Thanksgiving in Paris…and above & beyond

olivier winetasting instructions

When folks ask me what the French do for Thanksgiving, I don’t think the word they’re expecting to hear are “Um, nothing.” And why should they? It’s not as though America shuts down for le 14 juillet.

Still, a few places around here do get into the spirit and you’ll see a few bags of cranberries at the market, a few more sweet potatoes piled up, and smart volaillers stocking whole turkeys, normally a rare site in France.

wine taster

Since it’s pretty much life-as-usual around here on the fourth Thursday of November, when a message from Olivier Magny of O-Château popped up in my Inbox earlier in the week, asking if I’d like to go to a wine-tasting, at 30,000 feet that day, I said, “Sure!”

So there I was, stepping out of my apartment, at 7:15 am Thanksgiving morning, heading to Orly airport to meet up with Olivier and his team of sommeliers.

airborn sommeliers

The other passengers on the plane were a little astounded to see a team of folks walking up and down the aisles pouring wine, with Olivier giving tri-lingual tasting notes as we sipped three wines from Catalonia, the place where our flight was heading.

wine tasters

So what’s not to enjoy?

Nico

And in about an hour, after all three wines had been tasted and evaluated, with our tray tables up and seat backs in the full, upright position, we arrived at the airport, where a group of us shuttled to the nearby Hesperia Tower for lunch made by Michelin-starred chef Santi Santamaría.

marcona almonds croquettes

It wouldn’t be Spain without starting out with a dish of salty Marcona almonds, which are one of my top-ten foods in my book. I don’t know what I would do if I have unfettered access to these super-crispy nuts, but if you haven’t ever had them, do yourself a favor and try them.

And it wouldn’t be Catalonia if there weren’t croquetes. These were filled with diced Iberico ham, another one of Spain’s great delicacies. I ate all of mine as fast as possible. And looking around the table, I saw I wasn’t the only one not pining for roast turkey with all the fixins.

fish dish chocolate dessert

A few more courses later, we ended with a square of chocolate mousse wrapped in a sheet of chocolate icing and topped with a neat oval of vanilla ice cream and I said “Si!” when the waiter came by to see who wanted—or in my case, needed—coffee.

Then, before I knew it, we were headed back to the airport. Although there was a group of scantily-topped women, dining in the courtyard outside, below and I had to pry a few of the men in our group away from the window. But since it was Thanksgiving, we did have to make concessions because no matter where you live, whether in France, Spain, or American, there will always be those who enjoy breast meat, and those who prefer les croquetes. And I’m thankful to spend the day with a convivial mix of all of the above.

croquetes

But lest you think I did without the traditional Thanksgiving fare, you’re wrong. My plane touched back down in Paris at 6:40pm and I made it back to the center of the city in less than an hour. Planning in advance, I’d dropped off a batch of pumpkin ice cream at the apartment of our hostess earlier in the week, and a mixed group of Americans and French gathered round the table for roasted bird, gravy, cornbread stuffing, and even sweet potatoes topped with rounds of Haribo marshmallows. Which are, admittedly, a tough sell to anyone who isn’t American. (And even to a few who are.)

plane pouring wine glass

By the time I stumbled into bed late last night, I’m sure I could’ve thought of a few things to be thankful for. But my head finally hitting the pillow at the end of the day had somehow made it to the top of that list.

When I woke up this morning, I was thankful that I opted out of the all-night tour of Barcelona that was proposed at the very last minute as we were standing in line at the airport waiting for our return tickets. While some of the others were winding up after a night of festivities in Barcelona, I was in my toasty bed. Which, after a day like yesterday, was a place I felt truly thankful to be.


Related Posts

Olive Picking in Provence (Thanksgiving 2008)

Post Thanksgiving Post

A Bad Omen?

O-Château Wine Tasting

And, next weekend, December 6th, I’ll be doing a book signing with wine at O-Château from 3-5pm sponsored by Context Paris. More information is on my Schedule page.


