Monday, November 28, 2011


by Sarah Walton

How was your Thanksgiving? Mine was a tad bizarre, but interesting and fun, thank you very much, and it all began a week ago.

My son had purchased a surprise for me: a built-in, super-fancy, deluxe model espresso/cappuccino maker. Last Saturday night several friends came over to savor a hearty brew and chew the proverbial fat for a bit.

Many of my son’s new friends on kibbutz El-Rom speak English well, and we were regaling each other with stories of the lands we came from (only half of those present were native-born Israelis), when I happened to mention that it would be Thanksgiving
this coming Thursday.

It was though I had just announced a cooking contest with a prize of a million dollars!

Turns out several of the women slurping up an evening dose of caffeine were excellent cooks, and immediately I had a half-dozen eager chefs vying to make candied yams, pumpkin pies, sage stuffing and plum pudding (wasn’t that a Christmas dish?).

By the time the turkeys (there were four!) went into their respective ovens (three neighbors’ ovens had to help out), we were cooking for over 60 people! It seems everybody wanted a taste of American Thanksgiving

Thank heaven one of the thanksgiving angels had formerly run a catering business and had a large kitchen with ample counter space. Thus I spent a lot of time at Jackie’s house prepping things, like the stuffing. Jackie’s British, beautiful and absolutely amazing in the kitchen. I’d hire her and her chopping knife in a minute!

After helping me with all the stuffings, Jackie was making mincemeat tartlets and homemade dinner rolls. Adi (who has spent time in the States, but never celebrated Thanksgiving) volunteered to take care of the starch: mashed potatoes and candied yams. Sarah would make a warm vegetable salad; Lisa would make pumpkin pie and a bean casserole. The list of volunteer cooks grew, as the list of attendees swelled.

I was in charge of the turkeys, the traditional Brussels sprouts dish, a pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie and an apple pie.

When we made our first Thanksgiving shopping expedition, I learned several key things about trying to create an American holiday menu in the Middle East.

Number One: it’s impossible to procure a turkey (at least up here in the North of Israel) of more than five kilos (about 11 pounds), which is why we ended up ordering four turkeys at the Super Sol in Qatsrin. Number Two: they don’t remove the pin feathers from the turkeys, and when I showed one friend whose oven would be applying the coup de grace to Tom turkey, she almost fainted at the sight of all the pin feather stubs sticking out (I admit, I wasn’t too please at the sight myself).

Okay, I was going to spend several hours denuding turkeys.

Number Three: there is no such thing as an American-style pie plate in the whole of Israel. They are either fluted tartlet tins a foot wide and only an inch deep, or they’re a foot wide, three-plus inches deep and look more like cake tins. Plus, ready-made crusts (which I wanted to use just to save “prep” time) come in two varieties: non-sweet and sweet (which was really a kind of shortbread dough).

Okay, I was going to learn how to use shortbread dough to cook a pie that took double the number of apples I usually peeled and sliced. Plus it had to cook slowly for double the normal time, so that the dough didn’t burn to a crisp (even with aluminum foil over the edges). A word to the wise: a shortbread crust absorbs all the moisture from the filling and turns into a granulated mush on the bottom, without browning.

But the worst of all was that I couldn’t find a single Brussels sprout! Just a couple of weeks previous I knew I had seen them in several markets, but now they had disappeared -- even from the frozen food section.

It was only when an old friend, Lionel Gaffen, who lives down in the Galilee at another kibbutz, Kfar Giladi, took pity on me and showed me Souk Gadol (Big Market) in Qyriat Shmona, that I was able to find frozen sprouts. Whew! Many thanks to Lionel.

And pumpkins: there is no such thing -- at least of the American ilk -- in the entire Middle East, as far as I can tell! What Israelis call pumpkin is some huge pale green-skinned squash that is only sold in chunks in the markets.

Okay, I was going to learn how to make an enormous butternut squash taste like pumpkin pie.

But the greatest thing I learned about Thanksgiving in a foreign land?

Good friends, good food, good intentions and good wine (Jackie’s husband Arik makes a darned good cabernet sauvignon) make for a wonderful holiday abroad.

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