Thanksgiving 2010.2

I was inspired to host a full-fledged Thanksgiving dinner after two events: Our first South African braai on Grand Cayman, and a less-than-subtle hint from a coworker that I needed to have a gender-reveal party. The common thread here is that on Grand Cayman, the expat crowd is more than eager to get together frequently with almost anything serving as a valid excuse to label the gathering as a "party".  Touched and impressed by the open door policy maintained by all our new friends, I decided that the most appropriate way to formally introduce them to our new digs AND to an American tradition was to host Thanksgiving at our place. Since we don't get Thanksgiving Day off in Grand Cayman and since we already had a traditional Thanksgiving gathering to attend on Thursday, I figured Sunday night would be a good time to host a family-oriented, football-watching feast. I set the date, sent out a mass email, and started scheming.

Before long, I had 24 confirmed adults (and one confirmed infant.) I wasn't even sure I could seat all those people, let along feed them! But that didn't scare me off.

Here's some background on my Thanksgiving cooking credentials: I've spent every single Thanksgiving holiday at home with family, save for one. For that one, a college friend invited NS and I to join her family feast - and I mean feast - in South Jersey. I think I contributed a green bean casserole and some chocolate chip cookies. No big deal. For all other Thanksgivings, the most challenging dish I've managed was an apple pie. Turkey? Stuffing? Gravy? Nope, nope, and nope. But I found myself here in Cayman, clearly outside my comfort zone daily in many respects (except the weather), welcoming 24 guinea pigs into my home as I stretched outside of my norms and cooked for a crowd. It really is nothing like cooking for two. Which I rarely do anyway.

I'm not going to play the hero card and pretend like I made all the food. To be honest, I only made the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. It all started Sunday morning:

Preparing the bread to be cubed, per Grandma's recipe;
yes, it is written on the back of an envelope.
Stuffing in process - delicious, even in this stage.

The 21-pound turkey in my brand-new-for-the-occasion,
just-barely-big-enough roasting pan.
Everything else, including green bean casserole, cauliflower gratin, more stuffing, sweet potato casserole, roasted vegetables, more mashed potatoes, baked corn, cranberry sauce, bread, and all the desserts were made by my "guests". If you want to call it a pot luck, that's fine; I call it sanity. In fact, almost everyone was bringing something they had never made before, and some had never eaten their dish before! Like LB, from Scotland, made two homemade pumpkin pies and took her first bite ever at my house! AK, from South Africa, was quite pleased with her first experience making and eating apple crisp. On the other hand, KM, also from Scotland, volunteered her seasoned skills to make extra mashed potatoes and brought three different varieties! We had quite the spread:

photo credit: MO
The food, revealed
              photo credit: MO

photo credit: MO
Turkey testers

In addition to all the deliciousness people added to the evening (including Pioneer Woman's amazing stuffing - thanks KK!), KK made adorable food label tents and napkin rings. Many people (okay, mainly the girls) OOOed and AHHed over them:

I really appreciate and enjoy the crowd of (mainly) accountants that arrived on island when we did. We formed many fast, close bonds with people from around the world. I've found it easy to feed off of their eagerness for almost any random activity going on, which didn't disappoint when it came to Thanksgiving. Since more than half the guest list was comprised of non-Americans, I heard many comments like, "I can't wait for my first Thanksgiving!" and "I'm so excited for Sunday night!" Enthusiasm must motivate me. Otherwise, why would I have agreed to a guest list of 24?!

My favorite part of the evening was right before we ate. Everyone had gathered together, forming a misshapen circle that spilled out of the room, and we all had the chance to say what we were thankful for. The highlights:
  • For a good first year of marriage (RP from the UK)
  • For open-minded friends [not to be confused with his somewhat-insane (former) housemate] (WK from Florida)
  • For not having drowned yet (EL from the UK)
  • For a new first husband (that was confusing!) (AK from South Africa)
  • For a boat that started again after running out of gas (BK from Ohio)
  • For an American Thanksgiving (MO from the UK)
  • For friends that feel like family (me)

Then we ate. 

NS made sure to announce, "Ladies first!" My dad trained him well.
NS and I cheered on the foreigners who piled their plate high with food like a proper American holiday. I'm not saying their stomachs went home happy, but they certainly didn't go home hungry.

photo credit: MO

Things I learned from this whole crowd-feeding experience:

1. A pop-up turkey thermometer proved to be my biggest stresser. "Will it ever pop?!" I kept saying. Plus, "pop" is a misnomer. I'd say "slid slightly out of the casing" is more accurate.

2. Making homemade gravy is rocket science, as my mom has always led me to believe. I swear I read at least three gravy recipes, and it seemed to make sense at the time, but when it came to taking the drippings of a 21-pound turkey and quickly make it into nice thick-but-runny gravy, my cooking luck ran out. Thankfully, CP from New Zealand is a genius in the kitchen, and he basically took the whisk out of my hand, added flour and turkey stock as he saw fit, and made a gravy that everyone loved.

3. Two whole 9x13 casserole dishes of sweet potatoes is overkill. I could have eaten an entire plate of this side with nothing else on it and been perfectly pleased, but since there were so many other things to sample, even 24 of us couldn't polish them off.

4. When refrigerating enough water to serve a crowd, remember to take it out of the fridge to serve the crowd. Novice mistake.

5. Grandma's stuffing didn't disappoint. However, the stuffing that wasn't literally stuffed in the bird could have used some turkey stock to moisten it during the cooking process.

6. People rise to the occasion. When KK and I met to discuss menu offerings and food "assignments", we had our doubts as to how eager people might be to tackle all this cooking and baking. However, we soon found out that even the single males in the bunch turned their ovens on, got their casserole pans out, and contributed some delicious dishes.

7. There is nothing more enjoyable than having a house full of people on a holiday. Thanksgiving-With-the-Foreigners will be an annual event.

NS, with pals from the UK, FL, and PEI
Last but not least: The Leftovers.

There was plenty of sweet potato casserole left, but I'll never complain about that. Monday after the party, I drove home for lunch (my first opportunity since getting married). We didn't have any turkey left, so I made a turkey (cold cut) and cheese rollup to top off my plate of leftovers.

This plate was promptly enjoyed on our main balcony:

Lovely lunch hour

We did miss seeing our families during the holiday, but I am thankful that many substitutes were sent to Grand Cayman to keep us smiling. Thanksgiving was a success! But don't tell my mom, or I'll be playing host for the rest of my life...


  1. well done! great post and AMAZING party. thanks again for hosting! can't wait for next year, haha!

  2. Jenn - I LOVE the pic of you in front of the turkey! You look so elegant! I am AMAZED at how you did this - you're like wonder-woman or something! Great job! Looks like a great time was had by all! Great pics - taken at good angles and what a great variety!