Please help a British guy celebrate Thanksgiving with his American girlfriend.
November 24, 2010 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Please help a British guy celebrate Thanksgiving with his American girlfriend.

My girlfriend of a few months is American but based here in Britain, and she's disappointed to be missing Thanksgiving tomorrow. We're both off work tomorrow, so I was thinking of surprising her by doing something. My questions are:

- Is this appropriate? It'll probably just be us, but I'm aware Thanksgiving is normally a big family get-together.

- What should I do? I understand a Christmas-style meal, with roast turkey and all the trimmings, is traditional. Are there any other options? (For starters, I'm not a very good cook - I usually use hobs and have barely ever used an oven...)

- She's Christian, I'm not religious. Is there anything I should beware of here?

Thanks for your help!
posted by jeatsy to Human Relations (53 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Pumpkin pie would be a nice touch, as it's hard to get here. Ocado has the Keebler pie crusts, pumpkin and spices, but this assumes you own a pie dish.

If you kept it simple, you could make a nice spread with stovetop stuffing, aunt bessie's mash, turkey crown and mince pies, but you have to get food in today.

What a lovely thing to do!
posted by katiecat at 1:13 AM on November 24, 2010

I would ask her what she wants to do. I would offer to either be her sous-chef and help her whip something up. This could be fun even if neither of you cook, if you keep things simple and easy like limit the menu to one or two simple side dishes and a very small turkey or maybe little game hens. If she doesn't want to do that then I would offer to take her out to a restaurant. Maybe there is a restaurant nearby doing a Thanksgiving thing (I don't know if this is at all realistic) or maybe there is a place where you can get this kind of meal. It's perfectly acceptable.
posted by amethysts at 1:17 AM on November 24, 2010

Also, Thanksgiving is mostly about having a nicer-than-usual meal with people who are special to you. It's a very nice gesture to want to help her celebrate it.
posted by amethysts at 1:18 AM on November 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

IF you are in the midlands, come to Birmingham. I am having thanksgiving on Friday night and you are both welcome to join us all. It will not be particularly religious, because I can't even imagine Thanksgiving as a religious holiday. But we will of course be celebrating family and friends. I will be making brisket if that whets her appetite.
posted by parmanparman at 1:21 AM on November 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

Thanksgiving is a fully secular holiday, not affiliated with any religion.

It's a holiday people usually celebrate with family, but that's not mandatory. And celebrating it with just the two of you doesn't Mean Anything - it's not as laden with cultural cues as something like Valentine's Day is.

If you don't cook, don't try to cook an elaborate meal. I especially wouldn't feel like you had to do turkey and all the trimmings. Maybe roast a chicken (very easy, even if you're not much of a cook), and then have a couple or three sides. Mashed potatoes and a vegetable or two would be perfect. And pie for dessert. Pumpkin is the most traditional, but apple is also very popular. Honestly, if you're not the baking type I'd buy a pie at a bakery. That's what most Americans do, anyway.
posted by Sara C. at 1:23 AM on November 24, 2010

What a lovely gesture -- I think she'll really appreciate it.

It's not a religious holiday, though as she's Christian she may say grace before the meal. But other than that, it's all about food, family, and friends. In some ways, Thanksgiving is arguably the most sentimental of holidays for many Americans, as for many of us it's suffused with memories of traveling to visit relatives, family traditions/rituals, the beginning of winter, school concerts, etc. I have been known to get teary-eyed remembering my own childhood Thanksgivings at my grandparents' house, so don't be surprised if it's kind of an emotional day for her, or if she has some stories/memories she'd like to share with you.

Turkey + gravy (or roast chicken in a pinch), mashed potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, stuffing (aka dressing), and some sort of pie (preferably pumpkin, but apple, mince, or pecan will do) were the bare minimum for Thanksgiving for me when I was either an expat or a starving grad student.
posted by scody at 1:49 AM on November 24, 2010

This is very sweet - if I were your girlfriend, I would love it. If you can find them, a few kitschy touches would be nice - something with turkeys on it, like napkins, a salt and pepper shaker, etc. Decorating the table would be lovely - a pretty runner with an arangement of flowers in autumnal hues would be really nice.

Pumpkin is key - pie would be aces, but if that's not possible, it's easy to whip up a pumpkin ice cream cake: line a pan with a mix of crushed graham crackers or ginger snaps and melted butter - mix a can of pumpkin with vanilla ice cream, season with cinnamon and/or nutmeg to taste, and place this mixture on top of your graham cracker mix - garnish with walnuts - freeze - voila!
posted by analog at 1:54 AM on November 24, 2010

This site has some excellent resources for those unfamiliar with the holiday.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 1:58 AM on November 24, 2010

Pumpkin pie is doable here, but somewhat tricky. She WILL be impressed. Especially since you can't use a good 'ole can of Libbys pumpkin puree. These instructions assume you don't know anything about pie-making:

Since today is Wednesday, here's what you do (buy the ingredients today and roast the squashes this afternoon, so you'll be ready tomorrow...or you can do it all today!):

Today, go buy a butternut squash and 1 of those squat, deep orange squashes (I do not know what they're called, but they look like small pumpkins with pointy tops and are not acorn squashes, but if acorn squash is all you can find, don't worry and use that).

Also buy, a 2 or 3 pack of throw-away aluminium pie dishes...try to find a deep one with sloped edges (not the tart pans, which are shallow and have right-angle sides. If that's all you can find, that's ok too).
Spices: ginger, nutmeg, cinammon
1 box/bag brown sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1 box of shortcrust (it's a long and skinny light blue box in the freezer section...the light green box is philo dough and you do not want that. If they do not have that, you may have to opt for the chunk of shortcrust in the square gold's fine, but you'll have to defrost it and roll it out).
1 can/tub whipped cream or French vanilla ice cream - for serving with pie.
3 eggs
olive oil
sea salt

If you are making the whole pie in one go, take out one pastry crust from the box, poke a hole in the plastic bag and set it on the counter to defrost. It will never defrost in the box.

Preheat the oven to 200ÂșC. With large, fun knife, remove stickers from squashes and chop 'em into giant chunks. Scoop out the inner mess with a large spoon and throw that junk away. Find a large pyrex (glass) baking dish (or a metal/teflon one works too). If all else fails you can use the roasting tray in the oven. Lining that with foil maikes cleanup easier. Place the squash chunks face-down (skin-up) in the baking dish. drizzle olive oil and salt onto the skins. Fill dish with ~1/2 of water. Bake for about 30 minutes. Check to see that the tops are browning and a fork slides through the skins and into soft, mushable squash. Take out, let cool. (squash stays hot as a mutha, so don't get impatient to start scraping and mashing here!)

When cool, grab a big spoon and scoop the squash flesh into a large bowl. Throw skins away. Mash up the squash with a potato masher or fork. If you can, pour the whole mess into a fine-mesh (small-holed) strainer, place the strainer over the bowl and let sit for 1/2 hour. This will get rid of excess water and that'll make for firmer pie.

If you want to put everything away and finish tomorrow, now would be a good time.

Ok, is your pastry shell defrosting? Grab a pie dish (the tinfoil one you bought) and put some olive oil in it (about a tablespoon)...just enough to take a paper towel and rub it all around the inside and along the edges.

Large bowl...put ~250g of the squash puree in it. Add 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp each of nutmeg and ginger. Stir. Add 3/4 cup brown sugar. LAST TASTING POINT BEFORE BAKING! Add 2 of the 3 eggs you bought (crack them in a separate bowl and then add, so you're not chasing shell bits in your pie mix!). Set bowl'll need it in a minute. Stir pumpkin stuff. Then slowly add in 150g of evaporated milk, in portions. You may not need all 150g, you just want it to get creamy.

Crack the last egg in that bowl you set aside. Stir it well with a fork.

Roll out pie shell. If it is cracking, it is not defrosted. Set it on a plate and throw it in the micro for 10 secs, tops. Press it into the greased aluminium pie shell. The crust will want to shrink into the center, so you need to press it into the edges and have it hang over the top edges just a wee bit. Use a knife to cut any excess off and enjoy the dough. Take a fork and press the tongs into the top of the dough around the edge, so that you have a nice striped look and the crust won't want to slide down the edge.

PLACE THE PIE SHELL NEAR THE OVEN. Now pour the mix in it. Take a brush or fork or paper towel and put some of that whipped egg mess on the exposed dough edges. Place pie in oven. It will need to bake for about 30 minutes.

