So my first major meal – mind you, I had a considerable amount of cheese (Comte), bread (pave), saucisson (sec) and wine (Cote de Rhone) in my first 27 hours, but this was the first full dining experience — in France was strikingly similar to the one I’d eaten at my Mom’s Western Massachusetts table the weekend before we left the country.
Other than the 8 PM start time, the spread on the table in a river-facing apartment on the Quai de Claude Bernard in Lyon, France, where I spent the actual Turkey Day included everything from broad-breasted birds secured by our Greek-American hostess to pecan pie made by a Georgian-born University of Virginia student studying in Lyon for the semester. The French twist on the meal came by way dinner conversation during which various cooks told of the hoops they jumped through to acquire the proper ingredients for our traditional Thanksgiving fare.
“Every year I order the turkeys from the same place. And every year I get ‘Dinde? Vous voulez une Dinde maintenant? En Novembre?’ from the woman who answers the phone. I’ve been ordering my Thanksgiving turkeys from the same place for 20 years,” said our hostess, explaining that the French don’t eat turkey until Christmas dinner.
The cranberries were supposed to be imported by yours truly. But in the rush between walking the Freedom trail (part of Eliza’s home-schooled tutorial on the Revolutionary War) and getting the four suitcases into my sister-in-law’s van headed toward Logan airport — they got left behind in my parked car in a Boston suburb along with four Luna bars. Luckily another student’s mother managed to smuggle into the country a bag of contraband berries for the sauce, so only the apple crumble was left to suffice with the dried variety which are more readily available here.
The corn syrup for the pecan pie was purchased for an outrageous sum at the British Isles shop that also carries a few American products. The vegetarians in the group had to use pumpkin in their butternut squash casserole because they weren’t aware of the common ex-pat trick of going to the back of the ethnic grocery store in the east side of the city to find the exact squash varietal required by the Pilgrims. And to outfit the recently published New York Times curried cauliflower recipe I was charged with assembling, the hostess’s son ran three times down to the Chinese grocery on the corner for limes, ginger and chives and we had to swap out cayenne for the more readily available Piment d’Espelette. But it all worked in the end.
The only things I saw “À table” in Lyon that Alba did not include in her spread in Massachusetts were the huge almond macarons that had only the slightest whisper of butter crème filling to hold the two sides together, making the centers chewy but keeping the outer edge fall-away crispy. I didn’t catch the name of the patisserie from where they came, but I won’t hesitate to sample all the macarons in Lyon until I locate them once again. And you can bet that I will be very thankful for the hoops I’ll have to jump through to make reproduce that element of this particular Thanksgiving.