Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Middelburg early on the morning of (my) Thanksgiving

Last weekend, I returned to Middelburg for the first time since early September.

The reason I finally made the trip was to make Thanksgiving dinner for and with all of my old housemates (as well as the new ones) and some friends. They had been trying to reserve me for the meal almost since the semester began, but I deferred, as I thought I might want to try it up here in Leiden with my new friends. However, my kitchen is miniscule, the oven is more of a microwave, and I have no place to serve the meal. Moreover, as the weeks went by, I began to really miss my housemates, and realized that the only thing that could be better than Thanksgiving in Middelburg would be Thanksgiving in Portland.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. This is to be expected, for a girl who likes food as much as I do. I remember in 3rd grade, when I did my state-wide writing exam, I chose the option to describe my favorite holiday and why I liked it. Needless to say, it was really easy for me to go through the November meal dish by dish, describing each platter in depth. I don't think I mentioned the friends and family part, and if I mentioned being thankful, it was probably only to appreciate the food.

And so, from the first year I was out of the U.S. on Thanksgiving, I undertook to make it myself. This is my fourth year celebrating in the Netherlands, and the third year celebrating with this group of housemates (the first year I served a group of 12 friends). Each year, an item is added to the menu. The first time, I only made cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and Brussels sprouts. I bought rotisserie chicken at the market, and made apple compote with whipped cream for dessert.

The second year I ate with my new housemates, but only a few of them, as I believe there were "only" 8 at the table. The addition to the menu was yams, which I did not really know how to make, or how to buy, so we had a mixture of yams and sweet potatoes, and we made the chicken at home, as that year I started the tradition of pushing Thanksgiving back to Fridays, when there is no market (but also no school/deadlines the next day). One of my housemates made the dessert - Baked Alaska.

Last year was the biggest meal I have ever prepared, or at least directed. In attendance were 10 housemates, plus several boyfriends and girlfriends and neighbors. It was a huge undertaking, and I believe quite successful. The edible addition was the second kind of yam, provided by my housemates Sarah and Sascha, who had begged me to make yams with marshmallows on top. Being me, I refused, but said they were welcome to make it if they wanted to. So they did, and we all decided it belonged with dessert, which were jelly roll cakes.

This year we ate with 12 friends, housemates and acquaintances. I invited Lacey, a girl from Portland who I helped get set up at RA, and she in turn brought another American girl from Austin. The three of us and Sophia - who's lived mostly in New Jersey, making her the 4th American girl - took care of most of the cooking, and the others (almost) all helped with preparation.

Fleshy pumpkin and dark brown sugar (it's what they have here) look like scoops of delicious ice cream.

This year's addition was pumpkin pie, making it the most traditional Thanksgiving (in terms of food) so far! I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. They took forever to pre-bake, and the crust on one was a little underdone, but other than that they were fine. The filling was very delicious, despite the lumpiness (just about every Thanksgiving recipe calls for a food processor. I know the pilgrims did not have these, and still, it is almost impossible to find a recipe for handmade pumpkin pie!) and the crust was not perfect but at least the outer edges were quite flaky and delicious. I even made hard sauce, so the whole meal was complete. I think it should be noted that almost none of the diners had ever had pumpkin pie before, and they all (said they) liked it.

Each year, of course, something goes a little wrong. The first year, I cooked at a friend's house, and in my haste brought over a carton of yogurt instead of milk for the mashed potatoes. (This was fixed by a run to the store.) Last year everyone ate really fast, which was disappointing for me.

This year, we managed to last at least an hour before we ran out of food - three chickens is not enough for 15 hungry college students, it turns out. However, we had to wait for the chickens a little long, and did not eat until 8. This meant that the glass of wine before dinner turned into glasses of wine before dinner, which meant that by the time we sat down to eat, some people were pretty tipsy. And that might be an understatement.

But it didn't matter. We all went around the table to say something we were thankful for - most people were thankful for RA, for bringing us together and for liking it so much, and for me making the meal; only David was clever enough to come up with something original ("I'm thankful that it's the weekend!").

And then we ate. And talked, and laughed, and ate some more, and discovered a forgotten dish of stuffing in the oven (which had turned itself off) and ate some more, until there was nothing left but some mashed potatoes and a few stray Brussels sprouts, and the plate we had set aside for a housemate who couldn't be there.

While the pie baked, we sat in a circle in the common room and played singstar and had a generally lovely time.

And it really was like going home for the holidays.


pavelz said...

I like your Thanksgiving-in-the-Netherlands! Way to go. Pity the pilgrims didn't eat herring as well, isn't it:-)

kkonynenbelt said...

oh lekker!

i have some left-over pumpkin pie sitting in my fridge in middelburg. been making them since i've moved here as well.

hm. yummy.


Grace said...

Hi Karyn! Yes, isn't it good to bring Thanksgiving with you? I couldn't do without it... and it's always been so nice in Middelburg.

Paola Westbeek said...

Oooh! It all looks lovely! I adore pumpkin pie!

Grace said...

Thanks for the comment, Paola! I do too, and actually I'm kind of amazed I went three years without even trying to make it. How silly of me!