a german twist on thanksgiving away from home

Hello from the line at the Danish Immigration Service Centre in Copenhagen!! I am #194. They are currently assisting #125. If any place could make me painfully aware of my situation in Denmark, it’s being huddled in among a hundred other people who are also very obviously not blonde. But I found a heated bench, and can now think of happier things, so-

My first ever Thanksgiving away from home was without a doubt the most memorable Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.

Thanksgiving is an interesting phenomenon- it’s really the only holiday that everybody in the States celebrates other than New Years. No matter what religion you follow, if you are American at all, you’ll most likely at least try to have a nice meal in the company of some people you care about.

Europeans are shocked that American expats freak out this much about Thanksgiving so, to explain, we just tell them that our Thanksgiving is like their Christmas. Which, especially in Germany, where everyone is Christian, everybody celebrates. They’re planning their dinners, presents, pudding etc. even before their weird Halloween celebrations are over.

And so since Avery was living in Germany and Josie was headed to Odense for a course with her lab, the obvious choice was to head to Bayreuth to get my Amurrica fix. I didn’t know at this point that we’d be cooking said Amurrica fix for just under twenty Germans, but the more the merrier.

Trying to eat like an American in Germany for this particular holiday presented several setbacks:

  1. The grocery stores don’t have pumpkin puree.
  2. The grocery stores don’t have yams.
  3. The grocery stores don’t have Italian sausage.
  4. There is no Asian grocery store (ok only my problem, but everyone does it differently).
  5. Grams to ounces, Celsius to Fahrenheit, cups to liters, kg to pounds ARGGKHRAUEJjkN
  6. German cuisine generally consists of lots of potatoes and starch and not that much else. Acclimating to the 7264356 flavors Avery and I usually cook with was going to be the biggest challenge…

But we did it! It took us roughly four days to pull it off, but everyone seemed to like it:

An American experience for 20 Germans? Challenge accepted.

An American experience for 20 Germans? Challenge accepted.

Menu: Thanksgiving 2012 in Germany

To start, creamy spinach dip: Germany gets major credit for this for contributing this awesome melty cheese that, when mixed with spinach and garlic and herbs, topped with a layer of shredded cheese and then baked, made an awesome appetizer.

ha you know just casual hors d'oeuvres

ha you know just casual hors d’oeuvres

Pumpkin soup: Thanks to setback #1, we had to collect hokkaidos all over town, gut them, slice them, roast them, cube them, and blend them to make enough puree for a gigantic tank of delicious soup and a hefty pumpkin pie. We could taste the labor afterwards. Base of celery, carrots, onions, and potatoes, and then added four pumpkins worth of our own puree along with stock and a whole bunch of spices. On top- cranberry apple onion relish with paprika, Tabasco, and apple juice, thank you Rachel Ray.

the pumpkin soup to end all pumpkin soups.

the pumpkin soup to end all pumpkin soups.

Cornbread: we found some excellent cornmeal, none of the mass-produced Alberts brand, and a great recipe using cream, flour, butter, and salt, and made it a la Julianne Havel (Tyler’s mom) with a layer of pepperjack cheese in the middle, served with herb butter. I’m not sure if she knows I’ve made cornbread this way ever since she served it to me at her house a few years ago, but if she ever Googles herself and sees this, she’ll know :)

Yams: Thanks to setback #2: no yams, I now know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes: yams (the orange, soft kind) are generally found in specialty or international markets, and carry both ‘sweet potato’ and ‘yam’ labels. If it looks like a sweet potato at Safeway, it probably is. My mom makes this YAM dish every year for Thanksgiving, with sliced apples, orange juice gravy, and dried cranberries. It tasted great, just looked a little different.

Chinese Naw Mai Fan: Well shit. Setback #4 NO ASIAN STORE was a major one, so my stomach will have to wait for this one until Christmas :(

Cranberry sauce: It took us a few days to gather all the berries we needed for sauce- we ended up having to go with a few jars of preserved elderberries (at least I’m pretty sure they were elderberries, not speaking a word of German makes shopping itself a setback also), a few jars of preserved cranberries, two packages of fresh cranberries, and Asian pears. It was delicious! One of the best cranberry sauces I’ve ever had.


Bread stuffing: Avery’s big project that tasted AMAZING. Our family doesn’t have a traditional bread stuffing recipe, as we usually go with the Chinese sticky rice one, so I was suuuper excited to see how this was going to come out. Shopping for this dish was more nightmarish than the others, as we ran into setback #3 NO ITALIAN SAUSAGE… but being the genius she is, Avery turned it German and got the traditional weiβwurst (white sausage) to take out of the casing and mix in with all the other ingredients: celery, onions, dried cherries, spices, and lots of German bread, including those amazing gigantic pretzels… eating it was bliss. Avery can you mail me some?