Take your other aluminium pie pan and cut a large hole in the center. About 10-15 minutes into baking your pie, you will need to place this pan upsidedown on top of your baking pie. This prevents your pie edges from burning like a house on fire.

Take pie out of oven when it doesn't jiggle anymore and a butterknife in the center comes out relatively clean.

Let pie sit for an hour.

Your first pumpkin pie may be mushy. That's ok. It will be delicious, however.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:02 AM on November 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

One thing to be aware of is that Thanksgiving as a holiday can be very individual in the way it's celebrated. There are a lot of regionalisms and family traditions, and knowing what would mean the most to any given American is pretty much impossible.

If someone did this for me and baked some random pumpkin-infused dessert and decorated the table with pictures of turkeys, that wouldn't resemble my idea of Thanksgiving at all, and I'd have to put on a polite face to be grateful for the gesture. Whereas apple pie served with sharp cheddar cheese and a bottle of Beaujolais would probably be my perfect holiday in a nutshell.

I guess it would ruin the surprise, but you could always ask her what's special to her about the day and what traditions she grew up with.
posted by Sara C. at 2:03 AM on November 24, 2010

Also, she may or may not care about the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade (for some folks it's a must-see; for others it's a pass), but in the event that she's on the must-see side of the equation, it has a webcast.
posted by scody at 2:10 AM on November 24, 2010

If you are in London, there are a lot of places that are doing Thanksgiving for the ex-pats. I'm going to Bodeans but they're pretty booked up (booked on Monday, getting seated at 9).

If you can find a Whole Foods near you, I know the are making pumpkin pies so even picking one up with some whipped cream might be a nice surprise for your girlfriend. Most "traditional" Thanksgiving foods are quite common in the shops as they overlap with the usual Sunday roast.

I moved here 4 years ago and I've hosted a Thanksgiving dinner the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year. This is the first year I'll actually have another American at the table but all my other British guests just get a kick out of it.

Finally, the thing about Thanksgiving is that other than the turkey (and even this can vary) there is so much variance between how different people celebrate it. This is one of the reasons I love it and miss it so much. My family always had a plate of kimchee on the side and we ended with picking names for secret santa for Christmas. My friend's family always has kahlua pig and sushi (Japanese/Hawaiian) and the year I attended hers they had casino night.

Think of this as an opportunity to start your own little traditions. Don't overthink it, most traditions are born out of luck. I think it's really sweet and she'll appreciate anything. Oh and make sure she has a chance to call home during the family meal to say hello.
posted by like_neon at 2:12 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Guys - just a quick message to say thanks so much for the advice so far! I'm going to head to the shops this lunchtime and grab ingredients: probably turkey (hopefully they have some), and stuff for pumpkin pie.
posted by jeatsy at 2:15 AM on November 24, 2010

If you have a circle of friends that would be up for an impromtu potluck dinner party, that could approximate the feel of a thanksgiving get-together. Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, and the particular foods typically served in the US are, in my mind, less important; anything that's harvested at the end of the growing season and served warm against the oncoming winter would be appropriate. Whatever fits those sorts of parameters in your area is what you should serve.

Warm, in-season food, enjoyed with friends and/or family is what I'd go for.
posted by jon1270 at 2:46 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my house, the mashed potatoes are KEY. If you've never made them, it's easy, as long as you have the following:

a little milk
1 big pot
1 strainer/colander
electric egg beater, or hand-masher, or ricer (sort of like an oldschool foodmill)

Peel the potatoes and cut them into evenly sized chunks so they cook at the same time. Boil them in salted water to cover. Once they are fork-tender, strain them in the colander. Letting the steam evaporate is key, here. You want the potatoes fluffy, not waterlogged! Dry your boiling pot and, while it's still hot, return the potatoes to it. Smush them around with a fork or spoon or something, just to start them getting broken down. Add a BIG lump of butter. It's Thanksgiving, so butter is okay! Add salt to taste, and a little milk. Mash!

If you have an electric beater, it's very easy to mash potatoes. Add a little more milk if it's hard going, taste frequently to ensure you have enough butter and salt and to check for lumps and also because it's delicious. If you don't have an electric appliance to do your hard work, a hand-masher works, but you'll never get out all the lumps. If you're especially gadget-less, forks will work, you just have to put a lot of elbow grease in.

