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November 22, 2010

Francegiving 2010: The Turkey's Revenge

Last week I asked my students if they knew what was happening in America this Thursday. Blank stares. It's a big holiday, I hinted. Nothing. It's a big holiday that happens in America but not France, I said. Eyes glazed over. "It's Thanksgiving!" I stage-whispered. A light bulb went on over some students' heads, who turned to explain it to their still-confused comrades. "C'est Noel pour les américaines," they said. "Tout le monde reçoit des cadeaux." (It's Christmas for Americans. Everyone gets presents.) Where they are getting this idea, I do not know.

My favorite muggle Missy and I decided it was high time to show the Frenchies what Thanksgiving was really about. We planned a grand feast, and invited all our Burgundian BFFs: Suzanne and Christian; Baptiste, Bonus Jonas, and their parents; and Thomas, an English teacher at Missy's school.

Decorating tools at our disposal: seven sheets of construction paper, one black gel ink pen, and a pair of children's left-handed scissors. All things considered, I think the turkey turned out pretty well, despite his unfortunate feet and lack of gobble.

Missy arrived on Saturday so we could start plotting the next day's feast. After getting the necessary preparations out of the way (a viewing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, natch), we set out in the drizzle for LeClerc, a supermarket 30 minutes away, on foot. We spent more than an hour finding and considering the most succulent ingredients known to Digoin. Whole turkeys wouldn't be available until December for Christmas, so we had to make do with turkey legs. It was just as well, really, since the size of my oven is better suited for elves than human beings.

By the time we had finished amassing all our other ingredients (50 kilos' worth, give or take a few grams), it had begun to rain in earnest, and the prospect of lugging all our loot back to the lycée was thoroughly unappetizing. We resorted to accosting patrons leaving the building, pleading with them to take pity on our feeble selves and ferry us home. One kindly gentleman at last relented. I've said it before and I'll say it again: God bless Diggy and all her lovely, non-serial killer, ride-giving inhabitants.

Our table may have had mismatching plates and a rather ridiculous clementine pyramid as centerpiece, but at least it had what was really important: wine.

We got up early yesterday to gather a few remaining items (such as scissors and construction paper for decorations), and then set to work cooking. We had to get a bit creative, as my kitchen here isn't home to the luxurious gadgets I'm used to in the States. In lieu of a masher, we overboiled the potatoes and used a pair of forks to get our mashed potatoes nice and creamy. Since we didn't possess a roasting pan or even a baking dish, we had to divide our turkey legs among three metal pans and constantly rotate them through the two oven racks to ensure even cooking. We didn't have tongs to flip the turkey, so we made do with half a plastic salad tosser and a slotted spoon-type instrument. We didn't have a beautiful cornucopia for a centerpiece, so we made a tower of clementines.

Our guests started to arrive at the all-American dinner time of 6 p.m., and since I don't have a sitting room they were forced to congregate awkwardly in my entrance hall as Missy and I made the finishing touches. They brought me not one, not two, but three bottles of champagne, some homemade crème de cassis, a bottle of Burgundy, and luscious chocolates. Nom.

This little elf oven is where all the magic happened.
With the call of "A table!" we ushered our friends into the dining room, and urged them to serve themselves, American-style. There wasn't a whole lot of room on the tiny plates for anything but the massive turkey leg, meaning we had quite a bit of leftovers. Over the delicious pear cake that Thomas brought, we went around the room and said what we were thankful for. My French was at a dastardly level all evening due to my nerves (mainly fear that the turkey was undercooked and I was going to kill everyone with salmonella), and I was feeling a bit emotional after the Burgundy and the champagne, but I managed to make it through my thanks for my family, friends, the health of the same, having such wonderful faces around my table, and the opportunity to be in La Belle France. A bit more heartfelt than last year's thanks for indoor plumbing and the fact that I'm a vertebrate.

Suzanne was thankful for Facebook, which had brought us together. Bonus Jonas was thankful for his intelligence. Baptiste was shy and said his thanks in English so half the table wouldn't understand: "I am thankful to be feasting my first Thanksgiving, and I hope to feast Thanksgiving next year in the United States." 

Missy et moi, Francegiving hôtesses extraordinaires
And with that, Father Thanksgiving swooped through the water heater and showered us all with maize and French's onion topping.

PS: My Thanksgiving care package from the 'rents was held up at customs and thus is arriving today, a wee bit late for my feast. If anyone has any ideas of what, besides sauce, I can make with a gigantic bag of cranberries I'm all ears.


    Categories: Cakes
    Yield: 16 Servings

    2 3/4 c Sugar
    1 1/2 c Butter; room temp
    1 ts Vanilla extract
    1 ts Grated orange rind
    6 Eggs
    3 c Flour
    1 ts Baking powder
    1/2 ts Salt
    1 pk (8 ozs) sour cream
    1 1/2 c Fresh or frozen cranberries;
    - chopped (do not thaw)

    1 c Sugar
    1 tb Flour
    1/2 c Half-and-half
    1/2 c Butter, melted
    4 ts Light rum, or
    - 1/4 tsp rum extract

    1. For cake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and lightly flour
    12-cup fluted tube pan; set aside.

    2. Beat sugar and butter in large bowl of electric mixer until light and
    fluffy. Add vanilla and orange rind. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well
    after each addition.

    3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Add flour mixture
    to egg batter alternately with sour cream, beating well after each
    addition. Gently stir in cranberries; pour batter into prepared pan.

    4. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 65 to 75
    minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes; invert cake onto serving plate and remove
    from pan.

    5. While cake is cooling, make the sauce. Combine sugar and flour in small
    saucepan. Stir in half-and-half and butter. Cook over medium heat until
    thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in rum.
    Serve warm sauce over cake.

    From Helen Aiello, Milwaukee. Chicago Tribune 6/9/94.

  2. Cranberries are amazing in baked goods; scones, coffee cake, pie. Just make sure to include a sweeter fruit like orange to balance the flavor.