63 comments

  • no, it’s cornbread DRESSING, David!

  • I love that you ate your Thanksgiving at about 8 (if I read you right). I think people are eating earlier and earlier here, with 2pm pretty common. Because you have to be done in time to watch the games, right? And nap. And then have dinner.

  • Maybe I’m playing fowl, but I think it’s volailler(e) or volailleu(r)(se)

  • How fabulous!! I’m so jealous! Olivier is hilarious, I bet you had so much fun.

    I enjoyed a festive dinner at the international university I work at in Paris… it’s always fun, but not quite the real traditional thing :)

  • This is… I don’t know where to start. For one thing, this post provokes a degree of envy in me that is probably not appropriate for Thanksgiving (be thankful for what you have, blah, blah, blah). And then there are so many questions: Where did they get those outfits? How did you have the energy/desire to have Thanksgiving dinner after a day like that? And most pressingly: Where do I sign up for the next one??

    I guess I’ll just have to go to l’Avant Comptoir to get my croquette fix (ahem).

  • What a perfect day David. Sounds like it was such fun.

  • Marcus: You only get the right to call it ‘dressing’ if you use homemade cornbread.

    Punch: Thankfully, you’re vision is better than mine the morning after. (I can never tell if it’s this, or me!)

  • Love the recount, BUT, things are pretty life-as-usual around the US also on the “third Thursday” of November….but on the “FOURTH Thursday, that’s when we have Thanksgiving. :-)

    serves me right for posting today…time to turn this into a wiki-blog… ; ) -dl

  • Quite the Thanksgiving adventure! So envious! We’re headed to an O Château tasting in December (thanks to your recommendation) and can’t wait!

  • Wow! What an amazing day! The all night tour of Barcelona must have been tempting, but it is nice to get into a cosy bed after a long day too.

    PS Nice reference to croquettes and breast meat! lol

  • David!

    What a day!, you are such a model of passion, did all that in one day and had energy and inspiration to write this great post.

  • This is truly the way to celebrate Thanksgiving! Turkey is indeed a tough sell for even some of us who look forward to this the annual feeding frenzy.

  • Can you have the plane come and pick me up in New York, next time?

  • Sounds like a lovely day…thanks for sharing it with us!

    On another topic, who is that handsome fellow in the picture??

  • Kristina: Since there is no picture of me in the post, I can only assume that you’re talking about the other fellow. He stayed the night in Barcelona, but I got a phone call this morning that he’d missed his early-morning flight back to Paris, so am not sure where one can find him.

    (However he is married, with a child, fyi…)

  • David, can you recommend a good sherry wine that I can get in the states?
    thanks….

  • oops, I meant to ask you to recommend a good sherry vinegar….

  • Ah David, your day was the antithesis of mine; I was slogging in the rain, chopping wood, making a pecan pie, walking disinterested dogs, and cozying up to a fire with friends. I enjoyed my day and I enjoyed reading about yours. Thanks for my vicarious trips to Paris or Catalonia as the case may be. Here’s to living the sweet life wherever the wine is poured. Thank you, David.

  • Wow! Now that is what I call a way to celebrate Thanksgiving! Must have been a blast.

  • David – Thanks for a great article. Glad you enjoyed this little expedition gourmande to Barcelona. Fun day for sure!
    The night out in Barcelona with all the O Chateau team was tons of fun – just somewhat excessive!! Still longing for my own comfy bed… 24 hours later!
    Kristina… Handsome man is called Nicolas. He’s my business partner. And at the time I’m writing this comment – he’s most likely still a mess!

  • I would have been happy to just have Nico for Thanksgiving.

  • If only I had used Pain de Sucre marshmallows it would have been a much more chic Franco/Anglo hybrid. But helas, the traditional marshmallow is not to be underestimated for its kitsch factor!

