04 December 2006

The Giving of Thanks: Round Two

This past week was mostly full of preparations for a belated Thanksgiving. Now that it's all said and done, I have much more respect for all mothers and grandmothers who spend every second to last Thursday in November day toiling away in the kitchen. Indeed, there is a lot of work to organize and complete.

Kristin and I went planned the event on Saturday, during a hike along the valley ridge.

The main problem we had was the fact that Kristin and I lack private kitchen space large enough to cook everything and hold the dinner. After talking with Graham, another American who planned on participating, we decided it would be best to actually have dinner at his private apartment. As for the cooking, we would cook most of the dishes in the kitchen of Kristin's dorm, and a few simple items in Graham's kitchen.

The three of us decided to hold the meal on Friday, and Kristin and I planned to cook the cranberry compote and prepare the stuffing on Thursday. I arrived at her dorm at around two in the afternoon, and we began what would turn out to be a marathon of cooking.

We already possessed most of the ingredients from the week before, when the plan was to have Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving. However, some items had gone bad or missing in that one week period and we had to shop a little for the remaining items.

As one might expect, not all ingredients were easy to find. Turkeys are not as popular in Germany as in America; therefore, Kristin and I could only find one grocery store in town which sells them. The largest size the store sold was about nine pounds, so a tad smaller than the typical Thanksgiving turkey. In the end though it turned out to be good enough. Sweet potatos were probably the most difficult item to find. I spent time during the week before scouring all the grocery stores and markets in Eichstaett for them. I finally found ten or so in a little pile on the floor of one grocery stores tucked away in a hidden corner. The price sign said they were from the USA, but they were the oddest looking sweet potatos that I have ever seen. We were also lucky and found some cranberries. The only ingredient unaccounted for were pecans, and we were forced to make due with walnuts.

After shopping, Kristin and I started on the cranberry compote. In the first picture below you can see it before the baking stage, and in the second Kristin shows off the finished product.

After that we began on mixing together the dry ingredient for the stuffing. Kristin and Graham requested to put the stuffing actually in the turkey, with which I had no experience. Sure, I knew that was the idea behind stuffing, but my family has always cooked it in casserole dish, in the form of dressing. In the end there was enough to cook in the turkey and as dressing.

The afternoon turned to evening and we decided to give a green light for the green bean casserole preparation. Here we see Kristin snapping away at the beans.

When we bought the green beans fresh from a stall at the local market, we were going for the better quality beans as opposed to those in can. However, we forgot that green beans in the can tend to come softer than fresh ones; therefore, they are better for the green bean casserole. We realized afterwards that we should have cooked our fresh beans seperately first, then in the casserole. Although it wasn't so bad, the casserole simply had a crunchier texture than normal.

Unsurprisingly for us, we were also unable to find any French's Fried Onions for the topping of the green beans. However, they were simply too important of an ingriedent to leave out, so we decided to experiment with making our own. I whipped up a batter of egg whites, flour, and seasonings and we were plesantly surprised with the outcome. Here you can see our fried onions and the casserole.

As the night progressed we figured that we may as well make the sweet potato casserole as well. Those odd looking potatos were even odder on the inside with an almost sick looking orange color. After boiling them though the color came out a little more normal.

We finally finished with the Thanksgiving cooking at around one in the moring and then turned our attention to our present hunger. At some point in the eleven hour blur of chopping, seasoning, and mixing we sat down for bowls of cereal. We also got curious, or perhaps desperate, while frying the onions and fried some green beans and apple slices as snacks. I'd recommend the fried green beans, but stay away from fried apples at all costs. I'll also add that the apples were Kristin's idea, I had my doubts from before they touched the oil. After some bowls of spaghetti we were in the middle of saying good bye for the night, when two Polish girls and another Hungarian girl barged into the room and demanded one shoe from each of us.

Long story short, it was a certain saint's feast day and there were Polish traditions to uphold for this important holiday in Poland. This first of which was to place one shoe from each person in a line then move them to the nearest door in a leap frog fashion. The tradition says that the owner of the first shoe to reach the door will become married in the following year. Rather regrettably for her, Kristin's shoe won.

Next, there was the old pouring melted candle wax through a key chain hole into a pot of water to tell one's future for the coming year. Don't worry, it was new for me too. Below is picture of the candle melting in the pot. I've never actually seen a candle cooked before, so I had to take a picture.

Once all the wax melts, one must carefully pour the hot liquid through a key chain hole into another pot of cold water. As the wax lands in the water it solidifies and forms a shape. This shape is the pourer's future, and he must say what he sees in the shape. Below you see me holding up my future, we all decided that it looks like Australia, so I must be going to visit the country sometime this year. Or perhaps the Fates misunderstood Australia for Austria, because I'm only a few hours or so from the latter's border.

