Thursday, November 15, 2012

Expat Thanksgiving – or, our first dinner party in the house

It's that time of year when every American starts thinking about turkey, stuffing, and football – though if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, it may not be in that order. Personally, I used to hate Thanksgiving: I didn't like starchy orange vegetables, I hated football, and with my small family the holiday felt like a cheap, orange version of Christmas with less decorations and no snow. Fast forward 15 years and I'm living in London where you pay out the nose for a can of Libby's Pumpkin (£1.39 a can!) and the butcher rolls his eyes when you ask for a turkey killed a month early. But creating my own Thanksgiving traditions is pretty amazing, especially as The Irishman has gotten into the Thanksgiving cooking spirit with me, and I'm really enjoying cooking and hosting expat Thanksgiving meals and introducing the holiday to curious Brits.

Last weekend I had a close friend visiting from Chicago so we decided to hold an expat Thanksgiving while she was in town. It was our first dinner party in our new house, so it was always going to be pretty special. I went all out with decorations and cooking, particularly in the purchase of this amazing platter from a thrift store:

We went to town with the table settings, using a cored butternut squash as a vase for some autumnal flowers. The Irishman found the idea on The Kitchn, and it looked great with two little squashes as a natural centerpiece. We left the table rustic, as I love my farmhouse table and didn't want to cover it, but I ordered those brass leaf candle holders on Ebay from a seller in the US to get some authentic harvest vibe going.

My friend helpfully made personalised name cards from a magazine, so each person got a different texture. It turned out really special and actually really appropriate for each person – they were a big hit.

I ventured out of my comfort zone to make my first pumpkin pie; it was a true collaboration as The Irishman made the shortcrust pastry and neither of us had actually ever made a pie before. So the crust isn't that great but overall it was very tasty.

Of course we had a bird – a 5.685kg turkey that took nearly 5 hours to roast. But it was worth every overpriced penny as the butchers had prepared it perfectly for us and it yielded one of the tastiest gravies I've ever had.

Our menu was pretty standard overall, with standard American recipes from my favorite cooking links:
Chestnut stuffing
Mashed potatoes
Brussel sprouts and pancetta
Sweet potato biscuits (full disclosure: I am embarrassed to say I enjoyed a Paula Deen recipe)
Cranberry sauce

My American guests contributed acorn squash and pumpkin barley salad, which rounded out the meal and made it a really lovely potluck affair.

I'm doing another Thanksgiving meal next weekend for Brits, so I think I might change up the stuffing and the cranberry sauce. The New York Times is doing this brilliant Thanksgiving Help Line feature that's inspired me to try a few new things.

Tell me, expats: where will you celebrate Thanksgiving? What will you serve? Can you get turkeys easily? And Americans: what are your favorite recipes and traditions?


  1. Wow - your table looks great; love that squash/vase. I am now inspired. As a Brit in the USA, I'm not allowed to meddle with Thanksgiving, so my (southern) husband gets going with the cornbread stuffing etc. He also brines our turkeys and let me tell you, they are the best I've ever tasted. Well worth a try.
    And I'm SO pleased to see no mention of that bloody awful green bean casserole LOL.

  2. your vase is fantastic! Love that. yay.

    also I really like your candlesticks.

    ahah - trust me not to focus on the "thanksgiving" aspect and to only notice the THINGS! but they are nice things :)

  3. Hahaha, it's okay - you're allowed to like the things; you didn't taste the food so you can't really comment on that, can you?

  4. Ugh. Green bean casserole is pretty nasty. Don't subject your guests to it, please. I do share your hubby's rule about non-American involvement in the meal prep; The Irishman is only allowed to make mashed potatoes, gravy, and carve the turkey. Nothing else – his genes disqualify him.

  5. What a beautiful spread, I love that plate! I dropped the ball on Canadian Thanksgiving this year but I think I will make an effort. This is getting me primed for Christmas now.

  6. Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays while we were in London because it brought us together with a handful of other "orphaned expats" and we felt like it was our special day, a secret holiday no one else in London knew about yet. Even though I am happy to be near family this week, I often remarked that celebrating while in London made us even more thankful.