  • Want to see some great French dindon/turkey’s go by Fauchon on the afternoon of July 4th or Thanksgiving and catch the huge display of them every which way…glazed like duck with chicken breast/skewered with oranges and/or decorated one way or another with red/white/blue, flags everywhere they can be stuck at. The 4th is the best…all going out for delivery to U.S. corporate parties and the embassy. Quite a sight, they are rightfully very proud of their product. They used to have a little cranberry sauce and all the fixin’s in a section of the counter. Not bad either. In those heady days of 10 francs to the $ it wasn’t all that expensive…plus, there were all the neat little crockery pots they put everything in and which lined one of my cupboards…big sigh…

  • I’ve always heard it is cornbread stuffing if it is in the turkey, cornbread dressing if it is a side dish. We had pot roast, roast carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans with carmelized shallots and panchetta for dinner. I offered to cook a turkey but everyone said they’d rather have pot roast. Paul Prud’homme had a show on the other day showing how to make turducken-way tooooooooo much work.

  • All looks great – tasty, wonderful and tempting until… sweet potatoes with marshmallows!!! Why?

  • Olivier: He may still be a mess, but as of our conversation a few hours ago, you weren’t exactly faring much better…

    Jenny: I don’t know what’s available in America. I know there are good brands like Estornell, which are kinda pricey, so I would check your local well-stocked supermarket. Maille makes a good one and isn’t expensive, at least here.

    Elisabeth: I loved your casserole. Am not sure Pain de Sucre has anything on Haribo!

  • I pleade guilty your honor!

  • Nicolas looks like the innocent version of Robert Downey Jr, don’t you think?

  • My 3-yr-old is crazy about Paris (because of Ratatouille), so maybe we’ll make it there soon…and I’ll ask for advice? Although I read ur post on Paris with the family so I already have insights, tx a bunch. BTW does anyone know WHY Americans mix sweet potatoes with marshmallows? Who thought of that 1st? Because really, to the rest of us (I’m a Canuck), that’s just plain weird. But then, we invented poutine, so who am I to talk :)

  • OH, I am so jealous, and you didn’t even miss out on Turkey.

  • mon dieu! I hate my life!

  • What a great Thanksgiving you had! How will you top that next year?
    Sweet potato souffle with brown sugar and pecan topping is the way I avoid the marshmallow question.
    (Nicolas is very nice scenery.)

  • David,
    One of your “What I’m loving now” list there is an almond paste product which I’ve purchased. Is there any way to use this as the “base” in a recipe for macarons? Perhaps beat the egg whites with the sugars, cocoa powder, etc. as per your recipe? But then how to “thin” the almond paste to incorporate it with the egg whites?
    It’s just such a neat product I’m trying to think of the many ways to use it in my other recipes.

  • For next year — those in the Paris region might be interested to know that there is a wonderful farm near Nemours (about an hour’s drive south of Paris) that raises gorgeous birds – chickens, capons, turkeys, pintade, and duck.

    I found them last year, and we went yesterday to pick up the birds for today’s bash, with 25 of us crammed into our house for a celebration. The birds are a good size, but still fit into a French oven, and the taste was incredible. Happily, the price is very competitive for France — just over 9 euros/kilo this year — although I still choke a little at coughing up the equivalent of $7/pound for *turkey*.

    They’re also very nice folks — you’ll find them at Ferme des Tuiles

    By the way — they slaughter only on Wednesdays, so you must order your bird in advance – and they have a small store (open Friday and Saturday) with all kinds of lovely regional goodies — poppy-flower syrup for divine kir royales, homemade pates, rillettes, honey….great stuff.

  • A nice way and a must way to celebrate Thanksgiving! I love the photos! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • David, thanks for letting us in on your wonderful day!! Sounds exciting and exhausting!!

    Re: sweet potatoes with marshmallows . . . I grew up in Georgia and that’s the way the dish was always made. I think because people in the South love sweet things (i.e., sweet tea). It has always been the only way I know how to make the dish and I only have it at Thanksgiving, usually with ham. With the turkey we have corn bread DRESSING, never “stuffing.” In the South, it’s dressing while stuffing is made up North, with white bread!!! That’s what my granny always told me!! She said people up North didn’t know how to cook!!

