If you are traveling overseas during Thanksgiving, perhaps on business or to spend time with far-flung family, prepare yourself: You may end up trying to cobble together a feast from unfamiliar ingredients in a strange kitchen in a country where the fourth Thursday of November is just another day.
How to make it easier:
Be realistic. A feast in a European chateau may seem glamorous, but most are in rural areas and often offer only antiquated or minimal kitchens. That means finding and preparing Thanksgiving staples will be even more of a challenge. Think metropolitan.
Then, let your borrowed kitchen determine how many dishes you can reasonably prepare and serve. Overseas kitchens are typically smaller than their American counterparts. And rentals are unlikely to have a full array of utensils and cookware.
- If you plan to prepare Thanksgiving at your rental or in a friend or relative's kitchen, ask plenty of questions before you travel about size and equipment.
- Foreign refrigerators can be smaller than those in American homes. Consider having some prepared foods delivered by neighborhood shops or restaurants close to serving time. Or let local friends or family bring part of the meal.
- Find out the oven dimensions. The first year cookbook author Dorie Greenspan owned her Paris apartment, she went looking for a large American-style roasting pan for her 12-pound turkey. After a futile search, she realized that French cooking equipment is scaled smaller to fit the average 24-inch oven. Her creative solution: a rectangular Pyrex brownie pan that she already owned.
- Bring conversion charts (plenty are available online) for Fahrenheit to Celsius and metric to U.S. units. And if you're going to Great Britain, note that they use Gas Marks (not degrees) on some of their ovens. Greenspan suggests tucking measuring cups and spoons in your suitcase along with a meat thermometer to make things easier.
This may not be easy. While a plump roasted turkey takes pride of place at most American Thanksgiving feasts, in Europe whole turkeys often are not sold until the Christmas season, and they are pricey.
If you do find a turkey, it might not resembled the typical big-breasted American bird. Greenspan found an organic bird in Paris, but it "didn't look like any bird who ever pecked in America," she says. "It was flat-chested and long-legged and looked like a runway model. The cooking time was far shorter than what I figured for an American turkey, but it tasted deliciously like a real bird."
- Ask friends at your destination for suggestions. They may know a good butcher who can find one for you early, or know where the ex-patriot community does it shopping.
- Many luxury department stores cater to an American clientele. Berlin's KaDeWe sells fresh turkeys, turkey legs and frozen turkeys in their famed food halls. They also carry U.S. brands of stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, and marshmallows. Even if prices are higher, you avoid disappointment and save both time and money by not chasing all over town. And upscale supermarkets, such as Cold Storage in Singapore, import turkeys and other holiday delicacies for visitors. In London, you can order most of the fixings online from Ocado, the Waitrose grocery chain's Web site, and they'll deliver.
- Call the local consulate. The staff lives locally and may where to find holiday products.
- Bring hard to find ingredients with you. But rather than risk having them confiscated, check the regulations for your destination to be sure you are allowed to bring such items into the country.
You'll enjoy yourself more if you don't try to replicate everything. Be adventurous and experiment with local ingredients.
Historically, Thanksgiving is a celebration of the season. Take time to discover what's seasonal where you are. Part of the pleasure of travel is experiencing the sounds and smells of the open-air markets and food shops.
- No turkey? By November, French and German poultry stores feature local birds, such as duck and pheasant. Ask the butcher for good ways to prepare them. A plump goose is traditional in Britain, while in Italy it might be a roast capon.
- Use creative substitutions. When Sally Schneider, author "The Improvisational Cook," couldn't find cranberries in Paris, she peeled and thinly sliced pears and cooked them in a sweet white wine with a vanilla bean.
- Earthy root vegetables make perfect holiday side dishes, suggests Greenspan. "The French love to puree roots like celeriac. They also love chestnuts, which are far more available than in America."
- If you can't find pumpkin for your pie filling, try butternut squash or sweet potatoes. Or rather than obsessing about the pie, skip the pumpkin and use local apples in a classic, deep dish American pie that guests will remember.