There may have been more traditions to follow, but Kristin and I were too tired to stick around to find out. We said good night and got our rest.

Friday morning, as Kristin and I were in Spanish, Graham was putting the turkey into the dorm oven, his own oven was too small to use. Later in the afternoon Kristin and I performed some minor last minute preparations and we began to bring the food over to Graham's apartment. If you ever want to get a multitude of strange looks, try carring a turkey, casseroles, and chairs through town, trust me on this one.

Here, of course, is our petite turkey when it was fresh out of the oven.

Graham's German girlfriend, who gave birth to a baby the week before, surprised me with the level of detail and beauty in her table setting. We finally sat down to eat at around seven, and with all the food and full plates, it honeslty felt like Thanksgiving.

In this photo we see the faces of, from left to right, Matt (USA), Kristin (Germany), Briana (USA), and Kristin. Graham is on the right in the green shirt as he turns around to check on his girlfriend, Anna, and Anna's father as they hold the new baby, Brook.

And from the reverse angle we can see the other two people, Matt's girlfriend Valentina (Germany, though half Italian), and Joanas (Germany). And actually we can also see the profile of Anna on the very left.

All of the Germans were very impressed with the amount, not to mention the taste, of all the food. We had a hard time convincing them that even though the cranberry and sweet potato dishes were sweet, they were in fact not desserts and could actually be eatten with the meal. They eventually agreed that it really does work. They were also impressed with the fact that I went back to fill my plate with seconds. I explained to them it was tradition to gorge oneself on Thanksgiving, which, according to your point of view, may or may not have been a lie. The sweet potatos and cranberries were completely new to them, as was the way in which the green beans were prepared.

For dessert, we partook in Matt's apple crumble like dish, and Valentina's tiramisu. And I went back for thirds of cranberries.

As we were cleaning up the dishes Anna's father kept picking out the remaining green beans from the casserole dish, nevermind that they were a little crunchy.

All in all, it was a great time and the many hours of cooking and preparation paid off. I'm glad we were able to share this Thanksgiving with a few Germans. After this year, I believe I will take more pride in and have more respect for all following Thanksgivings. The meal, conversation, and time spent with friends reminded me of the purpose of this day, a purpose which to me seemed to have been lost after the repetition of the same events year after year. Perhaps in order to remember why traditions exist, we must first break them a bit. Only then can we understand what we're missing.


B said...

Nick, I thought you'd be interested to hear that Jeff plans on skydiving at some point this coming year.
And as far as your Thanksgiving went, I'm glad to hear that you had one without all the sales and commercials as mine did.
Today was our last day of classes. Exams are next week. When does your break start and how long is it- any big plans?

Nick O. said...

B: Let Jeff know I stand behind his plan jumping decision. You should join him. There's probably a better chance of it actually happening if two people compel each other to go through with it.

Yes, it was different to not see any commercials and advertisements for super sales. I'd almost say it made the week less stressful.

The Christmas break goes from the 12/23 to 1/8. And believe it or not, my parents and brother are actually coming for here for Christmas, and staying for a week. For the second week and for New Year's I've got some plans in the works which I hope come through. Let's just say that Eichstätt, and possibly Germany, won't satisfy me for New Year's celebrations.

Grandma said...

Nick your Thanksgiving dinner sounds very good. I'm sure it was enjoyed by all. Great pictures also. Good to know you have so many friends to get together and celebrate an American tradition.

Anonymous said...

Wow you get out for break late! That's exciting that the whole family gets to come visit. That'll be fun.
You are such the chef - you're going to make some woman really happy one day I'm tellin' ya.

Real reason for commenting:
Can you email me your mailing address?
Thanks, you won't regret it!

love, nata

Nick O. said...

Grandma: Well all the food was pretty good, but of course not quite at the level of yours.

Nata: The email has been sent. Now you've got me waiting in suspense for something. And really, anyone can cook well as long as they follow a recipie. The problem is that not everyone can always follow a recipie so well.

natalie said...

Yeah, like me. I am a disaster in the kitchen to the dismay of EVERYONE else in the house - mom, dad, amber, even amber's boyfriend jared. They are all AMAZING and intuitive. Ah well.

I was really only thinking of sending a fun letter but now you've put pressure on me. We'll see!

I think I want to join a choir in Angers (as a hobby, not a class) to meet more French people. I looooooove choir. Do you think this is a good idea?


Nick O. said...

Oh no, don't get me wrong. I'll greatly appreciate anything that you take the time to send me.

And yes, I think joing a choir would be a good idea. It'll give you something fun to do, help you meet more people, and probably offer a good opportunity to practice your French. Make it a point to join almost as soon as you arrive though, otherwise it could turn into one of those things that you keep putting off and never actually do. Plus the sooner you create some sort of routine at your new home, the sooner that initial feeling of homesickness will go away.