  • David, Congrats on what sounds like a super day! My daughter lives in Barcelona, she’s rapidly becoming a Catalana :-) I remain a faithful Andaluz!!!!! WE HAVE SUN HERE.

    What a dream trip, day in Spain, Dinner in Paris! Keep up the good work and thanks for all your fab information, what would we do without benefit of your letters, humor and EXCELLENT advice!
    G.

  • David,

    I am so jealous. You are SPOILED.

  • Linda H: That soufflé sounds good, although I would poke a marshmallow in the center. After all, the marshmallows are the best part!

    Sunny: A few years ago a friend special-ordered a whole turkey from a rather nice butcher shop, and it came to nearly €200 ($300)! The following year, she ordered the complete take-away dinner from Thanksgiving in Paris, which was a (slightly) more reasonable €29/pp. The farm sounds like a much better bet.

    Bonnie: You can make macarons ancienne (the unfilled kind) with it. But I especially like using that almond paste in Lindsey’s delicious Almond Cake.

    sammi: Considering he missed his flight home the next morning, after carousing around Barcelona all night, I think the word “innocent” might not apply to him…

  • I finally got some time available, and I got your last book. I could not put it down. Congratulations on such a well written and entertaining ! I loved how you mixed French and English so smoothly that it made us feel that we were there with you. Your recipes are also outstanding, I need to try them all. Your observations about Latin culture are to the point, and I was able to associate your culture nuances to the Latin aspects that I observed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I lived many years. Good Job !!

  • Is it true that wine (and other) flavors are muted at altitude? I suppose the other question is, how many glasses does it take before you can’t tell?

  • I forgot to mention one rather significant detail about the turkeys…they come with the head and neck attached…and one or more of the internal organs still attached. The gizzard is always tucked in after she weighs your bird, and this year the liver had been removed from its former owner, but the heart still had to be removed by hand.

    Not a big deal if you know about it ahead of time and are prepared..but for the unsuspecting and/or those with weaker constitutions, it could be an ugly surprise.

    It did, however, make for a funny moment last year — my husband came into the kitchen to find me wiping a startling amount of blood from my right arm — he was afraid I’d cut myself badly and would need a trip to the ER…no such tragedy — it was only the turkey blood. (but I completely understand how he made the wrong assumption!)

    (before the food safety people gasp — it’s quite normal in France to have to finish the cleaning process)

  • I was living in Paris in 2001 – 2002. My parents came for the holiday and we found a whole bird around the 3rd or 4th. My mother and I were both shocked that it was 80 euros, not sure of the exchange rate, but it was pricy to say the least. It was thankful that year, that I didn’t burn it.

    At the time, there was also and American grocery store called Thanksgiving and they sold American products, plus a restaurant. I never went there but I felt good knowing it existed, just in case I had craving for Oreos or Mac & Cheese.

  • I love the O’Chateau blog and of course, this blog too. I will have to sign up for a wine tasting class when I am in Paris in January. It sounds like it is a lot of fun. Olivier is too cute for me to be safe around him.

  • joie de vivre
    noun
    David Lebovitz on Thanksgiving

    turkey
    noun
    me on Thanksgiving

  • Very interesting Thanksgiving ! Sounds much more exciting than here in Georgia. I enjoyed reading your post as usual.

  • What a fun, fun day! I agree, it’s funny how Americans assume (knowing fully well you’re American =)) that the whole world should know what thanksgiving is. It was so funny to see my boss making frantic calls to local restaurants asking them what they were doing. And when the guy at the other end didn’t know what thanksgiving was, the boss spoke as if he were stating the obvious. It was hilarious. I couldn’t contain my laughter and had to walk out of my cubicle.

  • there is something very funny and very perfect about high-altitude sommelier teams and tiny delicious food.

  • Your blog post brought back many fond memories of flying biz class to/from Spain with Iberia. What a terrific airline, with a wonderful sense of service. Canada’s national airline could take a lesson or two from them.

