for americans, thanksgiving is in just a few days. in the states, people are shopping for their dinner ingredients right about now. stores are full of deals and recipes and suggestions of what to make for your table. do you want classic? southern? modern? elegant? buffet? the morning talk shows have tips and tricks on how to make the juiciest, yummiest, golden turkey. it’s all very inspiring + festive, i think. even with the long lines at the grocery stores and the frantic search for that one ingredient which seems to be out everywhere you go.
but, if you are an expat, you find yourself yearning for the big thanksgiving day celebration all alone. no matter where you live, the rest of the society in which you find yourself doesn’t give a flying flip that thursday is the day committed to food comas, and friday is the insane (and ridiculous) black friday shopping day.
it’s not the fault of the country in which you live, so there are no hard feelings at all. but, it’s just weird. and somewhat lonely. it’s just a regular day for everyone else. no one really even understands what the day is all about. it’s just this one day out of the year when your heart aches for your old home. at least that how it feels for me (and my love).
but, it doesn’t have to be that way.
this is my fourth thanksgiving in sweden and the fourth time i will be serving a thanksgiving dinner for friends + family. that’s right, my love and i always invite some people over to share in the great thanksgiving traditions + amazing food. it is most definitely not the same as being in the states, but it is something.
it is a chance to gather with people we love, to live in the present moment, and to continue to create a life filled with intention and celebration. a slow, simple, meaningful life. and to lessen those homesick feelings.
so, i won’t be having thanksgiving dinner on thursday (i will most likely cry some then), but my love and i will be having thanksgiving dinner with 5 others on friday. and we cannot wait to share with them (none of them have ever really experienced thanksgiving!) what this beautiful, simple meal of gratitude is all about.
as i have discovered, though, preparing a thanksgiving dinner in a foreign country is not exactly easy. but it’s totally do-able. i have the traditional menu, but i have had to substitute a few things for others. like making sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin (cause this chick ain’t gonna scrape, cut, and cook the innards of a pumpkin from scratch). however, this year, since we live in uppsala, a fairly international, diverse city, we have an american food store. woo hoo. a few weeks ago i picked up some thanksgiving staples like libby’s pumpkin and stove top stuffing! crazy. and so exciting. real classic american ingredients!
today, though, i thought i’d share with you my menu (the same thing my mom serves and both of my grandmothers served throughout my childhood) with a few tips and recipes. just in case you ever wondered and/or wanted to have your own little thanksgiving meal during the upcoming weekend. (more on the meaning of thanksgiving later in the week).
My Classic Reynolds/Grant Expat Thanksgiving Menu
- green bean casserole
- sweet potatoes
- corn pudding
- cranberry sauce (i only use this if i can find it in a can like you can in the states. it’s more of a symbolic thing. no one really likes it. hehe.)
- pumpkin pie (sweet potato pie)
- wine, soda, water
- 2 cups onion, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon ground sage
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 12 cups white bread (about 1 pound), cut into half inch cubes, toast the bread in your oven for 5-7 minutes at 400 degrees or until slightly golden.
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth (homemade or bought)
Cook onion and celery in skillet on medium heat with butter until soft. Transfer to bowl and add all the remaining ingredients and toss well. Either stuff inside turkey cavity or cook in a shallow casserole at 350 degrees, covered for 1/2 an hour. Uncover, and cook for another ten minutes to get crispy.
Recipe courtesy of Sara Moulton c. 2000
green bean casserole
- 500g frozen or fresh green beans
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 onion (chopped)
- I cup (or however much you want) French’s Fried Onions (if you cannot find any fried onion pieces, the use this recipe:
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup coarsely crushed buttery round crackers or crushed corn flakes
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a medium bowl, mix together the green beans, sour cream, chopped onion, condensed soup, salt and pepper. Spoon into a 2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the fried onion pieces over top (Stir melted butter into the crushed crackers/cornflakes, then sprinkle over the top of the casserole). Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned and bubbly.
classic thanksgiving sweet potatoes
- 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 pinches ground cinnamon
- 2 pinches nutmeg
- 1 (10.5 ounce) package miniature marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Boil sliced sweet potatoes in water until tender. Slice the sweet potatoes and the skin will just drop off as they boil. Drain. In a large bowl, blend the potatoes until creamy. Stir in the butter, brown sugar, orange juice to taste and a dash of ground cinnamon. Spread the sweet potato mixture into a 9×13 inch pan. Sprinkle the miniature marshmallows over the top and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) until golden brown.
grandma ruth’s corn pudding
sweet potato pie (in lieu of pumpkin pie, but totally just as good)
- 1 (1 pound) sweet potato
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until done. Cut the sweet potato into pieces to make it easier to get the skin off. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin. Break apart sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter, and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up like a souffle, and then will sink down as it cools.
hot toddy with a twist
10 ounces whisky, bourbon, or brandy
12 tablespoons honey
8 cups apple cider
8 earl grey tea bags
8 cinnamon sticks
in a small pan over medium-low heat, heat the cider, cinnamon, honey, and whisky until hot, stirring to dissolve the honey. remove from the heat, add the tea bags, and allow the drink to steep for 2 minutes. remove the tea bags and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. pour into eight glass mugs. garnish with the cinnamon sticks and some lemon slices cut into half moons.
regarding the turkey: when in sweden, i do not get a whole turkey, but rather a turkey breast. and then i just add some salt + pepper to it and roast it in the oven according to the packaging and size. whole turkeys are hard to come by, plus it’s much easier to simply have a yummy roasted turkey breast.
of course, i serve red + white wine, a little soda, and water garnished with lime. i’ve found a delicious red wine, reserve du vieux noir, which is a french malbec that i think will be perfect for both red wine lovers and those who aren’t totally convinced of red wine yet . it’s that smooth and very easy to drink. my white wine of choice is peacock, a fairly fruity and dry german white. very easy to drink.
other than food + drink, my love and i will have some simple, natural decorations with lots of candles. during the evening, i’ll also share a little thanksgiving history, and what thanksgiving actually means to my family (major ancestral connections here!), and then, of course, we will take a bit of time to share what we are all thankful for.
after dessert and coffee, the party will continue as we toast in the christmas season with more drinks, swedish candy (a staple at any dinner party and friday night get together), music, and perhaps even a cozy holiday film.
good luck to all of you american expats out there who are seeking to capture a little of the thanksgiving vibe wherever you are. my thoughts are most definitely with you. and, happy thanksgiving to each + every one of you, whether you celebrate an american thanksgiving this week or not. it’s never a bad idea to get together with loved ones and give thanks, now is it?!