Friday, December 20, 2013

Thanksgiving Hazards

Despite having lived here for six years, I had never managed to host a Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanksgiving was never a favorite holiday of mine while I was living in the States--not just the turkey-fest (I was vegetarian before I had our kidlet) but the insane shopping spectacle known as Black Friday kind of wiped out any good will I might have felt for celebrating gratefulness with people that I have complicated relationships with.
But in the Netherlands, it is still possible to be thankful without feeling smug or guilty six hours later, because there is no Black Friday insanity and, the holidays in general are more sedate.  At least they're more sedate in Nijmegen.  Maybe it's crazier in Amsterdam.  But anyway, as I mentioned a few posts ago, the consumerism bug hasn't bitten the Netherlands quite as hard as it has in the United States, despite the marketing.

However, throwing a Thanksgiving in the Netherlands is not without its difficulties.  As the kidlet was born right around Thanksgiving last year, it made sense to celebrate his birthday and Thanksgiving with one dinner party (and my birthday as well, though mine is at the beginning of November).  The first difficulty is the date of the actual holiday:  The fourth Thursday of the month is not a special day to the Dutch (or indeed, to anybody esle in the world).  People tend to have things like "work", or else they've made other plans on that day.  Eventually it was decided to have the Thanksgiving dinner the Sunday before the actual Thanksgiving.

The next difficulty was finding a turkey.  Unlike in the US, turkeys are eaten for Christmas in the Netherlands--at least, I suppose they are, given the onslaught of flyers on the subject (despite having celebrated many Christmases with Karel's family I have never actually eaten turkey on Christmas).  As far as I know only the Albert Heijn carries turkey, but even then you have to pre-order them because apparently they cannot be stored safely in the regular store.  Most expats make do with chicken, and just try to find a really big one.  But we had a secret:  the Kaufland, in Germany.

Prices on many things are substantially lower just across the border, and there are many things that are sold in the Kaufland that are difficult or impossible to find in even the best-stocked tokos, here.  Things like whole rolled oats, seventeen types of Nutella, and enormous whole frozen salmon, whole frozen turkeys, whole frozen geese, and substantially lower prices on diapers are all to be found in the Kaufland.  So we were able to find a turkey, as well as sweetened condensed milk--I didn't even try looking for it in the Netherlands--and one or two other things that we needed.  The kidlet screeched happily from the cart.

The next difficulty lay in cooking.  The actual cooking of Thanksgiving dinner does not involve any fancy tenchniques or gadgetry.  Planning everything out, on the other hand, was more akin to a military undertaking than it was cooking:  I drew up a schedule of the three days--yes, three, because two days before, I needed to make the pie crusts and do the baking--and meticulously wrote out everything I had to do (Stuffing:  separate parts made, Caramel Pie:  assembled but no whipped cream) and everything Karel had to do (Turkey--one thing, but it is the most important).  For three days we baked, tossed, fried, washed, cleaned, cooked, and cooked some more.

The morning of the event, I woke up and realized that we wouldn't have enough plates.  I kicked Karel out of the kitchen (because I still had to make an apple pie) and sent him to the local thrift store to find some plates.  He came back with twelve nice, porcelain plates.  With the fancyware--who knew we had real silver silverware?--it even began to look like a fancy-schmancy dinner.  The apple pie came out all right--the crust was underbaked, but Karel had to start the turkey at noon in order to have it ready by the dinner hour.

The stuffing was tossed one too many times and ended up looking like a gray mush, but despite that everybody loved it and I got several requests for the recipe, which I found odd because I don't like stuffing, in general.  The kidlet feasted on stuffing and string beans--the turkey wasn't ready yet for his dinner.  And just when I thought everything was going well, someone spoke the words that sent spikes of dread straight through my heart:  "This is really great.  When are you doing this again?"

Me:  Again?

Karel:  Well, of course.  It's expected now. Congratulations, honey, you've started a new tradition.

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