Excellent additions that may be traditional (or not) for your GF, and thus you should ask:
-cheese of any sort
-roasted garlic
-parsnips, turnips, & other root veggies, similarly boiled & mashed together

To reheat mashed potatoes at their best, put them in a shallow oven-safe container, cover the top with a thin layer of milk, and heat through in a medium oven. The milk keeps the potatoes from forming a crust and keeps them moist.
posted by Mizu at 2:47 AM on November 24, 2010

Another good (and simple!) addition is to make some cranberry sauce. I'm not sure of their availability in England, but I was able to find frozen cranberries while living in Germany. The simplest version is to blends them up in a food processor until pickle-relish-sized with a little sugar and orange juice (to taste). Otherwise you can cook them with some sugar and water like you would for jam. Can't really go wrong unless you burn it.
posted by beerbajay at 3:23 AM on November 24, 2010

here's a list of places that sell canned pumpkin

keep in mind that some people, even if they're not cooks, LOVE cooking on thanksgiving, so maybe the best surprise would be to start cooking, lure her into the kitchen with the delicious smells, and finish with her help (if she wants).

also, don't forget cranberry sauce! canned is perfect.

oh, and thanksgiving isn't a religious holiday at all (although people often say grace before the meal). many families like to go in a circle and talk about what they're thankful for this year.

if you're not a good cook, i would say order a turkey or, more realistically, pick up a roast chicken. the potatoes, stuffing, and pie are much easier for a non-cook.
posted by acidic at 3:28 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you truly want that Thanksgiving touch you'll find a way to live stream American football on the computer all day long (preferably featuring a college team from her home town).

And I'm not being snarky here. Football playing in the background while lots of cooking goes on is very much part of Thanksgiving!

Also the New York Times dining section has tons of recipes and I'm sure you can find something simple.
posted by brookeb at 3:32 AM on November 24, 2010

If pumpkin pie ingredients cannot be found, pecan pie is also a common Thanksgiving dessert.

1 cup (225 ml) white corn syrup (in the US, a common one is Karo brand; you can use Lyle's Golden Syrup)
1 cup (215 grams) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon (6 grams?) salt
1/4 cup (59 ml) melted margarine
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
3 whole eggs, slightly beaten
1 heaping cup (about 150 grams) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius; 4 gas mark). Combine syrup, sugar, salt, butter, and vanilla, and mix well. Add slightly beaten eggs. Pour into a 9-inch (23 cm) unbaked pie shell. Place pecan halves on the top, so that the whole top is covered but pecans are not overlapping. Bake in oven for about 45 minutes.
posted by Houstonian at 3:35 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know how serious you are about this girl (I guess you are pretty taken by her, since you are being so sweet!) and I don't know what her family relationships are like. But I do agree with others that the dishes are very regional- and family-specific. Of course, anything you cook will be recognizable as "Thanksgiving dinner" but a romantic and points-scoring move would be to send an email to her mom (or other family member), explaining what you are doing and asking for family recipes and traditions.
posted by Houstonian at 3:46 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm an ex-pat who spent many, many Thanksgivings in the UK and my suggestion is: M&S.

If you mostly cook on the hob, this is probably not the time to learn to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. I would go to M&S or Waitrose and buy one of those prepared turkey breasts roasts in the silver foil from the prepared foods section - the kind you roast in the oven. They often come stuffed and have bacon over the top. Buy sides of prepared mash and some vegetables and cook all of that.

If you can find a can of Libby's pumpkin, pumpkin pie is generally made from the canned stuff. It is however like gold this time of year. People reserve it at Fortnum & Mason weeks if not months in advance. But if you can find it, a can of Libby's and a Jus-Rol shortbread crust will get you 90% of the way there. Here is the recipe on the back of the Libby's tin.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:53 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I lived in NYC, I often celebrated Thanksgiving with a motley group of people who were far from their families (or didn't have any). It's short notice, but if you can round up a few other stray Americans who would be at a loose end otherwise you could generate a lot of happiness. If one of them can cook....
posted by nowonmai at 3:54 AM on November 24, 2010

Can one make pumpkin pie with a butternut squash?
posted by mippy at 4:11 AM on November 24, 2010

A traditional Thanksgiving dish for many people in the US is green bean casserole. In the US it is usually made with french fried onions but in case you can't get them in the UK here is a recipe made without:

2 cans green beans
1 can condensed mushroom soup (don't add any liquid to prepare the soup... you'll add it to the dish "as is")
1/2 c. chopped onion (about half of a medium sized onion)

1 c. cornflakes, crushed
2 T. soft butter

Drain liquid from green beans. Mix with the can of soup and chopped onion in a baking dish.

