Our Super Deluxe Trans-Border Thanksgiving Birthday Extravaganza!

Our first Thanksgiving here we had two roast chickens because I couldn’t find a turkey in the market and didn’t have the guts to ask about one. Fortunately our good friends The Caramel Family were visiting and they shared their love and their sweet potato recipe which made up for the lack of turkey.

Last year, I got brave and asked about a turkey at the market butcher counter and after calling around awhile, the man told me that I was too early. Whole turkeys could only be had for Christmas, and if one wanted one at any other time one must order very far in advance. With three days to go and no turkey, I shared my woes at our home group and Jean-Noel said, “No problem, I’ll take care of it.” I was relieved, but it sounded…well, a little mafioso.

Jean-Noel manages a company in the Alsace that makes charcuterie: sausage and ham and paté and all kinds of the delicious kinds of things for which Americans get all excited about when they come to Europe.  Sometimes at home group he regales us with stories of ordering thousands of kilometers of sausage casing and the like. To my knowledge, he doesn’t deal a lot in turkeys, but from his tone and the look in his eye I imagined him calling up his “turkey man” to “take care of things.”

He was true to his word, and with one day to spare we got our turkey. It was petite and delicious and we ate our Thanksgiving meal as a family and then it was done. Then Jean-Noel told me, “So next year, just let me know a little earlier and I’ll get you whatever you want.”

This year what I wanted was a bigger turkey. The whole conversation had piqued the curiosity of the other members of the home group. What is Thanksgiving, exactly? How do you celebrate it? If you are still here next year, we will celebrate it with you.

November 1st of this year I said to Jean-Noel, “Okay, Thanksgiving’s at the end of the month. We’re still here, so I need a turkey.”
“No problem. How big?”
“Bigger than last year.”
“How many kilos?”
And there I had no idea. I still don’t really think in kilos, especially when thinking about turkeys.
“Uh, I dunno, kind of about this big,” I said, gesturing about with my arms.

A couple weeks later, I reminded him about my turkey. The word came back: either a 3.5 kg turkey (7.7 pounds) or a 7 kg turkey (15.4 pounds). If I wanted two smaller ones I should order right away but the turkey man said that the 7 kg ones could be had whenever.  By this time, we were going to be a total of 19 people, since Artemis had graciously consented to combine her birthday celebration with our Thanksgiving Feast. Okay, I’ll go with the 7 kg anytime one. Still, Jean-Noel’s wife Alia said, “A 7 kilo turkey!! That’s enormous! I can’t imagine it!!”

Closing in on Thanksgiving Day. I’d asked for turkey delivery on Thursday, since we were celebrating on Sunday. That gave me enough time to prepare and brine, though I was a little unsure where I’d put it in the meantime. The fridges are petite too.

Thursday morning Alia called me, her voice ringing with disbelief. “Jean-Noel called me. They delivered the turkey. But it’s 11 kilos!!! He says he can bring you that one today or he can send it back and he’ll get you the 7 kilo one tomorrow.”
I got out the tape measure and measured my petite oven.
“Send it back! 11 kilos won’t fit in the oven!”

Later in the day, a text message:  Bad news is that there is no 7 kg turkey and the 11 kg turkey is at our house. Good news Jean-Noel thinks it might fit in our oven.

Thursday night I went to see it. I didn’t know what to think. It was beautiful, but absolutely enormous, even by American standards. Alia kept calling it la bête, the beast.

“When I opened the trunk of the car, I almost fell over,” said Alia.”It was the neighborhood attraction! My friend called her children over to see such a big turkey!” Even Jean-Noel admitted that his work colleagues has laughed incredulously at such an enormous bird. “Those crazy Americans,” I imagined them saying, shaking their heads.

It would never fit in our dainty Swiss oven. We could cut it up to roast it, but wouldn’t that be a shame? I didn’t take it home as planned because where would I put it? And anyway, it was over the limit of poultry meat to bring back into Switzerland. I would need another 3 people in the car.

Our friends live only 10 minutes away, but they live over the border in France. Every person has the right to bring 3 kilos of poultry meat into Switzerland each day. To bring our turkey in legally we would need at least four warm bodies in the car. So our turkey, christened Thomas, spent the night alone in their extra refrigerator, after being visited by most of the home group, cracking jokes as they came about the Mr. Bean and the Turkey episode. Would it end up on someone’s head?

