Thanksgiving, Franglish-style

Warning: This is a long blog post. Be prepared before you commit to reading it.

Okay, I’ve been in France for Thanksgiving once before when I studied abroad in Paris. In a sad attempt at defiance, my fellow American -in-Paris and I decided to be super untraditional and have sushi. The result was disappointing (sushi in France is never the greatest idea, unless you’re willing to cough up quite a few euros), and we were both nostalgic for turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing, potatoes and all the trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving. So, there was no messing around this year: I messaged all of my fellow American friends here in Rennes before Halloween, a whole month in advance. I offered to host, and we rallied together to figure out who was going to make what. I assigned myself to the turkey and gravy, and I didn’t waste any time starting the research. I know that the French aren’t big on turkey, and that it would therefore be difficult to find une dinde entière (a whole turkey).

I figured the best place to start was the marchée de plein air (open-air market), where there are always hordes of bouchers (butchers) touting their wares. I managed to find someone who has a farm right outside Rennes with turkeys that are élevé en plein air (the French equivalent of grass-fed and finished). The quoted price was no laughing matter (13 euro per kg!),  but beggars can’t be choosers, and I loved the idea of a happy turkey!

We had decided to celebrate Thanksgiving the Saturday after, as we all had to work on Thursday and Friday: being a Francophile demands sacrifice sometimes!  On Friday, I found my boucher at the market (conveniently located in my school’s parking lot) and he proudly pointed to the giant bird he had set aside for me. Quelle beauté! A whopping 5 kilograms with a price tag of 70 euros! He informed me that he had killed the bird himself that morning (and indeed, it still had feathers on it), and inquired whether I would like the head left on. I said no, and then whack, his giant butcher’s knife removed the offending specimen. He packed the giblets inside for me, gave me a giant chunk of his specialty pâté, on the house, and wished me bonne chance!

I had found my turkey recipe through my favorite food podcast, Splendid Table (if you don’t listen to this, then you should: Lynne Rossetto Kasper is a culinary goddess, who I am convinced knows everything). I chose a simple, straightforward recipe, as this was my first time cooking a giant bird solo. I got started on the recipe the night before by making giblet broth for the graving, and stuffing the turkey cavity  and skin full of lemon and bunches of fresh herbs. I went to sleep that night with the smell of the broth encompassing me, making me hungry for a dinner that wasn’t to arrive until the next night.

On Saturday, we were all running around all day. Everyone had trouble locating certain ingredients (brown sugar, cranberries, etc.) and we were all shuttling ovens and supplies back in forth from one apartment to the next. Finally, the real cooking started chez Seth, my one friend here who has an oven big enough to fit the turkey. The cooking involved vodka, whiskey, and a lot of laughing. Needless to say, things ran a little bit behind schedule….But, the bird was finally underway, and after seeing it through its most difficult stages, I was off to chez moi to play hostess…

Finally, at about 8:30 I got home to my house to set up, and welcome arriving guests (most of whom needed to use my oven as few of us here are lucky enough to have one). This resulted in some cramped and comical cooking conditions. We had to get creative….

At around 9:30, the aperitifs and hors d’oeurves portion of the night was well under way, my gravy was reducing, and everything was getting reheated (somehow). No one was too worried about when all of the food would be ready as we had heaps of bread, cheese, and pâté to keep us occupied. Comme fromage,  we had morbier, that beautiful specimen of a cheese that is distinguished by the line of ash that runs through the middle. Our friend Amelia explained to us that night that the ash marks the break between the morning and afternoon milkings. We also had brie covered in fig jam wrapped lovingly in puff pastry by my friend Emma.

And, bien sur, there was plenty of wine to keep us company as we waited…

The cooked turkey arrived (after having been carried across centre-ville by Seth and my friend Carolyn). The guest of honor was placed on my bedside table, as there wasn’t room anywhere else in my tiny apartment what with the 11 bodies and the massive quantity of food and wine.

As the time to dig in got nearer, we began prepping the turkey for it’s doom: Seth retrieved the stuffing (can you believe this was the first time I experienced the wonders of wet stuffing!)

Two brave souls, Lauren and Caitlin tried their hand at carving…

Finalement, it all came together: the turkey was carved, we said bon appétit and we tucked in. Voici, the spread…

And the finished product…

The plates were emptied at the speed of light, and then there were seconds all around. I also collected “donations” for the turkey fund, as our beautiful little bird was not cheap.

After a gargantuan amount of food, and a long break, we bravely tackled dessert...

And then it was time for a nap…

And that brings us to the end of the story of a fabulous Thanksgiving, where Franglish was the official language, and food was the chosen religion.

Stay tuned for news of the Marché de Noël that has just opened up in the square by my apartment…

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11 Responses to Thanksgiving, Franglish-style

  1. It may well be the first time you have had wet stuffing as the primary cooks in your family know that a.) stuffing should be dry and spiked with a shit ton of apricots and nuts and b.) stuffing a turkey with dry things sucks up the juices, leaving less for gravy and more importantly drying out the turkey. Turkey is barely edible when it is wet and juicy let alone if it drys out or overcooks.

    That said, three cheers for new things and experimentation. I liked our Thanksgiving of tapas and wine in Hawaii but it seems like you kids had a pretty damn good time.

    Cheers!

  2. Peter Harper says:

    You – the farthest flung of the McCarters – are the only person in your immediate family who actually had turkey for thanksgiving. A true patriot! We had seafood gumbo here in Brooklyn. I actually felt a little closer to our forefathers/foremothers (FOFAs and FOMOs to those in the know) after reading the NY Times piece about the likelihood that eels were served at the first thanksgiving (a fascinating piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/opinion/25prosek.html?scp=1&sq=eel%20thanksgiving&st=cse ). We’re looking forward to flouting and/or upholding christmas traditions with you in less than three weeks! Eel ravioli anyone?

  3. mac mccarter says:

    Well I finally found time to read your blog and I have one thing to say: ” you are one talented, sweet, and adventurous daughter”.
    Loved the photos and how everyone was smiling as the slept. Can’t wait to see you.

    Love,

    pb

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