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What is in a feast? How do we define it? Is it based on the amount of food? Is it based on what we eat? Is it based on the company? Is it based on the setting?

I always liked the idea evoked by Hemingway’s book title, A Moveable Feast: The idea that a feast is something that you can pick up and move… that a feast is something that you can wrap up in the memory of your heart and carry with you no matter where you are.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US. Finding myself in Amsterdam over this holiday has it’s major plusses – friends and family that I enjoy being with, a beautiful city where I feel a sense of belonging. And it has it’s major downs – friends and family that are far away… And THEN there is the cost of turkeys here!

Despite living in Amsterdam for 6 years already, my dad still celebrates Thanksgiving. His husband takes the day off work, and the two spend it cooking together, spend it preparing to entertain friends and/or family. It’s a kind of odd feeling to be taking a ‘holiday’ when everyone else around you is just having… Thursday.

Last year I was also in Amsterdam for Turkey Day – and discovered that the English Reformed Church in the Begijnhof – one of my favorite places in Amsterdam for it’s lovely setting and peaceful space – has a special Thanksgiving Day Service organized in conjunction with the U.S. Consul in Amsterdam. We went last year sort of in exploration, and found a lovely way to ‘kick off.’

At the Begijnhof Thanksgiving Service

This year, going to the service in the Begijnhof felt a bit like tradition. And sitting there while a Rabbi speaks and shares from the Torah about God’s gifts, a Protestant minister reads from the Bible and speaks about thankfulness, and a Muslim officer from the Royal Netherlands Army reads from the Koran and tells a story about blessings – all the while looking up at a stained glass window commemorating the 1621 Pilgrims who left Amsterdam to take ship in Leiden, and from there sailed for Plymouth and the new world… well… it has a way of making you think of the twists and turns of life, the journeys that we all take, what we are thankful for, what we appreciate, how grateful we are for the big and the small things in life. How thankful we are for the family of the heart and family of the blood who share life with us.

It’s a great way to start a feast :)

Feast Preparations

Cranberry was the theme for this year’s meal… and other than that… the table could not have looked less like Apple Pie and Turkey Day. But kind of holding true to the spirit of the Pilgrims sitting in NEW Amsterdam back in 1621, we ate in celebration, we ate what was plentiful, we ate what is locally in season versus the food that we would have eaten ‘back home.’

I think those Pilgrims would have agreed that it’s not WHAT you eat, but the spirit that you partake it in. It’s about the company around the table. It’s about the appreciation for the chance to sit down, raise a glass, laugh, enjoy, and FEAST together.

And boy did we appreciate what was on the table!

For those of you, who like me, are not necessarily that partial to turkey… or have a bone to pick with the person who ruined my pie with pumpkin, and who ruined my pumpkin with pie… here’s what a Thanksgiving meal of expats in Old Amsterdam looked like yesterday:

First Course:

Wild Boar Pate

– Wild boar pate in clear gelatin, served on a bed of arugula, paired with thin slices of fig bread, Stilton cheese, and cranberry jelly (made from scratch!!! NO JELLO IN SIGHT!)… and of course, in the shape of a star in honor of the Stars and Stripes.

Second Course:
– Pear, celery and Stilton cheese soup. What incredible flavor!

Third Course:
– Quail wrapped in bacon and stuffed with foie gras, served with figs baked in the oven and topped with a slice of Stilton. (Maybe the theme was Stilton?!?)

Bacon Wrapped Quail

Fourth Course:
– Wild Boar roulade: stuffed with prunes, and marinated for 24-hours in a sauce made of red wine, whiskey, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, onion, carrots, and a ‘wild meat’ herb mix from the butcher. Baked in the oven, and served with nutmeg mashed potatoes.

Fifth Course:

Gateau de Chateau in whole

– Gateau de Chateau. My dad’s invention/creation/ opus from start to naming. Two meringue layers, center filing of cranberries, Marscarpone and Mon Chou cheese, and homemade hazelnut cream. Served with cranberry syrup made from the cranberries used in the dessert and the jelly.

There may not have been a turkey in sight – but we were all busy giving thanks for what WAS in our sights!!

A slice of Gateau de Chateau - We wept in gratitude!