Friday I spent most of the day in turkey denial. Towards evening I visited the turkey again and decided to take up Jean-Noel and Alia’s offer of roasting it at their house. I went home and made the brine roughly following this recipe.  

Saturday dawned and I was still in turkey denial. Meanwhile I’d been diligently preparing other stuff: cranberry relish, gravy, sweet potatoes (following Mrs. Caramel’s recipe!) and the girls were helping wonderfully with potato peeling and piecrusts. In the afternoon, we had a kids’ club meeting at Jean-Noel and Alia’s house and while the kids munched on crèpes in the other room, a turkey conference was held in the kitchen.

Thomas the Turkey could just squeeze into their oven. But how to brine it? And stuff it? And roast it? And then transport it across the border when it was all done?  I imagined the border guards asking if we had anything to declare while turkey aroma wafts out of the car. “Um, no…not really. Just this ginormous cooked turkey that we’re taking out for a drive.”

It fits!  (just barely)
I wondered aloud about coming over early the next morning to stuff the beast. I didn’t want to stuff it the night before — isn’t that how people get salmonella?? Then Jean-Noel offered to get up early to stuff the turkey and put it in the oven.  
“Okay,” I agreed, (somewhat reluctantly…would he do it right?) “It’s kind of your fault, anyway,” I said, “I didn’t want a turkey that big,” and he agreed. 
And then, while sitting there on the floor with Alia taking pictures, I had a lovely feeling. This too, I told my friends, is part of Thanksgiving. All the fuss about the turkey, how will it fit? how will we cook everything else while it’s in the oven? Working in community to make it all work out. That right there made it feel like Thanksgiving.  
“After all,” said Alia, “it’s a story we can tell our grandchildren! We celebrated Thanksgiving with the Americans and had to transport the turkey over the border!” 
Brining in the garden bin.
So I left Saturday night, leaving Thomas the Turkey in their capable hands and with a written set of instructions. And here, Dear Reader, is the beautiful part. 6:20 am Sunday morning, an SMS with no text, just this photo:  

Ah, the turkey was being stuffed! It would go in the oven on time! And do you know what I did then? I rolled over and went back to sleep! It was beautiful. Into my dreams came the bing, bing of another message…a photo of the turkey going into the oven. I rolled over and went back to sleep again.

The rest went like a dream…I got a few more text messages to prove that he was roasting well and being faithfully basted. I went over to visit once during the morning. And then after the others arrived from church, Turkey made his border crossing with no passport and no problem, wrapped in foil inside a couple industrial food crates.

Oooh! Ahhh!

The tables wait.

With the tables waiting and the apéro drunk, the men were sent into the kitchen to carve up the beast in time honored fashion. Everyone else crowded in too, to watch and exclaim and to snitch preview bits of juicy turkey from the platter. And that too, felt like Thanksgiving. The beautiful turkey was, as several said, “just like in American films.”

And it was absolutely delicious. I’m not sure if it was the happy French turkey or the brine or the combination of both or the collaborative effort, but I’m certain it was the tastiest turkey I have ever eaten.  The rest of the day evolved in time-honored fashion…lots of eating, game playing, couch napping, a walk for some and a pick-up baseball game for others.

16 candles!

Then dessert and “Happy Birthday” and eventually a guitar and Christmas carols. And at the end of the day, as our guests departed joyful, content and stuffed, it felt like Thanksgiving in my soul.

Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom the world rejoices
Who from our mothers’ arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.

If you would like to see more photos of our day, please go here.

Apple Cider

Perhaps it is fitting that while my last post (not counting the one by my guest poster) was about cherries, this one is about apples. Our rental house comes with a large orchard of about 15 trees, 6 (or seven?) of which are apple trees. Last year we ate plenty, but the huge rush of ripe apples came when the kids were in the throes of starting school and the combination of that and the lack of a good way to preserve them meant that most of the apples fell to the ground and became yellow jacket and birdie food.

I especially liked to think about the well fed birdies — it kept me from feeling guilty about not using the apples.

But this year! This year we determined to make use of the communal pressoir – the village cider press. It’s something I find absolutely charming, that the community organizes a cider press in the autumn and that you have to call the town hall to make your appointment. More specifically, you call the town hall on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9 and 10 a.m. It also tells you something about how many apple trees are in the fields and backyards here.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo of all these crates and bins full of apples and crammed into the back of our Mazda! When I called for my appointment and explained that I’d never done this before and how many apples would I need anyway? the nice man told me that 100 kilos of apples would be ideal and would produce 60-70 liters of juice.  I wasn’t quite sure how many crates 100 kilos would be, but when I left I was sure we had more than that.

