The First Thanksgiving

Did you know that the pilgrims we associate with Thanksgiving, Plymouth Rock, etc. came to the US via the Netherlands? It’s true. Having fled laws in England that fined/imprisoned/worse anyone who didn’t conform to the Church of England, groups of dissenters migrated to tolerant Amsterdam and then Leiden before deciding that their best bet was to get a land grant in the New World. You can amuse yourself on Wikipedia for quite some time getting all the details that were too complicated for your first-grade diorama.

Despite this increased sense of historical significance, actual Thanksgiving here (Thursday) was kind of sad. I woke up feeling bummed that I wasn’t in New Jersey with my family, eating Manhattan Bagel and drinking my dad’s bottomless pot of coffee. Tim went to work, and I moped around for a while. Later in the day we Skyped with our families’ gatherings (curiously, both times people photographed us ON the computer screen, which boggled my mind a little bit), and those were fun conversations. The miracles of the Internet: it really did feel a little bit like we were “there.”

To get ready for our Thanksgiving (Saturday), I began cooking two days before, starting with chicken stock (for the roasting and gravy-making) and biscuits. You have to play to your strengths when cooking, and I feel good about my biscuits. So, uh, I made about 50 of them (and then later had to send them home with everyone). Friday, I made cookies, fresh cranberry sauce, and of course: picked up the turkey from our local butcher. Thank you, Leo’s…the turkey we had was fresh and tasty. It was not frozen, still had remnants of feather (yuck), and was just this huge thing wrapped in plastic when I picked it up. I rode it home on the back of the bicycle and was actually quite afraid to open it. Because I realized: what if it’s not gutted? I never even asked. It looked for all the world like just a decapitated bird. Plus, there was something eerie about it being so large (about 5.25 kg). I don’t know. Sometimes these things kind of sneak up on you and weird you out.

Bird: rubbed and rewrapped

Spice rub for the turkey: sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, bay, lemon

Anyway, the bird was gutted (thank God) and soon was hanging out overnight in the fridge. On Friday we began to wonder if we had underestimated the amount of food we would need, and I started preparing to double more recipes. (In the end this was not quite necessary.) Saturday morning I was upstairs chopping vegetables at 8AM and telling Tim where to vacuum and I thought: This is it. I am my mother. (I have a whole new appreciation, Mom, for how much effort goes into hosting Thanksgiving!) As the morning passed and everything was prepped, I was more nervous than I would have guessed: worrying about things coming out badly, worrying about running out of food or drinks, worrying about food-poisoning everyone. Tim had to tell me a few times to relax.

By 4PM, our apartment looked clean for the first time since…well, maybe since we moved in, and we were ready for people to arrive. And you know, once people arrive, everything just rolls.

Digging in

The amazing thing was that all the dishes actually finished around the same time: while the turkey was resting, the potatoes were mashed, stuffing was completed, and gravy thickened. Timing is not usually my strength in the kitchen, so this was exciting.

Precision carving on a board so big we wash it in the bathtub

Our 14 guests were American, Canadian, Estonian, French, Belgian, Dutch… I may even be missing some nationalities. They contributed amazing desserts, good wine and beer, and a delicious green bean casserole. Mostly, they made us feel like we had a family here, which on this occasion was what we really needed. After everyone went home and the kitchen was epically trashed, we sat on the couch, stayed up late, and enjoyed the last moments of our first Thanksgiving overseas.

Some of us wrote things we were thankful for on little leaves and stuck them to the window.



Filed under Cooking, Our Dutch Adventure

3 responses to “The First Thanksgiving

  1. Scott

    Great to see you wage a frontal attack on the mopes with a gathering of friends! Thanks for your writings. I love the photo of Tim carving the bird and the telltale steamed up kitchen window that says, ‘lot’s cooking in here!’.

  2. Katrina

    I am thankful for my impish friend, Muggin. 🙂

  3. Betsy


    This is amazing! Your apartment is beautiful and the dishes look wonderful. I am glad you had such a successful first international Thanksgiving!

    Miss you lots but am excited to see you soon!

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