Entries Tagged as 'Europe'





Two weeks ago, a small group of friends invented a new holiday. This is the kind of wonderful and hilarious thing that can happen when you are an expat… you share your traditions, you find they mold to fit both your surroundings and your lovely company. And in the end, you realise the combination might even enhance what you’d come to so firmly recognise as the original…

So it is without any further ado that a group of adventurous Brits and Kiwis, one American and a lovely representative from The Netherlands – randomly and proudly – present you the ingredients for a new “international” holiday.

#SinterThanksgiving – a mix of American Thanksgiving and the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas.


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Ingredient 1: Traditional American Thanksgiving dishes

I would like to state for the record that there have never been any sweet potatoes (yams) with marshmallows on top of them cooked in my family. But having expats ask me in horror if I’m going to serve them is secretly one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Every family has a different dish or a different recipe that revolves around the one essential ingredient: a turkey. Finding space in the fridge is like putting a puzzle together and the cat meows its face off for five consecutive hours while the turkey cooks.

On the menu: following an amazing starter of baked brie with rosemary & garlic, followed by cheese, cheese and some more cheese, the main course featured turkey (I cook it upside down, with oranges, apples, onions, celery and fresh thyme stuffed inside and then baste it with chicken broth and white wine), gorgeous sausage stuffing, mashed & roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans and the most important ingredient: freshly made cranberry sauce. No, you can rarely eat too many kinds of potatoes. If you’re looking for a gravy recipe, this one is fantastic (thanks Mom!) And let’s not forget the pumpkin and pecan pies.

Fridge on Thanksgiving



Ingredient 2: Sophisticated beverages

Surprisingly, when people asked me what the traditional beverage was to drink at Thanksgiving, I didn’t know what to answer. I’ve almost always served red wine. So when the nice folks behind this blast of a wine tasting asked if we’d like to try something which some might find unconventional, we thought it might be fun. The challenge was to pair what would usually be considered to be summer wines with a winter holiday meal.

Thanksgiving being the only holiday I am capable of cooking, I thought why not? A white 2012 Bougrier Muscadet went really well with our turkey! Call me silly because turkey is a white meat but for some reason I’d never thought of drinking white wine with it. The muscadet was cold, fresh and crisp and contrasted nicely with the masses of warm food we found ourselves surrounded with, without competing with it. We also tried a fruity 2013 Bougrier Rose d’Anjou, though to be honest, I felt it struggled to compete with the more traditionally festive champagne which we had on hand.

The only problem (and I cannot believe I am saying this) with having too much wine in your house is that when lovely guests bring you two bottles of US & New Zealand Pinot Noir for a friendly international “wine-off”… you don’t have enough people to drink them. (silly problems, I know, but this needs to still happen.)

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*Ahem* Focussing issues…

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Ingredient 3: Gift bags

I am being incredibly rude in this post and not running through a list of the gracious contributions everyone brought to this dinner because I will never stop gushing about it – nor will I stop contemplating how to turn my entire living room into a gigantic dinner table so we can more than double the numbers for next year.

But I do need to give two very special shout-outs and thus hint at the superiority of our new holiday…

Rarely have I ever seen someone more excited at the idea of Thanksgiving than the adorable and wickedly smart Rebecca aka Runaway Kiwi who convinced me this whole thing needed to happen. She made everyone fun little gift bags, filled with sweets, heart-shaped toothpicks, mustache-shaped wooden laundry pins and – here’s the real winner – lovely necklaces she makes in her Etsy shop. (A sucker for cute packaging, I loved the little envelope of old English maps she’d made to keep them in.) I’ve been wearing mine ever since.

Home necklace

Ingredient 4: Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the Dutch blow it all out of the water

What do you do when you reach the point of the evening where everyone who isn’t Dutch thinks they’ve already seen it all? You bring out cookies and gift wrapped chocolate. And this is where #SinterThanksgiving is truly born. My favorite moment of the night was when Jacintha shared the traditional Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas with us and I watched faces across the dinner table light up with smiles.

I’ve argued with some precious Finnish friends over the years about where Santa Claus comes from (thank you, Thanksgiving 2005…)  I argued The North Pole. The Finns claimed Lapland. The Dutch on the other hand, say Sinterklaas arrives on a steamboat from Spain and I absolutely love it. Celebrated on December 5th in The Netherlands – the eve of St Nicholas Day – she explained that the holiday is almost bigger than Christmas, with gifts exchanged.

We ate pepernoten, kruidnootjes, taai-taai poppen, chocolate coins, and marzipan potatoes and then were presented with giant chocolates in the shapes of our initials. I have been delightfully chipping away at a giant “J” for days.

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Chocolate letters

Not even the piles of dishes could have kept the smile from my face at the end of the night.

#SinterThanksgiving is a keeper for sure.

Evening in Oxford



Christmas at Christ Church

I woke up on Thursday morning with an impromptu day off and an urge to leave town. I headed to Oxford and spent the morning wandering The Ashmolean – an absolutely beautiful museum of art and archeology attached to the University of Oxford (with a lovely, if challenged in the service department, rooftop restaurant at the top).

Call it a love for the old-fashioned, but there is something so atmospheric and romantic about wandering around Oxford at dusk. Even in the winter, when the sun sets before 4pm… the lights come on, the streets grow quiet, the teachers emerge in their robes, the students cycle home to their residences, tourists clear out for the day…. and a certain expat wanders around taking pictures…

Christ Church, Oxford

Oxford at night

Oxford at night

Oxford at night

Oxford at night

Oxford at night

Take the tour of Christ Church starting around 3:30pm – by the time you tour the Great Hall, the Cathedral and the main courtyard, the sun will be setting and you’ll be perfectly timed to exit the back entrance into the old cobblestone streets and residential entrances to many of the Oxford colleges. Many of the colleges are only open for visit for an hour or two a day by visitors… so you’ll have to strain to catch a glimpse into the inner courtyards every time a student goes into one of the old doorways.

The longer you stay an expat…



Belem, Portugal // JessOnThames

The longer you stay an expat and the more you travel, I like to think…

…the more your curiosity grows.

…the more your grammar might suffer (am I speaking French French? Belgian French? Swiss French? England English?)

…you may realise, in the hierarchy of being able to dish out wit, Americans are not the highest ranking nationality on the planet.

…you will have sudden waves of homesickness.

…you laugh differently. But that’s not a bad thing.

…you keep making mistakes. Of the directional, linguistical, cultural, or other variety. But it builds character.

…you will have sudden urges to jump on a plane and go somewhere new.

…you’ll have moments where seeing something for the first time literally stops you in your tracks (and not only on safari when its natural…)

…your priorities will probably change.

…you will get overwhelmed.

…you will probably find perspective.

…you won’t take as much for granted.

…you will have eye-opening-perhaps-slightly-drunken conversations at 11pm in the middle of a dinner party where you try to defend the fact that you do not own a kettle, despite the fact that you live in England.

…you will then be shocked to discover others find this truly shocking…

…you may then, no less than 30 minutes later, learn some distant nationalities didn’t think chipmunks are real.

…you create your own versions of holidays which may just trump the usual ones (coming soon: a glimpse into #SinterThanksgiving)

…you learn new things. And you ask questions.

…you’ll look at home in a different way and both appreciate it and critique it more than you did before.

Either way, with all of its ups and downs, I can only come to one conclusion: expat life is a good thing.

This rather old-person-y reflective post kindly brought to you by a lovely weekend spent in the company of expats.

Photo taken in Belem, Portugal (JessOnThames)

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