Last Thursday evening was our appointment. We drove them down to the community building next to the bank where a lot of people were milling about. It was hard to tell who was or wasn’t in charge. There was one truck with a trailer full of apples and I felt slightly silly with mine all packed into the car with the seats down — like a real amateur. But then I saw that there was also a very bent old lady who was frail-ly loading up her finished cider into her car with the help of her children.

We loaded our apples into this VERY LOUD room and dumped them into the hopper on the left. HORRIBLE chomping noises came from the machine as it schlurped up the apples and squished them to a pulp. The boys were fascinated. Then it rolled the squished apples on the squishing bands and out squeezed the cider. The hose in the middle of the photo sucked up the fresh juice and pumped it over to…

A big blue barrel marked for us!! The nice cider pressing man gave us little cups of the fresh juice — mmm, good!!

 After a waiting interval, our juice was pumped by hose into the next room where the apparatus for pasturization is set up. A bunch of guys were working non-stop to fill bottle after bottle and carton after carton. We had ours put into cartons and then there were 20 liters left over that we took home to drink fresh in the next couple days. We also shared with friends and neighbors as 20 liters is a lot of fresh cider to drink in 3 days. It was delicious!

 The next morning I had the kids unload the car and stack up our wares. We had 25 cartons of 5 liters each! 125 liters of juice ~ that might last us through the winter!

Since the total amount of liters (before pasturization) was 160 liters, and since we are curious about exactly how many apples I lugged down to the car (with the help of the workers, of course), we can use what the appointment man told us in the following equation:

               60 liters                    =                              160 liters
          100 kilos of apples                       Number of kilos of apples we picked

I tried to get people interested in this equation as in “Real Life Homeschool Math” but no one fell for it and I ended up doing it myself. We picked 267 kilos of apples!! Gracious! And translating to kilos by multiplying by 2.2 we discover that that is 586 pounds.

 Yummy delicous fresh pressed organic apple cider. Wish you could come by and share some!!

Cherry Season

This week I bought my first ever cherry pitter. Here’s why.
There is this whole tree full, of which the southern half is already ripe. This picture below shows only about a third of the tree. It’s full sized, about 40 feet high. There’s no way we could reach the upper branches without breaking some necks, but I am quite sure there will be enough bounty on the lower branches for us. Especially since there are four more cherry trees in the orchard that will ripen after this one! Goodness! Anyone wanna come cherry pickin’?
I’ll just have to keep telling myself that it’s good to leave lots for the birdies – I’m sure that’s how many folks have injured themselves….if I could juuust reach that juicy bunch over there….
Here is part of the tree with Artemis “doing her math” on the bench and Hermes up the ladder scouting out the goodness.
Here is what you do with cherries after you pick them off the tree:  Cherry earrings! image
We didn’t have a cherry tree growing up and since my parents weren’t huge fans, we didn’t come across them very often. Cherries became the stuff of children’s literature where children dangle cherries on their ears.
Later on, I realized I really liked cherries. The real ones are even better than cherry flavored lollipops!
Here is the cherry pitter in action. It’s a Leifheit and you fill the cherries into the hopper on top, press the handle, hear a satisfying cher-CHUNK as the little blade pushes the pit into the box underneath, and the pitted cherry drops out into the waiting bowl. You can get through a lot of cherries fast!

