Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thanksgiving à La French

So for thanksgiving, unfortunately, I didn't make pilgrim hats and Indian corn wreaths and have my host dad kill a turkey to eat, and retell the entire story of America, but it was nonetheless a great success. We put it off until the first weekend in December though, because I was still trying to find certain ingredients. Thankfully, fate, french substitutes, and the postal service came through.

Mainly, nothing burned, exploded, or died because of measurement conversions. 
I will also thank this site for excellent help. Because it's really not enough to be able to convert ounces to grams and cups to milliliters. You also have to know the density, so thankfully all of my most important ingredients were kindly converted to metric equivalents on this site. And thankfully it showed up on google when I searched "how much does one cup of flour weigh?" Ah, the internet is really, really great.... 

Sorry for those not up to date on vague Broadway references. 

Alright so here was my menu for Thanksgiving--or with the French accent "sanksgeeveens"--with the french translations just for your cultural advancement:  

  • Chicken: Le Poulet So because we were only four, we decided a whole turkey would not be a good idea. (also my host family is adamantly opposed to leftovers, which breaks my heart just about ever meal.) Apart from cutting off the chicken feet and thrusting them in my face, my host dad let me let him do this part of the meal himself. So everything went fine there. 
  • Dad's secret stuffing: La Farce Well for this, I never had enough information to be sure I was doing things right. Along with some personal improvisations, and some mis-communications, it turned out delicious. I was trying to explain that at home we roast the chestnuts and then crack them open to put into the stuffing, but my host mom insisted on her chestnuts-in-can-of-syrup method which is to open a can of chestnuts and drain out the syrup. Which really doesn't make a food that already looks like a human brain any more appetizing. And even after we went to a chestnut festival (next post) where we ate outdoor fire-roasted chestnuts, they didn't get the idea. Oh well. The stuffing turned out great anyway. Despite the offsetting colors below. Don't worry. 
Green bean casserole: Ragoût aux Haricots Verts Was a total success. It's one of those dishes that is impossible to explain beforehand, to a French person. "So you take green beans, pour soup on them, and then bake them with fried onions?" Anyway, because "French's ™" fried onions definitely do not exist in France (they'd be called "freedom fried onions" anyway), my mom thankfully managed to send me a can in the mail, along with my favorite Life is Good t-shirt. Win-win. Anyway, for the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup (also difficult to explain) we were pretty lost. Then my host dad found basically the classy French version of it, Knorr Gourmet Fancy Mushroom Truffle Cream Soup thing in a box. And just like Campbell's is the key to the real recipe, this was the key to my success, because I swear the casserole was waaaaay better than normal.
It's all in the truffles my friends. All in the truffles.
Here's the results of my efforts
  • Yams: Des Patates Douces Somehow my host family had never tried these. They then tried to tell me that they shouldn't be eaten a lot because they can make you fat. Some people. Meanwhile they're happy eating industrial butter replacement with artificial colors. I'm not really sure where to put the emphasis for that one. Anyway, after they tried the yams they were immediately won over. Because they're delicious, duh. Except in France, they're a really off putting green/yellow color on the inside. Not the good old bright orange like I'm used to. But they were really good all the same. 

  • Golden Crescent Rolls: Croissants (no, not the real ones) So this was the one recipe that suffered a little. First of all, quantities for baking are always more specific and more tricky when something with conversions goes awry. First of all, we did a half recipe, which always lends itself to stupid mistakes in fractions. Second of all, my conversions were slightly approximated. So when I had finished adding all the ingredients, the batter was still extremely sticky and liquid. But we had run out of white flour, so I added a good two cups worth of whole wheat flour, which completely changed the texture and taste, and also I think was the reason they never really rose. 
They looked kind of sad... But after baking, they were...
...still not really what I was expecting. But they were delicious, and everybody liked them, which was surprising because they were nothing like the light and buttery rolls I was planning for.  
  • Pumpkin pie: Tarte à la Citrouille For the pie, pretty much everything went as planned, except that it wasn't a pumpkin pie to begin with, because we couldn't find any pumpkins. So instead it was a squash pie (une tarte au potiron).  My host mom, keeping with her habits, would usually use a pre-made pie crust rolled up into a triangular box, but I thankfully didn't need that as a back-up because my pie crust from scratch came out splendid! 
And after that, the filling happened really quickly and easily thanks to this thing called an electric mixer, which was pretty cool.I used that to make whipped cream also. It was pretty fantastic. Watching it go, my arm was getting tired just from my memory of always mixing things by hand. So modern!

And despite the initial skepticism of my French family, they all really enjoyed my Thanksgiving feast. Because imagine just for a moment, the massive coulinery history of France and the inherent mindset that that forces on the French, young and old. They have a right to be proud. However, the cliché of snobbishness is completely true and definitely manifests itself in their constant ridiculing of the British and most other countries because of their food. And of course they discredit American cuisine pretty much simply because McDonald's exists. My host brother kept saying he was just completely confused and surprised about what a real American meal meant. 
 I said to him, what did you expect, a Thankgiving's hamburger? I mean come on. We can cook too! And I would say Thanksgiving, despite all of the variations among family traditions, is about as American as you can get.
And yes, a casserole involving canned soup does sound strange, and yes, potatoes that are sweet do sound strange, and yes it is odd to make a pie out of squash meat, but then again, take a look at real French cuisine I've eaten so far: escargots (check), live oysters (check), smelly cheeses (check), blood sausage (check), everything you can possible imagine with liver (check check). 

The best part about all of this was that I managed to cook all of this by myself for the most part. I love cooking, but I really haven't done much cooking here in France. The thing about my host dad is that nothing is done right unless he does it, and everything is planned out. So that makes it nerve wracking to cook anything just for fun, like I would usually do at home. So this was the first time I had really cooked here (besides a lone cheesecake a while ago). 
What's more, I've always helped out with Thanksgiving back at home, but I normally wouldn't do any of the dishes completely by myself, besides the golden crescents, which were my specialty. But I think the first Thanksgiving away from home is a long held tradition for young traveling Americans. We've all got to grow up sometime, and learn to make stuffing. I'm just glad nobody got hurt or sick. 
Oh and here's the table. 

I imagine if I were on exchange in, say, the mountainous region of Tibet I would have a hard time pulling it off...  However, if Tufts would give be another year off I'd be definitely willing to try it! After this, I'd be willing to put off college for a few more years. 

Oh and one last thing: The day after, my host mom and I drove to this really beautiful spot in the town next door. I wish I had a picture of the road we took, but I was too busy peeing my pants. It was quite a bit narrower than most one laned roads, and was set into the side of the mountain with a precarious cliff on the other side. Oh, and did I mention it was two laned? Anway, at the end of it there was a mine museum on the site of an old mineral mine, and a beautiful walk around the mountain, with gorgeous views. I took plenty (too many) photos and attempted a panoramic picture, which didn't work out because the sea looks the same in all directions. But I'll leave you with just this:

Chestnuts Roasting in a traffic jam from hell
Noel Chez Noel
High School, again


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