Meredith’s Outtakes: Thanksgiving as an Expat

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Thankgiving: Mexican-style

I’ve hosted Thanksgiving in four different countries now. My inaugural attempt was shortly after I’d graduated from University; while living in Mexico, I was determined to give my newfound boyfriend and friends a muy auténtico feast. After venturing down dark alleys to find Martha Stewart-approved ingredients (shitake mushroom stuffing was her sadistic ‘must-have’ in 2000), I retreated to the closest American border town.

Crossing the American-Mexican border with large sandwich bags of various dried poultry herbs is not something I recommend for the faint of heart.

Our oven was the size of a Lean-Cuisine so the bird had to be cooked on a makeshift brick bbq; predictably, this was a disaster. Whilst my effort was appreciated, the bird was not and we ended up waving the proverbial white flag with purchases of tamales from the local taquería. My sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping was so successful, however, that it provoked a serious debate amongst my guests about whether it was a dessert or a side dish. Mind, this was after copious amounts of tequila had been consumed, but still…

The London Edition

My maiden Thanksgiving feast in London was marginally more successful but did require petitioning my village butcher two weeks in advance for a turkey. You see, in England, they are slackers. Their turkeys don’t show up until a week or two before Christmas. After strident questioning as to why I needed a turkey a whole month before the birds were ready to don their gay apparel (my words, not the butchers), an extensive telephone conversation ensued between the butcher and the farmer about this outlandish request (with much laughing and shaking of heads about crazy Americans).

Finally, I was told I’d need to pay £50 as a downpayment and was expected to pay the rest upon collection. Downpayment?! The British bird ended up costing nearly $200 and showed up with rather large feet still intact.
Finally, I was told I’d need to pay £50 as a downpayment and was expected to pay the rest upon collection. Downpayment?! The British bird ended up costing nearly $200 and showed up with rather large feet still intact.

It was also sporting some ungainly quills which required me to spend 45 minutes tweezing before giving up and declaring “no one should have to man-scape their food or use a bone-saw before cooking it”.

Each year, I improved upon my Thanksgiving preparation and learned where American necessities could be found and purchased for increasingly outrageous prices: more Harrods and Selfridges Food Hall, less village mom and pop greengrocers.

I also learned that a suitcase with wheels is something of a necessity when trying to bring a rather heavy carcass through the London Underground.

 

Sourcing Ingredients AKA ‘The Treasure Hunt’

In order to lower the likelihood of failure, I’ve asked anyone and everyone I meet who is either native or close to being native where they buy the fundamental components. While in Luxembourg, I asked my very French friend where she bought her best ingredients for pâte brisée (pie crust) because I’ve really struggled with getting the right flour and she said ‘My dear, I am a working french woman, I buy ready-made dough.’ Exhale. I’ve never made another pie crust again and for that, I am truly grateful. But wait, you want to make pecan pie? Well, I’m sure pecan trees do grow in places other than my mother’s backyard in Texas, but in Luxembourg, you might need to remortgage your house to afford these rather small nuts.

I’m now a bit of a professional nut smuggler.
I’m now a bit of a professional nut smuggler.

Yes. You read correctly, I bring them back from trips to the motherland. The reality is that I’ve probably spent $300 on excess baggage fees but we should move on as my husband might read this. Pumpkin pie? Problems finding canned pumpkin? This year, I found it at the new Home From Home but a few years back, someone suggested I just make my own pumpkin puree! Um, have you ever peeled a pumpkin? I don’t have 27 hours to spend wrestling with a large, potentially-rotten-because-I-bought-it-at-Halloween vegetable. 

 

Keep in mind the nature of the celebration and expect people to be, well, thankful

In the end, what matters is that you have hungry people . It doesn’t matter if your stuffing is from the box and if you paid €100 for it, everyone will appreciate you cooked. If your refrigerator fits neatly under the counter and is smaller than the one you had in your college dorm, no problem! Just borrow space at your Luxembourgish neighbours’ (only be sure to invite them…especially if said neighbour is also your landlord).

Maybe it’s the sweat moustache you worked up while running up and down the street collecting your ingredients or the ankle you sprained due to excessive Crémant guzzling while cooking, but you might even find you feel more American celebrating your holiday abroad than when you were at home. All of a sudden, it feels a bit more sacred; a bit less ordinary.

Just please don’t ask any Brits you’ve invited to go around the table and proclaim what they are thankful for as it makes them extremely uncomfortable.

Photos: “Tom Turkey” by Olin Gilbert / flickr (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)).

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Meredith Moss

Meredith shot to fame at an early age, playing Jesus in her school play. It has been downhill from there. Needing gainful employment, she worked as a television producer in Los Angeles until she met her British husband in a seedy beach bar. An enthusiastic expat, she is a good cook, a bad parker and occasionally terrible mother.

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