Holiday Review: Thanksgiving 2011.2

I've noticed that sometimes our U.S. friends look surprised to find out that Grand Cayman is not full of Americans. I guess it is a bit weird that a country as big as the U.S. located so near the Cayman Islands doesn’t lead to a larger number of American expats here. In reality, many of our friends hail from the U.K., Canada, Ireland, South Africa, the Philippines, and a whole host of other places. Our workplaces quickly begin to look like a mini-United Nations.

We noticed this cultural variety shortly after moving to the island last year, and we decided that a nice way to bring everyone together was to institute American Thanksgiving in this British Overseas Territory. We had well over 20 participants last year with all the traditional fixins’, and I think that for the most part, it was a huge success.

I embraced the opportunity to host again this year, once again planning the meal on Sunday night. But this time I threw in a new twist: Instead of a strict, traditional American menu (which ultimately leads to me handing out a number of recipes to non-Americans), I asked everyone to bring a dish from their home country. NS thought the idea was a bit strange, but I figured it was more in line with the original Thanksgiving, where the Indians and Pilgrims feasted on a variety of food, both groups contributing from indigenous culinary skills and knowledge (or so we are told). Besides, we had celebrated over American food on Thursday, so we weren’t really missing out.

That being said, as the American hostess, I stuck with cooking the standard fare. A roast turkey, bread stuffing, and a green bean casserole couldn’t be skipped, and just for kicks, I made a seasonally-appropriate appetizer, inspired by my Pinterest trolling.

Really, any excuse to buy new cookie cutters makes for a worthwhile activity. I had a hard time finding actual autumnal cookie cutters, but I found a couple leaves in a set at Bon Vivant, and along with a borrowed pumpkin cookie cutter from SD, I was in business. The original recipe was from Martha Stewart, so of course, her version is entirely perfection, but overall, my attempt came out all right.

The turkey we had enjoyed on Thursday courtesy of JS was so moist and satisfying that I stole his (Alton Brown) recipe and went for a repeat performance. I put the turkey in a brine bath first thing in the morning before church. My 20-pound bird barely fit in the styrofoam cooler I bought for the occasion, so much so that the liquid started to slowly seep out. A large jelly-roll pan underneath solved that problem, at least temporarily.

Last year, we had two stuffing recipes, but I wanted to tackle the job solo this year. I love my Grandma’s no-nonsense just-add-more-butter recipe, but I found my attempts to be a bit dry last year. As I didn’t want to stuff the turkey (due to Alton Brown’s aromatics I had placed inside the bird), I felt dry stuffing was a huge risk again. To counteract the potential failure, I was generous with the butter and added plenty of stock to the pan before putting it in the oven to cook.

In preparing for all of this, I read through my post from last year, because I knew I had left myself some helpful hints for the future. One tip read something like, “Don’t kid yourself; you cannot make gravy; it’s just not in your blood.” I’ve accepted this limitation in my culinary repertoire, so I proactively requested that CP don an apron again and sort out the gravy situation. He did. It was delicious. RP brought a cheery jug to house the liquid-happiness.

Speaking of people bringing things, we once again had an impressive spread. Everything was amazing; I really can’t pick a favorite; I wish I had had room for thirds. The offerings included:
  • Polish pierogies from R&M - turkey-filled, particularly for the occasion
  • British Yorkshire puddings from J&N - I never would have guessed these are basically semi-hollow, lightly-sweetened rolls that pair beautifully with turkey and gravy
  • American sweet potato casserole from B&K – specifically, the Ruth’s Chris recipe, which might be the best version I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few)
  • New Zealand pavlova from C&R – we Americans were in for a delightful surprise, while the British were appalled that we’d never had it
  • South African malva pudding from D&A – a bit like sticky toffee pudding, for those of us who are in love with that dessert
And here's the proof:

I’m pleased to report that both my turkey and stuffing were sufficiently moist. I’ll be using these recipes again. That’s the great thing about holidays; you don’t have to get too creative with the menu. You find something that people like, and then you make it for the next 20 years. That’s called a tradition. And I’m all for it.

I think we had about 16 people in attendance when all was said and done. It seemed to be about the right number of people, as some of us ate dinner in the dining room, while others watched football and ate on the couch and surrounding seats in the living room. At one point, we all found ourselves seated in the living room, hanging out between dinner and dessert. As I sat there, part of a large but cozy circle of friends, I just couldn't stop smiling. It felt like a real holiday, thanks to faces like these:

We have a lot to be thankful for in our lives. We have developed an amazing network of friends in Grand Cayman. We are part of and involved in a terrific church. We work at high-quality accounting firms. We made it through a hurricane season completely unscathed. I try to thank God for all these things regularly, but I’m glad Thanksgiving comes along each year to remind me to do so.

Happy Holidays!