Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Marshmallows Saved My Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is one of the biggest holidays in the United States and for an ex-patriate American that means not celebrating it for the second time in a row because I reside in a non-Thanksgiving-celebrating country.

Now, I am honestly more than ecstatic to be living in France and I wish nothing more than to live here for the rest of my life, but I admit that the thought of not feasting upon turkey while being accompanied by my mother, grandmother and Maddie, the Demon Chihuahua has impacted my perception of joy...or the lack of it. I reflected on just how much I want to see Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira host the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC. need to sit down and say grace with my family prior to eating a sumptuous meal my mother spent the whole day preparing.

What especially tugs at my heartstrings is the food. Due to my Cuban-Colombian heritage, Thanksgiving in my house not only includes the traditionally obligatory large roasted bird, candied yams and, my mother's favorite, store-bought pumpkin pie but also a side of rice and black beans. The turkey in question is also marinated at least two days in advance using a special Cuban sauce called mojo criollo. Back in Miami, mojo criollo can be bought by the bottle at any store (though it certainly costs more than a dime a dozen). This is certainly not the case in France.

And in France, purchasing a whole turkey, let alone finding one, is rather difficult to accomplish during the month of November; the French feast upon gobble-gobbles during their Christmas dinners but whole turkeys are remarkably scarce around this time of the year.

As it was, a Thanksgiving with a mojo criollo marinated turkey and candied yams simply wasn't in my future.

My French BFF Mimi noticed that my usually perky demeanor had disappeared and I suddenly looked as if I had le cafard, or, as she translated it, to have the blues. It was something that I hadn't quite perceived myself until she pointed it out. I just believed that the absence of sunshine and inviting blue skies affected my overall state of mind, but that was just not it...

I had spent a few lessons teaching my students about Thanksgiving and its traditions and how it is a day that truly focuses on being with one's family. Ultimately, the subject of whether or not I would be going home to celebrate it made its way into our discussions. My repetitive answer is "no." It would not be economicably feasible for me to travel nearly 9,000 km from Paris to Miami and back for a 4-day span. I would not celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

My high school students pitied me with morose understanding. Most of them stay during the week in Dijon where they are housed in the school's internat, ; they are in boarding school and often only see their families during the weekends when they return to their towns and villages. "C'est dommage," they said. It's too bad.

As a way of cheering me up after work, Mimi took me to a store called Villa Verde, located just in the outskirts of Dijon. In order for me to explain how wonderful this shop is, you must imagine it to be a mélange of a florist, a pet shop, a home goods, a specialty foods and even a Christmas village combined. A walk down the aisles of Villa Verde's festive and illuminating Noël decorations immediately brought a smile of wonderment to my face.

While shopping around and admiring the little ceramic musical Christmas houses, Mimi and I began to talk about the name of my dog and what my mother typical prepares makes for our Thanksgiving dinner.

As we approached Villa Verde's exit, we passed by the specialty foods section and saw wonderful artisanal French treats galore.

To my surprise, Mimi reached for the shelf and grabbed a sack containing miniature golden madeleines and an inviting container of pink and yellow marshmallows. She looked at me with a large smile and said "Here. I will buy these for you. These marshmallows are for your candied yams!"

And that was it.

That spontaneous act of kindness was all it took for me to decide that I should try to make Thanksgiving dinner this year and share it with my roommates.

I thought over what I could cook. The thought of preparing a full meal daunts me. I do not know how to make pumpkin pie but I sure do know how to make a mean flan. I could also attempt my mother's recipe for black beans and, of course, her candied yams. But what would I do about the turkey? How will I marinade it if I don't have mojo criollo at hand.

Then, the most genius idea that ever crossed my mind struck me! If my Cuban ancestors were able to concoct this staple of their diet, then I could certainly gather the ingredients to see how I would fare with it as well! Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Mimi and I went to Carrefour where I bought the necessary ingredients for mojo criollo, candied yams and, ultimately, a sizeable chunk of turkey breast (no way I was gonna try to look for a whole bird). I eventually got my mojo on...

...and placed it in a container with the turkey breast so the elixir could have at least two whole days to seep into the meat to create a delectable culinary marriage that reminds me of my mother's mastery in the kitchen.

I chuckled to myself as I glanced over my piebald marshmallows and imagined how adorable they would look contrasting with the orange of the sweet potatoes.

And, as a treat, I had a few madeleines.

Yes. I think I am ready to finally celebrate my first Thanksgiving in France. I have many reasons for which to be grateful this year. I am thankful that, despite being thousands of miles away from the people who I cherish the most, I am surrounded by beings who treasure as much as family.

I am thankful for being able to have a second chance to live once again in a place that feels like home to me.

Je suis très reconnaissante de la joie que je ressens chaque fois que je sors de chez moi, surtout quand je vais à mon travail. (I'm grateful for the joy I feel when I go to my job, y'all.)

I am extremely grateful for my friend Mimi and her kindness and it is with much love that I humbly dedicate this post to her. Je t'aime beaucoup, ma chère! Joyeux Thanksgiving!

And Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. Thank you so much.

Barb the French Bean


  1. I know how you feel. I'll be celebrating my first Thanksgiving without my family this year. At least I'll be with good friends who are like family to me. We aren't attempting a traditional Thanksgiving meal. We're having soup and watching Harry Potter. I will miss the pumpkin pie. I'm glad that you will also be able to celebrate with friends. Enjoy some candied yams for me. That's one of my favorite Thanksgiving foods.

  2. I think I want to make Cuban-American friends and have Thanksgiving with them. I don't know what that cajun mojo goodness is all about but it sounds DELISH.

    Hope your Thanksgiving is lovely! Isn't it amazing how kind new friends can make you feel at home somewhere so far from home? :)

  3. Got your post card yesterday. :) When I get back to Miami it's going up on the wall.

    Happy Thanksgiving, French Bean! Good to see that people are taking care of you over there. <3

  4. Jay: I will do (once I finish making them)! :-D

    The first Thanksgiving away from home hits pretty hard, I think. I didn't even do anything last year so trying to make something just seemed like a good idea.

    Enjoy Harry Potter, by the way!

    Tricia: Yes, they do! :-D

    And if you can find a Cuban-American in your neck of the woods, tell them you want to have dinner with them!

    Zora: That's great! I had been wondering when it would get to you. Miss you!


  5. Barb, I loved this blog post. You described so well the longing for your Thanksgiving. You even had your students pitying you. I'm glad you were able to whip up the traditional special secret recipe to soak the turkey breast in. This was a wonderful post. Love all the genuine feelings in it, and as usual your cartoons are great. And I like Madelineines and marshmallows too. By the end of this post, even if people don't say it, but every reader wants to have a Thanksgiving dinner with you. StarbucksMelody.

  6. Melody: Thanks so much for your sweet comment.

    Now, as for wanting to have dinner with me, I just might put up a post that could change your mind... :-P


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Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb