SO…. there I was in Paris with a kitchen, a cookbook, and some hungry friends. I had ZERO cooking skills but I did have the seedling of desire- and a phone card. I called Pam from the telephone booth on the street (probably after having partaken in some cheap table wine, and for sure after having finished my second box of instant potatoes) and asked:
“How do I make mashed potatoes?”
Knowing me, I may have been thinking ahead to the third Thursday in November and was contemplating Thanksgiving. It was my first time away from home for the holidays and I didn’t want it to feel like just any other ordinary day in Paris (if there is such a thing.)
Her answer: “Bake it for an hour, put it on a plate, and mash it with a fork.”
End of first cooking lesson: things are usually much simpler than you think they are.
With that, I committed to hosting Thanksgiving for 8 of us from the Institut d’Etudes Europeens. Believe me, it was a hot ticket. When word got out at school that I was having a turkey, stuffing, corn, potatoes, bread, and even cranberry sauce (from a can, from the very very expensive American food store I found)- there was high demand to be on the guest list.
My first order of business was to find a turkey. At the time (not sure if it’s still true today), French people didn’t eat a lot of turkey. I must have gone to a dozen “Boucheries” before I found a turkey at a Butcher shop near my school- on the opposite side of Paris, in the 14th. I remember the excitement of this treasure fading fast as I got a glance at this bird. It wasn’t the Jennie-o frozen, clean, plastic-wrapped turkey we find around here. No, this turkey was freshly butchered, complete with some feather remnants stubbling its skin. It had its neck intact and attached. The butcher packaged the bird somehow and I stuffed it into my bookbag. I politely declined the innards and organs. I left to get my hot little bird home and in the fridge.
This involved a Metro ride on the blue line, from Gaite to Brochant. The turkey was heavy, warm to the touch, molded to my leg as I walked up and down stairs; into and out of the metro; from the Metro station to my destination. Gross!
Not unlike other times I’ve had a fantastic idea of grandeur, I dove right in and started with a high level of difficulty. It’s a good thing I’m not squeamish because that turkey would have done it. I’d be surprised if they didn’t cut that turkey’s head off 10 minutes before I picked it up.
But boy did it ever taste good for dinner. We enjoyed quite the feast, our man-made little friend family of stranded students in Paris nostalgic for a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. Just look at how thankful we were:
Lucky for me, the rule was established at that dinner party: the cook doesn’t clean.
And with that- Jen the Catalyst (bringing people together to celebrate) Cook (through food) was born!