Thanksgiving has become my tinker-toy holiday. Don’t get me wrong – I adore it – but it can be lonely being an American expat during this holiday. No one else, with the exception of the Canadians, celebrate this holiday. And even they mark it several weeks before us.
It’s difficult to plan a day-long culinary extravaganza when you live in a country that doesn’t share the same national holiday. But it’s even more difficult to get into the Thanksgiving swing of things when few others share in the excitement of this culinary celebration.
As an American, your options are to either (A) have a quick dinner after work at a restaurant or function arranged by the likes of the American Chamber of Commerce, American Consulate, etc., or (B) suck it up and move the whole damn day to a weekend and recreate the festivities, complete with prerecorded football games and parades.
Most years, I chose option B.
As a single gal in Hong Kong, I spent many a Thanksgiving weekend on rooftop balconies, together with 20-plus American friends all eager to get their grub fest on. And as is the case with any family-style holiday, we all pitched in. At the end of a several-hour long day of cooking, drinking, and laughing, we would all sit down and eat, and then drink and laugh some more. Minus the actual date, it’s the way Thanksgiving should be enjoyed, right?
Now that I have my own family, things have quieted down a bit. There is still a lot of laughter in my home, only now our family-style traditions have taken a new direction.
We live at the top of a very high hill. Walk one way, and you’re a few minutes from a tram that takes you straight into the city. Walk the other way, and in about 7 minutes you reach a farm, complete with cows, pigs, fresh eggs, and in Autumn, lots and lots of beautiful pumpkins.
Aidan adores this place, and every chance he gets is begging to play there. He loves the tractors, the wheat fields, and especially the hay towers and corn maze they create for the kids before their yearly harvest.
This is our go-to place when the weather is beautiful, when I need some fresh air, and admittedly, when I’m fed up and need Aidan to run around like an absolute mad-man for a good hour. Nothing tires a toddler out like a farm with toy tractors, wide open space, and lots of fast birds.
“Aidan chase coo-coos?” my son will ask me. “Why yes, yes you can.”
At any other time of the year, we go for him. But from September through mid-November, we go for me and my pumpkins.
I don’t have a traditional sweet tooth. I can forego chocolate any time, but put in front of me a pumpkin that has spent an hour in the oven caramelizing in its own juices, and my glands begin to salivate.
In the weeks prior to Thanksgiving, I bake pumpkins like no other. I use half for whatever I want, and I typically freeze the rest to be used later for pumpkin pie.
In the case of pumpkin soup, butternut squash is the pumpkin of choice. This is a very family friendly dish. Cooking with fresh pumpkin seems a bit daunting. But the rules are simple.
Pick the densest one, chop it in half (or quarters, or eighths, etc.), cover the skin with vegetable oil, place skin-side up on a pan with aluminium foil, and roast for about 45 minutes to 1 hour at 375F (190C), until the meat easily comes off with a fork. For savoury dishes, sprinkle a bit of salt/pepper if desired prior to roasting. Remove the skin and set aside.
Then make your soup base. Sauté onions with a bit of butter, and when soft add some carrots and garlic, cook for about 3-5 minutes longer, then add the secret ingredient. One nice large apple. This is a must for me when I make pumpkin soup.
Chuck it in the pot, cook till softened, then add chicken stock, sage leaves, cumin, and salt and pepper.
That’s pretty much it. After you bring it to a boil, toss the roasted pumpkin in, close the lid, and simmer for about 30 minutes until everything is tender. Puree, add cream to your liking, and enjoy.
For those with a bit of extra time, there are three additions to this soup that are completely worth getting stuck into.
The first is crispy sage leaves. Heat a lug of oil in pan, toss in about 10 sage leaves, fry for 30 seconds, and remove and dry on a paper towel. Crumble, add some sea salt, and vow not to eat too many before the soup is ready.
The second addition is toasted pumpkin seeds and pine nuts. Enough said.
And the final addition is goat cheese. A good fat dollap right in the center of it all, together with a few pieces of toasted french bread with goat cheese and drizzled honey.
Definitely, definitely something you can be thankful for at any time of the year.
Get into it folks. And while you are at it, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, on whatever day you so chose to celebrate…
- 3 cups roasted pumpkin (800 grams)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large apple (2 small), cored and chopped
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 sage leaves
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup (140ml) cream
- 10 sage leaves
- 2-3 tbsp oil
- pumpkin seeds and pine nuts, toasted
- goat cheese
- toasted bread
Directions for Pumpkin Soup
- Heat butter in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, sauté till softened, then add carrots and garlic and fry for another five minutes.
- Add apple, cook until softened (about 3 minutes), then add pumpkin, chicken stock, cumin, 2 sage leaves, and salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes until softened. Puree, add cream, and mix until soup is silky.
- Serve with crispy sage leaves, toasted pumpkin seeds & pine nuts, and large dollop of goat cheese.
Directions for Crispy Sage
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan.
- Add 10 sage leaves and shake pan for 30 seconds until leaves are crispy. Remove leaves and place on paper towel to dry. Crumble and sprinkle with salt prior to serving.