Top with buttered cornflake crumbs and bake at 325 degrees for about an hour. (If top starts to get too brown after half an hour cover the dish loosely with foil for the last half of baking time.)

To make buttered cornflake crumbs: in a large plastic bag, crush the cornflakes into crumbs. Add the soft butter to the crumbs and squish the bag until butter and crumbs are mixed. Sprinkle crumbs on top of casserole before baking. (You could also use dried bread crumbs in place of the cornflakes if you prefer.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:30 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanksgiving turkey is usually served with stuffing and cranberry sauce. The "stuffing" (made with bread crumbs and spices, and frequently sausage) is often (usually even?) served as a side dish. You can can find some quick turkey stuffing and cranberry sauce recipes online. They can both be very easy to make.

You may want to skip this this if you're also attempting pie. However if you can just get a can of cranberries and serve a small amount on the side along with the turkey and gravy, it would be a really nice touch. (Just the presence of cranberries on the plate signals Thanksgiving, even if you don't actually eat them.)

Like others have said it's a secular holiday. Americans come from a mixture of ethnic and religious (and non-religious) backgrounds. This is something we have in common.

She might get sappy and recite a list of "things she's thankful for" (things that have gone well for her in the past year). Not everybody does this, but a lot of people do even if they're not religious. Mull this over a bit ahead of time so you can have a list of your own if she does this. (Obviously, be sure to include "nice girlfriend" near the top of the list.)
posted by nangar at 4:31 AM on November 24, 2010

mippy: Can one make pumpkin pie with a butternut squash

Well yes but then its squash pie.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:46 AM on November 24, 2010

You can also do sweet potato pie, which for some is quite traditional indeed, especially if you're from the South. Yams can be substituted, of course.
posted by Mizu at 5:10 AM on November 24, 2010

Squash can be a lot of hassel and I've had good results with using sweet potatoes (available from Tesco), so if you're in any doubt - I would strongly suggest using them instead. Peel, boil, and mash, then use in a normal pumkin pie recipe.

If you get a few extra sweet potatoes, they are also a popular side dish when mashed, like normal potatoes and with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Another classic dish is green bean casserole - wierd, some might say disgusting, but incredibly popular with both my American family and my international Thanksgiving attendees. I use hula hoops instead of the onions and use powdered mushroom soup (2 packets, if memory serves correctly) with about 1/2 cup milk to get the right consistency.

It's very nice of you to do this for her (even if it's not perfect, I'm sure she'll really appreciate it).
posted by brambory at 5:11 AM on November 24, 2010

Yeah, if pumpkin pie is out of the question, the fallback is sweet potato pie.

And seconding the regionalism, for thanksgiving, it really depends on where she's from. After turkey and stuffing, it's anything goes, but in general the kinds of foods you'd make for large family gatherings (casseroles, mashed potatoes, etc would be fine). Why not make something your family always eats on Christmas or whatever, too?
posted by empath at 5:36 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people really do not like pumpkin pie! If she's never mentioned it as something she particularly misses don't bother with it, just get a nice apple tart at a bakery. And cranberry sauce in a can is perfectly fine.

Like everyone above I think it's wonderful that you're doing this.
posted by mareli at 6:11 AM on November 24, 2010

Is there anywhere in the UK that sells rotisserie chickens and side dishes? Like a Boston Market or even the super market? Its not a substitute for a home cooked meal by any means but it will take a lot of the pressure off you and then you can concentrate on setting up the table, getting some football on the tv or computer etc. etc. A nice bottle of wine is always a good idea too and maybe a call from family at home.
posted by Busmick at 6:15 AM on November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving, more than any other American holiday, is essentially non-commercial. It's about 3 things, not necessarily in this order: Food, people & gratefulness.

