Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving: a Holiday So Nice We Celebrated Twice

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday.  Despite being an American celebration, it has managed retain its traditional meaning without accumulating a thick crust of commercialism.  It's that rare breed of holiday where you get together with family and friends, reflect on what you are thankful for, eat WAY too much food, and maybe watch a parade or football on TV.  But you don't feel compelled to send cards, exchange gifts, decorate your house, or even buy anything other than groceries for your Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving is also one of the most difficult times to be an American in London.  First off, it's not a holiday here, so you don't get 2 or more days off work to travel/cook/recover. And, you're thousands of miles away from the people you usually celebrate Thanksgiving with.  If you decide you still want to cook a traditional meal, many of the ingredients are hard to find or fiendishly expensive.  There are enough Americans in London that many specialty foods stores will stock things like canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce, and even those cans of Durkee fried onions at this time of year, but a turkey can cost upwards of $100, and has to be special ordered as most places don't sell them until Christmas.  Oh, and make sure it's not TOO big, or it won't fit in your tiny British refrigerator or oven.  Add the fact that it's pitch dark by 4 pm at this time of year, and I can see why many Americans go back to the US for Thanksgiving -- and often don't return until January.

But not us.  Since we are going home for Christmas, we decided to stick around for Thanksgiving.  Our friends Bethie and Jason invited us over for a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, but Josh and I still wanted to do something festive on Thursday, even though he had to work.  I got all the ingredients to make a pumpkin pie for dessert and invited my neighbor Anna's family over for pie that evening.  I briefly explained that it was an American holiday where we traditionally have a big turkey dinner and various side dishes and desserts that we rarely eat any other time of year.  As I mentioned before, she is from New Zealand and her husband is Australian (and they are both of Chinese origin), so they were not familiar with Thanksgiving, nor had they ever had pumpkin pie before.  Anna thought it sounded like fun, and took it a step further.  She offered to roast a chicken and some veggies and bring them over for dinner, since she thought her kids would enjoy eating at our house.  Even better!

So, Thursday afternoon I got to work on the pie.  It was a bit more complicated than I expected as it is a bit challenging to translate American recipes to work in a British kitchen, and vice versa.  The evaporated milk came in 170g cans, so it took some Internet research (and math) to figure out how many I needed if the recipe called for 12 ounces.  And the oven temperatures here are in Celsius, which is further complicated by our fan-assisted (convection) oven, which I learned requires adjusting both the temperature and the cooking time, so you can't just convert from Fahrenheit.  Nevertheless, the end result was a pretty decent looking pie!
Homemade pumpkin pie!
I also made oven-roasted butternut squash from a Barefoot Contessa recipe I found online.  Everyone was a bit late for dinner thanks to a Christmas parade in Wimbledon that evening.  Josh ended up in the front of it on his bike, and waved to the crowd as they cheered him on.  Anna got stuck behind it after picking her daughter up from a netball game.  (What's netball?  She says its similar to basketball, but you can't move with the ball, you can only pass it to another player.)  But when our neighbors did show up, their arms were laden with quite a feast!  Roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, roasted root vegetables, carrots, broccoli, and sugar snap peas.  Add the butternut squash and a bottle of wine, and it was the closest thing to a Thanksgiving dinner we could have hoped for. 

We did our best to explain the origins of Thanksgiving to our Kiwi/Aussie/Chinese/British neighbors -- which was a bit comical -- and went around the table to say what we were thankful for.  Josh started by saying he was thankful we had such friendly and helpful neighbors.  I seconded that and said I was also thankful for the Internet, which not only keeps me connected with my friends and family, but helped me figure out how to find ingredients for and make the pie and squash.  Our neighbors' 8-year-old son said he was thankful for his mum for giving him life, while their 12-year-old daughter said she was thankful for socks.

That definitely got is into the Thanksgiving spirit, so we were excited to celebrate again with our friends Bethie and Jason on Saturday.  They invited us to come over early to watch Thursday's football games, which they streamed online from Jason's laptop onto the TV.  Since they cut out all the commercials, we were able to zip through three games before dinner!  In honor of Charlie Brown, we brought popcorn and jelly beans to snack on, along with some California wines.
Watching football while Jason cooks
Since none of us are huge football fans, we were much more entertained by baby Charlotte, who performed a lovely duet of "If You're Happy and You Know It" with her mom, who is a professional singer.
She's happy and she knows it!
We were joined later in the day by several other Americans, including neighbor Mary and her baby daughter Emily, our new friends Ben & Katie, and musicians John and Andrew, with whom Bethie has performed.  We were curious how Jason and Bethie were going to accommodate all of us for dinner, since their dining table only seats 4 people.  We were assuming we'd just eat with our plates in our laps, but Bethie came up with a much more elegant solution.  Using a piece of plywood that she and Mary carried a mile on their heads (no one has a car here!), she converted their sofa into a dining table.
This sofa converts into a bed AND a dining table!
Charlotte and Emily supervise
Once it was set up, it was just the right size for all 9 adults and 2 babies to sit around it comfortably -- on the floor, of course.
Emily decorates the table with her Thanksgiving bib
Despite having an even smaller kitchen than ours, Jason and Bethie cooked up a magnificent feast -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and green bean casserole -- with pumpkin and walnut/pecan pies and a pumpkin roll (by Mary) for dessert.  I couldn't tear myself away from the fantastic food and company to take any photos of dinner, but Bethie has a few good ones on her blog.

Afterwards, John played the piano (in harpsichord mode) while Bethie sang a piece from the Messiah.  It was a bit like a scene out of a Jane Austen novel, except it was an electric piano... and, well, everything else was probably different, too.  A good time was had by all.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for adventures with Josh, good neighbors, new friends, and, of course, the Internet.

1 comment:

  1. Creating memories--that's for sure! WIshing you wonderful holidays ahead!


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