Despite my strong avowal that these holidays should be observed, I am not totally strict in the manner of observance. In fact, I love to see a holiday morph between cultures, retaining the “spirit” of the original holiday, yet embracing other influences. Thanksgiving is a particularly fun holiday in this regard – the core essence of the celebration is to give thanks for the bounty and blessings we all have in our lives, and to share those feelings of gratitude with family – again, my definition of “family” is loose and really has nothing to do with blood relations. In fact, since childhood I’ve rarely had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my relations, instead gathering with friends who form my core support network wherever I might be and who I genuinely feel to be a surrogate “family” of sorts. It’s really a wonderful manifestation of what is traditionally a family holiday, and is particularly important, I think, to people living overseas who might feel somewhat isolated from their home culture. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we can have a little piece of home even though we are on the other side of the world, and that family, friends, community, and love can be found anywhere.
Thanksgiving is also a fun holiday to celebrate overseas because it is just so American (okay, I know you Canadians celebrate it too, but let’s be honest, you stole (borrowed?) the holiday from us because it is so awesome). There is no such holiday over here – and, it’s also a bit of an anomaly because it is (at least in today’s form) a secular holiday celebrated by all Americans, regardless of religion or creed, and therefore can truly be said to be “American”, as opposed to “Christian-American”, or “Jewish-American”, for example. It’s also a holiday that I am proud to share with the world – I mean, who wouldn’t be? The food is awesome, and the intent behind it is something that we all should strive for more in our everyday lives, i.e. expressing gratitude.
So tonight I am gathering 15 or so of my closest friends in Munich, and we are roasting a giant turkey and serving all the traditional sides- there will be stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, salads, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie… it will be a meal for my American friends to sigh in pleasure over all those familiar manifestations of home and Thanksgiving, and for my German friends to experience a “traditional” American holiday. Of course, we will also be drinking German beer, and celebrating with a dinner after work, rather than with a lazy afternoon lolling around the house and watching football while pre-stuffing ourselves on appetizers before the real meal has even begun. Not quite the same, yet somehow just as wonderful and memorable as those long-ago Thanksgivings from my childhood (I almost said, “from my life in the U.S.”, but then I kicked myself and thought, three years in one place is a long time to me, but it’s really just a blip on the map of a life, and can hardly be classified as a long time. i.e. I realize my reality can sometimes be a bit distorted).
And I’ve also been thinking – as I should – today, about all the things for which I have to be grateful in my life. First and foremost, are the people who fall into this web that I call “family” and can be found scattered around the world, usually in those spots where I at some point wandered through, often planned but just as often unplanned, and usually not knowing anyone and in search of something – be it adventure, or interesting work, or the opportunity to learn a language, to experience some wonder of the world that can only be experienced in person, or just simply the possibility to learn more about anything … This is perhaps not the most coherent expression of gratitude, but what I’ve realized through all these wanderings, is that life is essentially about people and relationships. Wonderful people can be found the world over, and I have had the great fortune to meet some of the most wonderful people in the world. For that, I am beyond grateful. And the fact that you all have gone to such lengths to keep our connections strong, putting up with my wanderings, and always pulling me back in with a warm embrace whenever I come back to your corner of the world, even if years have passed, makes me a lucky lucky girl.
So, as an expression of my gratitude I shall offer you pie. If you were here with me, certainly I would be plying you with love and this pecan pie, so in your (my) absence, here is the recipe and my warmest Thanksgiving greetings:
I have to say it: pecan pie has loads of corn syrup. That's not usually my thing. I like to keep my ingredients fairly wholesome and all natural (e.g. I always use all butter in my crust - no shortening), but I will make an exception for this pecan pie, and especially as I only make it once a year. I always make it for Thanksgiving. In fact, my first year in Germany I blithely volunteered to make this pie, completely ignorant to the fact that pecans cost a fortune over here, and almost 50 Euros later... it was still worth it. So, now I have wised up and I always buy a big bag of pecans (and a bottle of corn syrup) to bring back with me when I make a trip to the U.S. Also note that I'm a bit of a renegade when it comes to pie pans - I don't think I actually own a regular pie pan anymore, which is a little bizarre for someone who calls herself a baker. But casserole dishes such as the one pictured above really work quite well.
1 recipe All-Butter Pie Dough (follows)
1 cup (200 g) white sugar
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (300 g) corn syrup (I use dark syrup)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup (75 g) melted butter
3 eggs, beaten
1 heaping cup (125 g) of chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
2. Make pie dough, roll out, and spread into pie pan. Do not pre-bake.
3. Mix white sugar, brown sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter, eggs, and vanilla together in a medium-size bowl.
4. Chop pecans and pour into the bottom of the pie shell.
5. Pour syrup mixture over the top of the pecans.
6. Cove the pie lightly with foil.
7. Bake pie for 30 minutes.
8. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes.
9. The pie will still seem molten when you remove it from the oven - it will thicken as it stands.
10. Serve at room temperature.
All-Butter Pie Dough (enough for one single crust)
I always use a food processor to make pie dough. It is just way, way easier. You can use a fork and do it by hand, but it takes a long time to incorporate the cold butter into the flour by hand. I recommend investing in a food processor, if only to make pie dough.
1 1/4 cup (160 g) white flour
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 pinch salt
1 stick (110 g) unsalted butter, cold
3 Tbsp cold water
1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor.
2. Cut the butter into small chunks, add to the food processor, and pulse.
3. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together. Stop pulsing as soon as the dough comes together in a loose ball inside the food processor.
4. Roll the dough out immediately on a floured countertop.