A lovely meal is nice. In my book, however, it's not Thanksgiving without a group. Relatives are the most common. When relatives are not available/wanted, a special people is a good substitute. It's not so much about the eating of good food, as the sharing of good food. And whether religious or not, it is a time to feel grateful for what is good in one's life and the lives of the people around you. As she is Christian, a special effort on the saying of grace before the meal is probably in order. For a lot of people, it's a more personal moment, done in the silent contentment of the mind in the after a good meal, still others it's a moment of respectful group silence before digging in to eat.

A less common option, often done by people who want to participate, but cannot get in with or host a group, is volunteering somewhere for some or all of the day. It can be combined with food & good friends.

Enjoy the day; find a way to take the time to appreciate your lives; have fun making it special.
posted by Ys at 6:17 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are in London, St. Paul's Cathedral does an absolutely lovely Thanksgiving service for ex-pat Americans; it's packed to the gills, they have a military honor guard, play lots of American patriotic songs, the American ambassador speaks. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday for my family but attending that service really helped me feel less homesick when I was abroad for Thanksgiving.

It is a hard holiday to be away from home for, and it's super-sweet of you to try to make a little Thanksgiving. The important part of the holiday is gathering with friends and/or family, so you've already got the most important part -- being with her.

I think you should scrounge up an American football somewhere and go out to a park after eating and display whatever American football knowledge you can glean from wikipedia in an hour, ideally complete with ridiculous football slang from the 1920s. This would be charming.

But see if you can find out what her family usually does ASIDE from eating ... do they watch football? (if yes, go to the park and play!) Do they watch classic movies? The parade? You may be able to replicate some of that.

And no, for most Americans, it's not a particularly religious holiday, other than saying grace before the meal for some. Good luck with your turkey! And remember you can just do a turkey breast -- a whole turkey for two people is a LOT (and, from what I remember of British ovens, may not fit). When it's just between two and five of us, we get a turkey breast and still have plenty of leftovers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 AM on November 24, 2010

It's about 3 things, not necessarily in this order: Food, people & gratefulness.

Perhaps ideally, but for many Americans it is also about long weekends, traffic jams, crowded airports, once-a-year relatives, televised parades and football games, and flopping on the couch in a supposedly (but not actually) tryptophan-induced sleep.

So the girlfriend's nostalgia buttons might also be pushed by things like having an American football game or parade on the television before or after dinner.
posted by pracowity at 6:42 AM on November 24, 2010

a whole turkey for two people is a LOT (and, from what I remember of British ovens, may not fit).

A whole turkey for four people is a lot!

And thus, you will be also introduced to one of the lesser-known American Thanksgiving traditions -- turkey sandwiches for a week afterward.
posted by schmod at 6:43 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

My girlfriend of a few months is American but based here in Britain ...

You've only been dating a few months. Is there any chance to contact her family (e.g. telephone, e-mail) to see what their Thanksgiving traditions have been/are -- or, would it be awkward, etc. at this stage in your relationship?
posted by ericb at 7:22 AM on November 24, 2010

I agree with everyone that says invite friends - anybody will do! A lot of families even have a tradition of inviting over people who might otherwise be on their own, like an elderly neighbour or someone at work, etc.

I'm American and hold a big Thanksgiving dinner every year here in Edinburgh, and it's all about the friends. Everyone comes over, we play board games, get drunk, I stuff them full of food, and it reminds me that I have my own little unique family.

This is a lovely thing you're doing.
posted by ukdanae at 9:21 AM on November 24, 2010

I agree that a crowd of people is best, even if the food isn't authentic. Eat the big meal early enough in the day so that you can squeeze in another piece of pie later, preferably when playing a board game (well, that's how it works in my family).