With those particular cherries (after eating a whole bunch and making cherry clafoutis) we made jam. Yum! Sunday afternoon we all went out and picked 10 pounds in about 45 minutes (I weighed them because I wanted to know.) Those have been frozen for winter clafoutis, eaten in a tart and dried to go in homemade granola.
Something I love about eating in season is that when a particular fruit is ripe, you eat and eat it until you are nearly sick of it when the season end. Then it is a treat to look forward to next year. For now we are in the eating and eating stage and not yet to the tired-of-them stage. image
Here is my recipe for Cherry Clafoutis, which I got from Zeus’ mama. It’s a good one to keep handy because it is about as easy and Makin’ It Work as you can get. However, if you like your measurements to be super exact, then you should maybe look away. If you don’t and you like super forgiving recipes, then this one is for you!
You can call it dessert if you want, but we often have it for a small dinner, with a bit of cheese or sausage beforehand to make it nutritionally and socially acceptable. You can whip it up reeeeaally fast which makes it excellent for times when you’ve been doing a craft or being chatty on the phone and then realize that dinner time is bearing down on you like an express freight train. If the table is set and there’s a pretty clafoutis on it, then maybe your husband and kids won’t notice the pile of crafty creativeness all over the table in the next room.
Cherry Clafoutis (Claw-foo-TEE)
Oven to 350 degrees. Or maybe 375 if you feel so inclined. Butter a 9×13” Pyrex pan or if you live in a metric country grab the metric equivalent – something large and rectangular.
Cover the bottom with your pitted cherries. (Or apricots or plum halves – sunny side up.)
Sprinkle the fruit with some sugar.
In a large liquid measuring cup, measure roughly 1 cup of milk. Add three eggs, a touch of vanilla and a tablespoon of flour. Take a fork and mix, mix, mix. If you are feeling fancy, you could use a whisk – but odds are you are in a hurry, so why bother?
Pour your egg mixture over the fruit and put it in the oven to bake. For, oh… maybe 30-40 minutes? Until the custardy bit has set and it’s not jiggly in the center. The kind of fruit you use and whether or not it’s frozen will vary the time. Using frozen cherries that you have diligently stored during cherry season may mean baking it up to an hour.
When it’s done and getting just a little brown on the sides, pull it out and sprinkle a little more sugar on the top. It will sort of melt in. Or, if you want to make it all pretties, wait until your clafoutis has cooled and sprinkle powdered sugar. We eat ours only slightly warmish or at room temperature. Ta-da! All done! The next time I make one, I’ll have to take a photo to post. Bon Appetit!

