Whisky Thanksgiving

We’ve had our Whisky Advent Calendar sitting on a shelf for weeks now, and it was a consolation to us yesterday. Yes, we have already entered the final month of a year that has flown by, but on the bright side, we got to open the first day of our whisky calendar.

The first red-waxed dram was a nice surprise, 17-year-old Balvenie Doublewood. As the 12-year-old Doublewood is one of our standards, we were happy to try its more aged sibling. Both are aged in oak casks before being switched to sherry casks. DSC01955

This is a lovely whisky, from the meady, sweet apple aroma to the smooth oak, fruit and spice taste. It’s got a lot of body and depth combined with that light Balvenie touch.

The bad news is, it’s quite expensive and not always easy to come by.

The good news is, although it’s excellent, we found that it drifted a wee bit much into sweet liqueur territory for our taste.

Maybe it’s because we just spent an expat Thanksgiving weekend gorging on pecan pie and pumpkin pie and our taste buds have been strangely affected, but we’ll be sticking with the more pedestrian 12-year-old version.

Between the Advent Calendar, and the fact that we got through our Thanksgiving in London without alerting the local fire department, it was a pretty good beginning to winter’s dawn.balvenie-doublewood-17-year-old-whisky

Turkey Rafter

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) Photo: Donald M. Jones

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Photo: Donald M. Jones

The wild turkey is a conservationist success story. Almost extinct at the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and habitat loss, the wild turkey is now present in most states of the United States.

What saved the turkey was a combination of federal legislative intervention and cooperation between conservationists and hunters.

The introduction of the Pittman-Robertson Act (also known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act) in 1937 created a federal excise tax on gun and ammunition sales collected from manufacturers and, rather than streaming that revenue into the general federal tax coffers, allocated that revenue to a federal fund that supported state habitat and wildlife conservation efforts.

This Act, which came into effect in 1937 under Franklin D. Roosevelt, has generated billions of dollars for conservation. It has been frequently modified, and it is still in effect today.

Wild turkey in flight. Unlike the domesticated turkeys, wild turkeys are good fliers and roost in trees. Photo: S. Matull/MendonomaSightings

Wild turkey in flight. Unlike the domesticated turkeys, wild turkeys are good fliers and roost in trees.
Photo: S. Matull/MendonomaSightings

Yet it was only in 1956 that things really turned around for the wild turkey.

Domestically raised wild turkeys did not thrive in initial reintroduction efforts, but researchers devised a system of catching wild turkeys and redistributing them to other areas. The wild turkeys, collectively known as a rafter rather than a flock, are common enough in some areas to be considered a nuisance.

Would the wild turkey have fared so well if it didn’t have such iconic status in the United States? After all, before the bald eagle won the day, the wild turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s choice of national symbol for its courage and intelligence.

In any case, the wild turkey is a positive symbol of what can be achieved when the stars align for an endangered species.

Expat Thanksgiving – Update

We spent a wonderful expat Saturday Thanksgiving with friends in London. I managed to find fragrant, delicious squash ideally suited for pumpkin pie (Crown Prince variety, for the intrepid squash pie experimenters among you), our host concocted remarkable gin cocktails (garnished with fresh cranberries, of course) with a cranberry syrup reduction made from our cranberry sauce, and we were able to introduce several non-Americans to the sticky-sweet candy joys of genuine pecan pie.

But best of all, we decided to smoke the turkey out on the grill rather than roast it in the oven. This was purely pragmatic – the oven was too small and the Weber was big enough. This wasn’t best of all simply because the turkey turned out very well, but mainly because someone called the London fire brigade, who showed up due to copious amounts of smoke originating in the vicinity of a house that was under renovation. So we had several concerned firemen shouting over a second-story terrace fence down into our small garden, home of the smoke-house bird.

It was only when our hosts opened the grill to reveal a massive, brown, succulent bird that the faces of the firemen relaxed into smiles. We invited them for dinner but I’m not sure they were impressed by our cooking methods. They wished us a Happy Thanksgiving and left. Thank you for checking in on us, guys, and for letting us finish smoking the bird!

Expat Thanksgiving

One of the things I miss most about the United States is the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s always been my favorite. No gifts, no costumes, no obligation except to spend time with family and friends, and share thanks for what we have.

Expat Americans tend to feel the magnetic pull of fellow countrypeople around this time, and we usually celebrate the holiday by having a big celebration on the Saturday following the actual Thanksgiving Thursday – after all, kids are in school during the week, and here, it’s just another work day.

It used to be a challenge, or an impossibility, to find the right ingredients for a traditional turkey meal. Oh, potatoes are easy enough, but turkeys the size of a small car just weren’t to be had at any price.

Cranberries? What’s that?

Pumpkin pie? A sweet pie made of squash? Disgusting!

People liked the sound of pecan pie, but the nuts weren’t to be found, and Karo syrup is still an unlikely supermarket product. The pecan has since become a fairly standard imported product.

I’ve noticed that many of my friends Stateside have branched out over the years, trying new and innovative variations on the old themes. In my experience, long-term US expats are all about tradition – it’s a meal that reminds us of home, and is thus not available for much culinary tinkering besides alterations necessitated by a lack of ingredients. For example, I have found that a French squash, the potimarron, makes for a superb and velvety pie filling, while the regular pumpkins that look more like our own are too stringy and watery on this side of the Atlantic to make a decent pie.

Several supermarkets in our area, in response to the very large expat population, now carry just the kind of giant turkeys for which we Americans hanker – mostly fresh, but also frozen. Cranberries can be found if you know where to shop – information passed by excited word-of-mouth starting in late October.

We used to just celebrate with other Americans, but our daughter loved the holiday so much she told her friends, and the gathering last included large numbers of various nationalities who really wanted to try for themselves what they’d seen in American movies. Between her friends and the other families, we usually have at least 25 people sitting down to eat together.

So Happy Thanksgiving – I won’t be having mine until Saturday, but I can practically taste the mashed potatoes already.