The day after Thanksgiving is also the "official" kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. Thanksgiving feels like a day to really enjoy family before the madness of Christmas takes over.l
posted by Sukey Says at 10:35 AM on November 24, 2010

If I was in another country and my boyfriend attempted to make me a Thanksgiving dinner, I would be very appreciative, even if he didn't get the regionalisms right. Good food is good food, and it's a really sweet gesture. I think pumpkin pie is fairly widespread, and turkey is near-universal.
posted by elpea at 10:47 AM on November 24, 2010

In addition to football, you could have the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special playing. I don't think there's too many Americans who wouldn't get all gooey nostalgic over that one.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:23 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

You know what's just as classy as turkey but better suited for two? Quail or pheasant or Cornish game hens.
One or two of those is all you need and the cooking will be a little less complicated because there will not be as much of a risk of uneven cooking. Small mass means they don't finish a lot faster on the outside than the inside, and any whole roasted fowl looks about the same, so they will be no less impressive for presentation. Americans have alot of angst about cooking turkeys as evidenced by the number of people who call in to our equivalent of the BBC asking for help. You probably don't want to do a turkey if you've barely used an oven before.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:15 PM on November 24, 2010

Totally seconding the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special! Football is good, too, if she likes it; it looks like you can watch this year's games via Sky.
posted by scody at 12:18 PM on November 24, 2010

If pumpkin pie ingredients cannot be found, pecan pie is also a common Thanksgiving dessert.

Where are you people from? Pecan? Sweet potato??? Apple pie would be the runner up to Pumpkin here in New England.

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special is a big win.
posted by anastasiav at 12:47 PM on November 24, 2010

This is sooooo sweet of you. If I were in your girlfriend's circumstances and my boyfriend did this for me, I'd never forget it. I would remember it as probably the most romantic, loving gesture of my whole life.

I'm thirding the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, which you should be able to find online and just pull up on a laptop. It's very cute and she'll likely appreciate it very much.

Like others are saying, regionalism is very important here. It would be great if we knew where in the states your girlfriend is from, so we can most appropriately approximate Thanksgiving for her. Here are the very important Thanksgiving dishes that most families in this area appear to have at their dinners from my own experiences (I grew up and ate 3-4 dinners a year with various families and friends in the Southeastern United States):

Cornbread Dressing
"Yankee Stuffing" - this is meat stuffing, usually made for us by one of our "Northern" friends
Mashed potatoes
Baked mac and cheese
Dinner rolls
Green bean casserole
Green peas
Canned cranberry sauce
Cinnamon corn
Sweet potato pie
Pecan pie
Chocolate cake

Some of these dishes can be complicated to prepare, but they don't HAVE to be. You don't need to make them from scratch. You can approximate most of them easily by buying boxed or frozen versions that are pretty easy to prepare.

Another suggestion is to just tell her what you're doing and ask her to help you. This might be very fun for her OR it may make her weepy and nostalgic. Be prepared for either reaction.

Good luck! Like I said above, this is a very sweet gesture on your part.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 12:49 PM on November 24, 2010

Oh. Also, gravy. Mmm, gravy.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 12:51 PM on November 24, 2010

Meat stuffing? I'm from the north, and have no idea what that is. It actually sounds kind of British...

Oh, and turnip. We always have turnip.

(really, you just want to make "comfort foods" - avoid anything distinctively not-american, and she'll love it!)
posted by schmod at 9:59 PM on November 24, 2010

And please come back and tell us how she liked it!
posted by cyndigo at 10:05 PM on November 24, 2010

Hey, cheers to you :)

Since all the foods have been mentioned, it's just a matter of cooking it all - it's a tall task even for Americans. Hope things went well!
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:39 AM on November 25, 2010

(For next time, my USian person just had pumpkin pie in Ireland this evening, made with canned Libby's pumpkin obtained in London from either Selfridges at Marble Arch or the basement at Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly.)
posted by genghis at 6:49 PM on November 25, 2010

I also found Libby's at Whole Foods last night (soho branch)
posted by like_neon at 12:56 AM on November 26, 2010

How did it go?
posted by scody at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2010

Thanks, everyone, for all your help and advice! I stuffed and roasted a turkey and did green beans, honey-glazed carrots and creamy mashed potato as sides. It was a complete surprise to her, and she really appreciated it :)

I managed to find Libby's canned pumpkin at Waitrose (also at Ocado) but in the end I mistimed the meal a bit (note to self: cooking a turkey takes ages), so we made it together that evening. And I'm glad we did: we had fun.

Thanks again for your help - much appreciated!
posted by jeatsy at 4:11 AM on November 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

P.S. And I am currently roasting the (much smaller) chicken that I bought as an emergency backup! Lol.
posted by jeatsy at 4:26 AM on November 28, 2010

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