Two months into a new country and two weeks into a new apartment didn't seem to me the best time to plan a complicated dinner for friends unfamiliar with the American tradition of Thanksgiving. For one thing, finding a turkey, dinde in French, isn't just a simple matter of dropping by the nearest Carrefour and picking out a nice Butterball, or Boule de Beurre here, I guess. In fact, except for the potatoes, regular and sweet, all the ingredients were a challenge for Cynthia. But she was determined, obsessed might be more like it, to pull this off and took it as a challenge, a scavenger hunt. My attitude was a bit more laissez faire, so together we made one normal person.
The internet is loaded with stories by expat Americans on their experiences and suggestions for doing Thanksgiving here - where to find this, what to substitute for that and if you positively have to have Karo syrup it's going to cost you. In fact it's all going to cost you. When you come right down to it, for all the average Frenchman knows, we could have told them the Pilgrims whipped up something remarkably like coq au vin to thank the Wampanoags for showing them how to grow lentille verte de Puy (I don't know what it is, either - just that it's something French people eat). But Joëlle and Alain, our friends here in Bordeaux, had been to our place in St. Pete last year and experienced the gorging first hand so, no, there had to be turkey and cranberries.
Since Cynthia doesn't care for it, making the pumpkin pie had always been my job. However, here there is no pre-mixed canned pumpkin pie filling and about 6 different ready-made pie crusts so, after researching how to make it from scratch, I decided I could do without pumpkin pie this year.
Discussions, or rather monologues since I didn't have much to contribute, on doing Thanksgiving started right after we hit town and about 2 weeks before the holiday, we started the food quest at the Marché des Capucins, a covered market in the heart of Bordeaux. It sits on a one square block plaza and inside are butchers, bakers, fishmongers, vegetable and fruit vendors and a couple of little cafés, all run by entrepreneurs. The building is surrounded on the outside mainly by cheap clothing and household good vendors and a marché has existed on this spot, in one form or other, continuously since 1797. Places like this used to be common in the U.S but the last one I remember was the old North Side Market in Pittsburgh and it's been gone since 1965.
Nobody eats turkey here except at Christmas but Cynthia had no problem finding a guy she liked who'd be happy to one sell us. one Buying anything here by weight always sounds you're making a drug deal so when Richard the turkey guy (I'm getting tired of having to look up what everything's called in French) suggested 5 kilos would be about right, it sounded like something we were going to have to pick up from a locker at the bus station. This package, however, could be retrieved right here in broad daylight the day before Thanksgiving.
There's an Ocean Spray commercial on TV here featuring a couple of Quebecois knee-deep in a cranberry bog so you'd think somebody wanting to order the real thing wouldn't raise any eyebrows. But nobody at Capucins had them and weren't sure they could get any. Cynthia finally ran down a guy who runs the neatest, cleanest produce store I've ever seen right down the street from us and was happy to get them but did ask, "What do you use these for?"
Our guests for Thanksgiving were going to be Joëlle and Alain plus their friend Dominique and his wife Fabienne. Dominique runs the local Aston Martin dealership so we were a little nervous, despite Joëlle's assurances that they were just regular people. At least I didn't have to worry about him trying to sell me a car. And the final menu ended up being turkey and stuffing, brussel sprouts and bacon, sweet potatoes, cranberries, a nice pear and raspberry salad, rice (mashed potatoes complicated things) and for desert, what Cynthia described as some apple-pecan-pie-muffin things. Oh, and we asked Alain to bring wine since I was afraid of picking and knew he wouldn't bring the French equivalent of MD 20/20.
The evening turned out to be what we'd hoped for - everyone seemed to have a good time and none of our guests gagged or puked. And despite being the only non-French speaker in the room, I was occasionally able to drop in a well-placed bon mot when I actually had some vague idea of what was being said. In keeping with tradition we cooked enough to feed half of Bordeaux, however nobody accepted having leftovers foisted on them so Cynthia and I will have the chance to relive this feast for a while. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by for dinde avec cranberry - there's plenty.