Green beans: steamed, with sliced almonds and a dressing a la Manfreds & Vin in Copenhagen of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.

Mashed potatoes: Fluffy with creme fraiche and salt. I hope these matched the German gold standard of excellence.

Gravy: We found two cream of mushroom soup mixes, and just cooked them up with cream and a ton of fresh mushrooms.

nothing like fresh mushrooms... although we could use our produce man Dan to tell us how to pick them

nothing like fresh mushrooms… although we could use our produce man Dan to tell us how to pick them

Gravy #2: Turkey drippings, the remainder of the herb butter used for the turkey, and the neck meat. Plus some of whatever beer I was drinking. I had no idea what I was doing with this, but it was all gone off the table, so apparently it was good!



Neither Avery or I had ever cooked a turkey before, our dads always do it. Smoked, deep-fried, either way, we didn’t even know how to roast it. We started by unearthing a 6200g turkey (setback #5: LEARNING THE METRIC SYSTEM) from the freezer section… it was the biggest one they had. That’s approximately 14 lbs. Aren’t they usually around 25 lbs?? Anyway, we got to know Floyd Mitchell pretty well over the next couple of days, which is why we named him that. Sorry, Floyd, for violating you. You were delicious.

Brine (no idea what I was doing): A roasted shallot and some garlic, a gallon or so of chicken broth, Worcester sauce, mysterious German spices found in the Dierkes’ spice drawer, peppercorns, more of whatever beer I was drinking, and some dried basil. We rubbed the bird all over with salt and drowned him in the brine outside overnight (outside = easy refrigerator).

'his life sucks' -Avery

‘his life sucks’ -Avery

Stuff: So I read somewhere (seriously if it were not for Google, this Thanksgiving would not have happened) that a half orange inside the cavity would keep the turkey from drying out. Dry turkey meat sucks, so, to play it safe, we stuffed Floyd with half an orange, half an onion, and every apple scrap we had left over from making a giant apple pie- there were ten apples cores in the cavity, peels all up in the pits, an orange where his heart should be… again, sorry Floyd.

stuffed... with lots of vegetation

stuffed… with lots of vegetation

Rub: We had already sufficiently salted Floyd all over, so the rub was sugar-based. Some brown sugar, lots of raw sugar, paprika, some smoky mesquite flavoring, rosemary, salt, and pepper. After rinsing, it went over the skin, under the skin, everywhere…

Roast: We put Floyd on a rack over a pound or two of apple peel and some of the leftover brine. Plus some more beer. It went in the oven (500 degrees F) under a tinfoil tent for about two and a half hours until the internal temp was 165. Done!


Carving (kind of drunk at this point and, more than ever, no idea what I was doing): Before this whole thing, Karin told us a tale about the last bird she prepared and how it was a ‘fight’. That all made sense when it came time to start carving…


But it happened!!




And it was good! Salty, sweet, crispy, not dry at all. I now know how to prepare a turkey. Dad would be proud.

I got to eat the leg. All miiiine.

I got to eat the leg. All miiiine.

Dinner was all finished off with:

Pumpkin Pie: Probably the most beautiful thing ever. An improvised gingerbread crust, three or four pumpkins worth of puree, cream, sugar, cinnamon, mmmm…

Apple Pie: Made the Swedish way with crust crumbled over the top. Sophia especially liked this one!

Spiced (and spiked) cider: This was actually the first thing we started, so the cider had mulling spices in it for four days. Three bottles of pure apple juice, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and a chopped apple. Added a bottle of sparkling water, toffee schnapps, rum, and some caramel sauce, and topped it with whipped cream and cinnamon.


Espresso cookies: I do miss the CoHo- they gave me good ideas for snacks. And for feeding my caffeine addiction.

Sophia and her friend Flo bouncing off the walls after being fed espresso cookies to satiate them while dinner was cooking. Mistake.

Sophia and her friend Flo bouncing off the walls after being fed espresso cookies to satiate them while dinner was cooking. Mistake.

So dinner was fantastic. More than anything, though, I was thankful to be able to celebrate the holiday like this. It’s not every year I can conveniently trek over to visit a best friend a country over, and be welcomed with a warm house and bed and all over coziness, from where I am living in Scandinavia, of all places. I never thought we’d be here. As much as this post grad experience has been a process, I’m incredibly happy it took the turn that it did.


until next time,




Filed under Beer, Cooking, Germany, Travel

3 responses to “a german twist on thanksgiving away from home

  1. it looks like you had a fantiastic german thanksgiving meal. Nice turkey!

  2. Oh, you are so invited to Thanksgiving at my place next year!

  3. But how do you make the espresso cookies??? They sound goooood

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