Home is Where the Kitchen Is

Thanksgiving back in the 1980’s

I love Thanksgiving. When I was a girl we lived in Ann Arbor Michigan, a university town just outside Detroit and each year on the third Thursday of November, there was an exodus as all the students went home and the entire town shut down. Even though ours was a first generation American family, we always celebrated the holiday albeit with our own flavor: mostly related to a high volume of wine and a generous cheese platter. Although we included the traditional turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, my French mother could not bring herself to include anything as American as pumpkin let alone marshmallows.

Don’t be afraid!

Like many families around the US, our guests included strangers, often graduate students, who had nowhere to go for the holiday and could not afford the flight home. For these students, this was often their very first Thanksgiving. They would show up apprehensively, clutching a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates, wondering how a holiday could be based on eating turkey of all things. A few hours later, with the glasses empty and the plates cleared apprehensions had been laid to rest and we were all fast friends. To this day, my parents receive an annual thank you note from Michel, a graduate student they hosted over 50 years ago.

Thanksgiving in Paris

I hosted thanksgiving for the first time  at the age of 21 when I was relatively new to Paris, living alone in a tiny flat and working at Christie’s. I had just graduated from university and was trying to juggle a new job while finding my way as an adult in the city. For those of you who haven’t lived in Paris, it’s not known for it’s spacious apartments or kitchens especially on the budget of a young professional. Let’s just say my “kitchen” consisted of two hot plates, a toaster oven, a sink and a mini fridge. Luckily my best friend lived upstairs and could share the burden of preparing the meal! I did have an expandable dinner table that could seat 10 people at a squeeze, so 12 we were.

It’s not about the food

I don’t have many memories of what the food was like, probably for the best, but it did transform my apartment into a home. My American friends were thrilled to be able to bring their own favorite dishes, and my Parisian friends were curious to partake in this most American of traditions. Over the years that kitchen got a lot of use as hosting dinner parties became an important part of my social life; there is something about a home cooked meal, a bottle of wine and a long evening ahead that can’t be replicated in a restaurant. It also proved a great way to make friends in what felt to me like a huge, expensive city.

“Family dinners” at Morton Place

When designing Morton Place, I knew the kitchen and the dining area would be the heart of the house. This is where the stories are shared at the end of the day, where people reveal their own culinary heritage and bring a bit of their traditions to the group. We often see notes written on the kitchen blackboard announcing a housewide “family” meal being hosted by one or the other residents, and when I see those announcements I know the group is going to be alright.

Thanksgiving in London and Amsterdam

This year, I am new to London and am hosting my first Thanksgiving here in this big, some times daunting city. My dinner table will include my family and like my parents before me, some “orphans” who aren’t able to fly back home for the holiday. But far away in Amsterdam my 22 year old daughter Julia, pictured above, will be hosting her first Thanksgiving with her brother. They will be preparing it partly in his kitchen and partly in hers, some of their friends will be discovering the holiday for the first time while others will be reminiscing about Thanksgiving back  home.