Our Village

Sunday afternoon, and after a good church service this morning, the three big kids are playing Risk around the coffee table in the living room. Hermes is upstairs playing Legos with his Papa. Two chickens and oven fries are all roasting snugly together in my petite oven, and I thought that in between bastes, I would take you on a little tour of our village. *** From the south, (that is, the rest of Switzerland) this is the first thing you see in our village: a ruined tower from the 11th century – the Tour de Milandre. It sits on the hill overlooking the village and was used as a guard tower for some lords living further upstream on the small river – l’Allaine – that runs through the valley. In the 1980s a metal staircase was built inside and one can climb to the top of the tower and survey the lands from a great height. If you have a doggy with small paws that might slip through the metal grating, you should to carry her and hold her up to the windows for a view and fresh breezes. IMG_1568 Then you round the bend and enter the village. IMG_1572 But before you go thinking that it’s all chateaux and history, here is the view as you enter the village from the other direction. IMG_1579 The sign says “British American Tobacco” – as in cigarettes. It’s the cigarette factory that employs about 60% of the town residents. That’s down from what Zeus estimates was 80% when he was growing up. Back then it had a different name: Burrus, after the farmer who several generations ago started growing tobacco in this area. His factory employed Zeus’ father, his grandparents, and probably some great-grandparents as well, not to mention many aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends. It’s a company town, and when I first visited, it was still the Burrus company and Monsieur Burrus lived in a large house at the top of the hill. People would sort of nod deferentially when he drove on by and they would talk about him and his family by their first names: Monsieur Charles and Monsieur Leon. I found it very feudal and rather odd ~ especially in strongly democratic Switzerland.  When she passed away, Zeus’ grandmother still had a handwritten cookbook from a cooking class that Madame Burrus had given for the young wives of the village. Dotted about the town are some of the fancy old homes of members of the family that now serve other purposes; one is a conference center, one is a rest home, and one was donated to be the town hall, or mairie. Here’s a picture of the latter from the summer – they were doing some maintenance work, the blue tarp isn’t usually there.IMG_9593 Back at the end of the village with the ruin, when you round the bend, this is the view into the village on the main highway. When I first came to the visit, lo, twenty years ago, the big rectangle on the left was painted as a huge pack of cigarettes. Charming. IMG_1573 This is the train station. You can see the Tour de Milandre again on the upper right. There is no longer anyone on duty in the station – just an automatic ticket booth. Trains arrive from Porrentruy and points south every hour at :21 past. Then the train continues on to Delle, just across the border into France. After a couple minutes, it comes back, and leaves from this platform heading south at :36. Artemis catches the train here twice a day with the other secondary school kids. IMG_1575 Looking down the tracks the other way. Across the tracks is a big warehouse used to store tobacco. IMG_1576  The Hotel de la Rochette – the one and only hotel in the village. Because of the shape and pitch of the roof, it makes me think of a large pink Darth Vader. A pink Darth Vader certainly takes the scare out of him. IMG_1571    A typical farmhouse and attached barn. Historically, the two shared a roof and a wall. The animals were handy for milking in the winter and helped keep the house warm. There’s a house in the village very near this one that has 1794 carved in the stone over the doorway – the year of construction.  IMG_1583 The commercial center of town. Not a PF Chang’s in sight. Instead there is the post office, the bank, our small grocery store (which despite its small size carries refried beans and taco shells!), and a bakery/cafe with curious opening hours – i.e. sort of when the owner feels like it. Fortunately there is a little more parking across the street. IMG_1582 The one main thing not on this little tour is the church. Maybe for another day? I will take some nice photos of it. It does tower over everything else which is very nice and the church bell tolls the hours which I love. Thanks for coming on the tour! *** Allrighty, now I have to tell you that it’s no longer Sunday afternoon and those chickens have long since been eaten up. But speaking of food, I have been getting adventurous with fermentation these days! After one friend’s recommendation of homemade sauerkraut as a way to keep nasty germies at bay (Gina), and the encouragement of another (Marijo), I asked for the recipe. I subsequently found roughly the same recipe in the cookbook I recently recommended, and soon I had a big jar of it fermenting on the corner of my counter and a skeptical husband keeping his distance. One fermentation inspires another, I suppose, because I soon began toying with the idea of making a sourdough starter. Now Auntie Janet has shared several sourdough starters over the years, all of which ended up coming to an untimely end from neglect. But since we are now eating spelt flour and since it’s been years since I ate sourdough bread, I started to get a hankering and wondered how it would work out with spelt flour. I would give it another go. Only this time, I would start from scratch with no packaged leavening and just pick up the lovely yeasties floating here in the countryside. For good measure, I let my mass of spelt flour and water sit next to my compost bin for a few days. Surely there’s some good fungi and bacteria there, right? Well, it worked – really well!! Apparently we’ve got a good strain here – maybe Boncourt Sourdough will be a new craze. It was for me at any rate. My loaf was soooo good! Hard crusty outside, soft chewy super sour inside. I almost cried, but I was too busy slapping on the butter and salt and chewing. Then I annoyed the rest of the family by telling them over and over again just how good it was and asking them if I had mentioned my sourdough to them yet? But I hadn’t told you yet! And now I have.  Here is the link to a site with instructions on making a starter and here is a picture of my first beautiful loaf. Ah, so crusty! IMG_1650 The sauerkraut came out very tasty as well, and when we had it for lunch one Sunday dinner (the week before the roast chickens), everyone had a small bit to try. I didn’t have high expectations, but 50% of my children liked it! And I did, so that made 50% of the family! Hermes was especially surprised since he had been making faces at it. That is why we have No Thank You helpings. Zeus, despite the fact that he grew up in a seriously heavy sauerkraut region (choucroute) does not care for it (– and never has, so I won’t take it personally), but politely ate his No Thank You helping.  The many pots of things fermenting on the counter had been getting to be a bit much for my dear man. So when it came up in conversation at one point, I pressed him. “So you don’t really like all these pots of fermenting things everywhere, my dear?” “Well, no, not really.” “So you’re not really into fermentation then, honey?” “No, not really.” “So are you ready to give up on all fermented foods then, sweetie?” “Uh…hmmm….I think this is a trap.” Aha! Yes, it was. Wine and cheese are two of my sweetie’s favorite foods – both of which, I think we all know, are fermented! I think that maybe they are just supposed to ferment a little further away from his personal space. Okay, I get that. I will make my next batch of sauerkraut down in the cellar, and my sourdough starter is now living quietly in my little fridge waiting until it’s time for the next tasty loaf.

No Thanks

Just one more little thing to share about Christmas markets before we let them go for another year.

There was one we visited in Montbeliard in nearby France where the food stands, which in the States would be serving hamburgers, hot dogs, and chili, here sold the hungry masses sausage, sauerkraut and spiced wine. What we had was very tasty and French, but there was one offering we didn’t go for:

‘Hot Snails’ says the sign behind Athena. She was not tempted.