  • Wow, does that sound like an exciting Thanksgiving day – I’d be exhausted.

    We hosted Thanksgiving for the family here, stateside, in Virginia.

    We made the usual suspects: turkey, ham, mashed (with cream cheese in it), roasted carrots with herbs do provence.

    Sweet potatoes – no marshmallows (eww), but with the pecan crunch on top. Of course, I’m not a southerner, but a displaced New Englander.

    We had BOTH stuffing AND dressing… as I get it, stuffing is stuffed in the bird and cooked there. I also make some in a casserole dish roasted on its own (dressing).

  • That was funny David, among other things. Hope the pilots weren’t wine tasting too. I like that the only thing you had to prepare for Thanksgiving was pumpkin ice cream. And, you did it ahead of time. Way to go! Instead of stressing out, relax and enjoy the flight.

  • I have my favourite dark chocolate of the moment made from Ghanaian cocoa 85% incredibly smooth stored away ready to turn into our delectable Christmas treats, chocolate covered Brazil nuts, OH favourite nut and I have been wondering this week what else to cover, hazelnuts maybe? One of my favourite nut is almond and yes you’ve just reminded me of Marcona almond which for a brief period I could buy them locally, obviously the locals here didn’t think they were worth the extra pence but they were my treat and so delicious…and off I go this week in search of them.

  • What a fun adventure! And yes, I agree, Marcona almonds are definitely one of the best foods ever.

  • I made your Cinnamon Ice Cream this Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, it tasted like a cinnamon bear. It’s potent! It went very well with the pumpkin and apple pies. Thank you.

  • OUF! Just reading this made my stomach ache and I got a craving to sit in a La-Z-Boy and watch football. :) What a marvelous time you had! It is a sure sign that middle age has hit, though, when thoughts of one’s head hitting the pillow come before carousing in Barcelona, eh? ;-)

    Those almonds sound amazing! As for the marshmallows, I sure hope you were able to find the white Haribo ones! I can only ever find the pink and green ones, it seems, and the one time I tried to make rice cereal treats with them was, well, kinda gross, lol. In fact, I found out about your site for the first time when I was writing to a friend of mine about being in Paris and missing marshmallows, the white ones, and he sent me a link to your site. It was the post from a couple of years ago about Pain de Sucre. I never did go to try the marshmallows there — something I should put on my To Do List!

    I am so glad that you had a wonderful holiday even if it was just another Thursday here. I am thankful for your wonderful blog, which brings me much entertainment and information about life and food in Paris!

  • Brings back memories of our Thanksgiving feasts in Geneva. I had to take a tape measure to the market to make sure the turkey would fit in our oven. The cashier was perplexed about the cranberries and asked me what I was going to do with them. When I told her I was going to make a chunky jam/chutney sort of thing she seemed intrigued. One thing I learned our first Thanksgiving there was that foreigners LOVE our Thanksgiving.

  • Love the breast meat comment, you cheeky monkey.

  • Now that’s the way to spend Thanksgiving! Love it!
    P.S: I laugh everytime people here ask me *why* we don’t have Thanksgiving in France! Hmm…let me think a couple of hundreds of historical reasons…!

  • It sounds like a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving – best of both worlds. However, I do wonder who are the people asking you if the French celebrate Thanksgiving… because I am not American, people here always ask me very considerately if my family celebrates American holidays or only our own cultural holidays. I guess I don’t get out enough because the people I know seem pretty… well… normal, and are actually very surprised to find out that other countries celebrate Halloween and Valentine’s Day and such.

  • In my next lifetime, I want to come back as you!!!! Love it!!!!!

  • I was most thankful on Thanksgiving Day because we confirmed out flights and our apartment for a NEW YEAR in PARIS!!! We’re coming to visit, David….and we can hardly wait!

  • If anyone else is interested in Thanksgiving in foreign climes…

    http://barbbyro.blogspot.com/