My first Thanksgiving living abroad I woke up in Berlin on a grey Thursday morning.
On the streets, people rushed to work, tying scarves tighter around their necks to keep out the cold and wind. There was no parade, no fragrant aromas escaping from my beneath my neighbors doors, no laughter from a family catching up over a home-cooked meal.
My apartment in Mitte had everything I needed to create a mini-feast: a small, functioning oven. A roasting pan. Some scattered utensils. A couple wine glasses. Heading off to the grocery store on Thanksgiving morning I was hopeful that I could recreate some of the comforts from home in America even though I was smack in the center of Europe.
In American grocery stores, there is always the ‘ethnic’ aisle, where you can pick up hard to find items when trying to prepare something with exotic flair. In some German grocery stores, there is an American aisle. With a significant population of Americans, certain stores have learned to stock products that are familiar to us Yankees. When I first saw the sign for the American aisle I was envisioning cranberry sauce and ingredients for pumpkin pie, but I was soon disappointed at the lack of Thanksgiving ingredients.
The aisle was full of oreo cookies, name brand cereals, high sugar juice boxes, doritos, and rice a roni. Browsing up and down the aisle, there wasn’t one ingredient that could help me to produce a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Frustrated but still determined, I realized it would take a little creativity to reproduce a meal that could be calling a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Leaving the fritos and jello behind, I began to explore the rest of the store.
While I couldn’t find a turkey, I found a good sized chicken to roast. My small oven was perfect to accommodate a roasted chicken for two. Mashed potatoes were simple, I would make my own gravy, and the store had a great vegetable department. I started wondering about stuffing, whether I would make my own from bread we had in the house, but then I saw a German product that looked intriguing. The only way I can to describe it is to think of boil in a bag rice – except stuffing – and in individual size balls. I deduced this from pictures on the back of the package, and could imagine a German mother dropping one stuffing ball per child into boiling water. I decided to give it a try.
The saying ‘as American as apple pie’ forgets to acknowledge that apple desserts actually have a dominant position in the dessert culture of many other countries as well. I’m not much of a baker, so picking up a fresh-baked apple strudel and vanilla ice cream was the perfect finish to my feast. To begin the festivities, I gathered the ingredients for apple cider, envisioning my apartment filling with the scent of cinnamon and cloves.
When I checked out, the cashier looked curiously at my selection. After I had paid, a light went off in his head. Although he didn’t speak English, he pronounced, ‘Thanksgiving! … Thanksgiving!’ I smiled and said yes, I was cooking for Thanksgiving. As I carried my bags out the door, he was behind me shouting and waving, ‘Happy Thanksgiving American!!!’