thanksgiving-paris1Why have a kitchen if we don’t use it? I ask myself this question often. A foodie I’m not, but I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by those who know how to craft beautiful food. I have survived my Mother’s mid-western cooking; my father used to make jokes about my Mother’s under baked baked potatoes. I’ve come to know food even if embarrassingly, my favorite Thanksgiving dish is my Mom’s black cherry Jello filled with bing cherries and topped with pecans.

There is a hierarchy of those who create food; chef, sous-chef, cook and then there are those impassioned with cooking from degrees of serious to mild. I do love great food and recognize the difference. For those who share their culinary skills the rest of us are needed as what I’ll call the appreciators. We appreciate and are in gratitude for their skills we do not possess.

Thanksgiving, the holidays offer up challenges. This gathering of families (our tribes) and our history together is not always easy. A large dose of acceptance and a dash of humor will serve us well. The anticipation of the holidays starts to bubble the first time I see the words, “Thanksgiving (US)” on the calendar and the dread of these days begin! Hiding has been one of my best tactics for dealing. For years, I’ve hidden out because alone felt better than the other choices. Thanksgiving is by tradition about gathering; gathering ALL around the table; those who are family, those without family, and those separated from their families. My dread stems back to the “nervous food” produced in my mother’s kitchen and the expectations on how things were suppose to be on Thanksgiving. Dreaded holidays were softened by having lived in far away places that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. That said, this day can not be totally ignored no matter where we are, or what we want, because it is built into our American DNA.

thanksgiving-paris2While living in Paris I brought Thanksgiving to this family of friends in fun, odd and as non-traditional as an American might imagine. One year the dinner was ordered from a fancy traiteur, caterer. My not yet husband who sort of, kind of, understood the concept gave it his best. I arrived in Paris from NYC early in the morning on Thursday, just another Thursday in Paris except it was Thanksgiving Thursday. Dinner had been ordered from Dalloyau located on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The turkey was a sliced breast of turkey, the vegetables were fresh and seasonal. So far so very good! And then there were the pies; one in particular, was a bit of a problem. Pumpkin pie was an unknown in France. The owner of Dalloyau was assisting my partner with his order and questioned with a huge bit of concern, “You want a “tarte” made with pumpkins? Who would ever consider such a thing?” WE know the answer to that one. He did his best to explain Miles Standish, the Indians, pilgrims and the celebratory feast offered up from the first harvest to the making of these now traditional dishes. “We do not use pumpkins, les citrouilles, in this way, Monsieur.” Being he was a big deal customer, she said she’d broach the pastry chef. SAVED. It was he who had heard of such a thing and decided to search out an American cookbook. Voila! He found a pumpkin pie recipe, translated it, and turned it into a tarte, not exactly a pie. I not a fan of pumpkin pie but was rendered speechless by this pumpkin tarte, tarte aux citrouilles. Even our French guests found it surprising and delicious; thus a new tradition and recipe was born at this fancy caterer. A pear tarte, tarte aux poires, or was it apple, was the back up plan, in case the pumpkin thing was a disaster. Since our catering adventure, Dallayou now caters hundreds of thanksgiving dinners for the expats living in Paris including pumpkin pie a la francaise.

thanksgiving-paris3I want to direct you to a hilarious column written by Art Buchwald in 1952 when he was living in Paris and writing for the International Herald Tribune, Explaining Thanksgiving to the French. You will laugh, learn, and remember why we go to so much trouble for this meal.

Each year I spent Thanksgiving around a franco-american table, I insisted that Buchwald’s column be read before the blessing and before raising a glass of champagne. Viva Miles Standish and the pilgrims!

thanksgiving-paris4The question is still unanswered; what to do for this year’s version of Thanksgiving? It is next week after all, and I have no plan. For sure, I will not hide. I am thinking of some kind of creative and collaborative effort in the spirit and tradition of this day. No, I will not fly to Paris but rather create a gathering of those I care about, some who create food and some who are appreciators. We will celebrate and be in gratitude for those we love and with whom we choose to share this day to create and cook a fabulous meal. No matter where we are, we can choose to spend the day in gratitude by giving thanks and recognition of all of gifts we have been given and all of our gifts we have to give!

Editor’s Note: Join Jill Butler at The Chester Meeting House, Friday, Dec. 2, for the Annual Holiday Shopping Extravaganza during the traditional Christmas Tree Lighting and Chester Night Event from 5 – 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, from 9 – 2 p.m. you’ll find her and many others at the St. Joseph’s Annual Craft Fair at the Parish Hall, Chester.

The Child & Family Agency semi-annual Essex Holiday House Tour, is December 10. The Boutique is where you’ll find Jill (not at home) at the Town Hall from 9:30 – 6 pm. For House Tour tickets: Group (15 min.) tickets are $15. Advance tickets are $25. and Day of the tour tickets are $30. Buy on-line or call 860.443.2896, ext 901.This is an wonderful fund-raiser to support and a unique opportunity to visit four Essex homes all decked out for the holidays.