Let’s Do Thanksgiving Expat-Style

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Muskat pumpkin

I have blogged extensively on getting through Thanksgiving as an expat (well, extensive by my standards – here and I thought there was one on nutmeg but I can’t find it. Rethinking my use of the word extensive.) Don’t ask my why I feel the need to keep ranting about it every year, but here I am again.

Even though it’s only September I am starting this week getting ready for Thanksgiving.  My pumpkin is cooking in the oven right now.  Not because I’m an overachieving, pre-planning, over-organized addict, but because the stores have pumpkins now.  That’s about how my life works.  Which leads us to step one of HOW TO MAKE A PUMPKIN PIE IN EUROPE:

1. Buy any big orange squash you can find as soon as they appear in the store. DO NOT wait until Thanksgiving. Rookie mistake is to not buy something until you need it. IT WILL NOT BE THERE.  Side note: except do not use the big jack-o-lantern pumpkin.  Most people know that, but I actually tried to make pumpkin pie with these for my first few (ahem. let’s round down to seven) years in Czech Republic. I thought they were stringy and watery because was doing something wrong. I’m so sweet and innocent.  For those of you out there like me, just ignore your friends’ incredulous “You’re an idiot” look when they find out you tried making pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin.  That’s what we get for trying to be logical.

2. Get it home and scour the internet to see what kind of squash/pumpkin you’ve bought. (muskat and hokkaido are the two I have now.)  I read that these two are fine for pies but my own verdict is still out. Although, my opinion really doesn’t matter.  I will still have to take what I can get.  My verdict just helps me decide how much to complain about it.  Here are some links to finding out about what you may have bought.  Muscat, hokkaido, list of pumpkin varieties that wasn’t helpful without pictures.

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Hokkaido pumpkin in the oven

3. Discern that it’s edible.

4. Cook and puree it. (I used method one to cook my pumpkin.)  If you found cheesecloth, strain it. If not, prepare for something that looks nothing like canned pumpkin. You know what, on second thought, prepare for that in any case.

5. Make the pie. You really want to focus on making a stellar crust to deflect from the fact that who knows what the pumpkinish puree is doing to the pie.

6. Feed it only to people who have never had pumpkin pie before.  Desperate Americans who have been overseas for more than two years can fall under this category as well.

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Very-Obviously Home-made Pumpkin Pie

OR, alternate version, buy (and they ship to you) canned pumpkin from the Candy Store in Brno.  And ruin the illusion of what pumpkin pie is for all the people who are eating my “At Least the Crust was Tasty” pies.

Thanksgiving

This is the time of year when people start posting their lists of things they are thankful for.  In fact, this year my group is going through One Thousand Gifts for our study and I considered posting my list of a thousand things I’m thankful for.  Except there isn’t one. Yet. I’ll get there someday. Someday after I start on it.

Instead, I am going to unpack what Thanksgiving is here in non-America.  The first year I was here, although we were invited to another family’s Thanksgiving feast, we still had to go to work that day.  The whole country went to work.  That is way more depressing than you would think.  No matter how crusty-brown that turkey steams on the platter, or how sticky sweet the pecan pie tastes, when no one is celebrating with a day on the couch or in the kitchen, when everyone is attending to their normal, workaday lives, it is NOT Thanksgiving.

The consecutive few years of Thanksgiving overseas, my husband and I had a little more flexibility in our schedules and didn’t have to work (although everyone else around us still did.)  Finding a turkey and cranberries (this was in 2005) was a feat in itself (and forget about recognizable brown sugar).  We collected as many American foods as we could, laid them down on the table, prayed over our meal, and then sat despondently, alone, and remembered all the Thanksgivings of our childhoods filled with family and kids and football games and travel and leftovers.  It was enough to make a nostalgic writer cry.

Then we began trying to invite people over, to give it the “family” feel.  This was a lot of stress for the cook, inexperienced as she was, and perfectionistic about the housecleaning.  (I’m talking about me here.)  And it was just plain awkward.  We barely knew the Czech landlord and his family.  And you don’t just hand an amateurly baked turkey to a near stranger.

Then we decided to have a lot of teenagers over on “Thanksgiving” Saturday.  My husband was teaching them baseball and they were coming over for movie nights on Fridays.  So we were getting to know them well and teenagers like to eat.  It was a big group – maybe 18 – and that went well, but we still wanted our own Thanksgiving so I cooked a fourth turkey just for ourselves to enjoy afterward.  Not only was I too exhausted to appreciate my own hard work, but our kids were definitely too little to appreciate my own hard work, which is much worse.  It was utter failure.  And so very much not worth it.

The same group came for the next four years.  We moved to another city and they still come.  After awhile, those Czechs came to expect the same pies, gravy, cranberry sauce, and the “sit down together for a massive meal” that we’d always delivered and this year, for the first time, I realize what has happened.

I spent nearly 7 years trying to replicate Thanksgiving, cut and paste it onto my European life.  And it made the holiday depressing at best, miserable at worst.  It wasn’t until I totally gave up the idea that Thanksgiving is a Thursday to sit with out-of-town family and eat that I began to finally enjoy this time.  Now it is a time for me to serve and let friends be family.

Seeds die before they can grow something beautiful.

This is a new Thanksgiving.  Not the cozy Thanksgiving of my childhood with sounds of parades from the TV no one is watching.  I love that Thanksgiving.  But it is unattainable here in my life overseas and I had to let that die.  But the Thanksgiving I have now is perfect too.  And as different as a flower is to its dead seed.

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