holiday because the Pilgrims had been trying to get away from their forefathers), a Romanian, and some Germans. It was really fun to share our holiday with them.

In the wonderful way that merging social circles goes, my friends from town were also invited along. My two groups of friends met through a party at my place and then at subsequent events.  We left for Heidelberg a bit early and dropped off the pies that I made (more to follow about them in a future entry!) and some of ingredients for the other dishes I was going to prepare. Then, we headed to downtown Heidelberg to take a peek at the Christmas market. It hadn't officially opened yet but the booths were open, regardless. It was very pleasant to wander through them and not have to fight crowds.

Since it was going to be a few hours yet before dinner and I hadn't eaten much all day, I grabbed an ice cream cone from Gelato Go. It was quite cold out so it makes total sense to eat something even colder, huh? I don't always make the wisest choices in this regard but I didn't care because the ice cream was delicious! I ordered a scoop of marizpan (I think) and a scoop of Spekulatius, which had bits of chopped cookie of the same name. I forgot how huge the scoops of ice cream are there so I had quite a bit to eat! Some people complain about the price for the ice cream (mine was 2,20 euro for the two scoops) but I don't think that the prices are bad considering how much they give per scoop and that their offerings are organic. There are even vegan offerings!

We walked around a bit more and I did some scouting for the upcoming trip that I'll be taking there with my cousins, who will be visiting from the US in December. It was then time to head back for the dinner.

In addition to the pies I made, I prepared green bean casserole (which I personally detest, but it's such a typical dish that I felt that I needed to make it or else I'd be denying my Midwestern roots). I also made a dish of seared brussels sprouts with gorgonzola, pecans, and cranberries from this recipe. If I were to do it over, I'd probably bake or steam the sprouts first, then sear them in a pan, adding the cranberries almost at the end. I felt that they were slightly bitter since they didn't cook as much. The cranberries split open so that's why I'd add them later. It was a tasty dish, nonetheless, and I wouldn't mind adding it to my painfully slowly expanding repertoire of things I cook for events.

This was our hostess's first time cooking a turkey. She made a gourmet turkey, taking the time to prepare it in a brine. I don't usually eat meat, myself, but I took a small bite and it was quite nice, flavorful and moist. The meat eaters raved about it.

As we sat down to eat, I told the guests that we had to do our very special and typical American Thanksgiving ritual: a special prayer, okay even for the nonbelievers. We even taught the guests the super important hand gestures too. It went as follows: rub a dub dub (rubbing one's belly); thanks for the grub (holding hand out); yea god (doing jazz hands). I wish I could have had a video of this.

We then commenced to eat way too much and it was entirely delicious! Our hostess made a wonderful meal, pulling out all the stops with homemade cranberry relish, cornmeal stuffing, mashed potatoes with bacon (for which I will always make an amendment to my usual disinterest in eating meat), homemade cornbread muffins with bacon and sundried tomatoes, a lovely salad, my side dishes, and for dessert, a cheesecake she made and my pies (pumpkin and apple).

The company was lovely and the food delicious. My friends commented that they didn't that they have ever been so full before! Just before midnight, the three of us who live in Kaiserslautern waddled back to the train station to go home. I was in bed by 2 a.m. It's funny because the last time I celebrated Thanksgiving abroad, I was out really late too. In the US, I'm usually in bed by 10 p.m. after Thanksgiving festivities, probably because of the food coma.

The fun doesn't stop here, though. Another friend invited me to his Thanksgiving celebration, which will be today. Most of the other guests are Germans so it made sense to have it on a day that they wouldn't be working or in school. I purposefully didn't eat much on Friday because I needed a break in between two days of feasts. I must say, though, that I feel lucky to have such great company :)

*too bad it's not all of them! This is an example of where the US can really take an example from the Germans and allow everyone to celebrate holidays with their families instead serving corporate greed.

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