Thanksgiving, Basically

If the Amazing Race ever comes to Finland, I know just what I’d have contestants do: find a 12-pound turkey in a Helsinki grocery store.

Speaking from experience, it’s damn near impossible. For the past month, I scouted stores all over the city and all I could find was a single freezer  full of six-pound frozen birds wrapped in white plastic and plainly labeled “FROZEN BABY TURKEY.”

I had a hard time believing that an off-brand, baby turkey was the best I could do, so I dragged Johann to the store with me a few weeks ago to help me look.

“Well that’s a turkey,” Johann confirmed when I showed him the freezer.

“I know that,” I said. “But where are the big ones?”

He glanced down the aisle.

“We probably don’t have any,” he said. “We don’t really eat turkey.”

“Well no one does,” I said. “But someplace should sell them.”

I picked up one of the generic turkeys and held it like a basketball. “I want one like this but twice as big and less sad.”

“I don’t think you’re going to find that,” he replied. “We’re not into big things.”

In an ideal world,” I continued. “It would be a Butterball. But I’ll take anything at this point.”

Before Johann could ask what a Butterball was, I shoved the frozen baby turkey into is hands and opened the next door.

“Here,” I said triumphantly as I hoisted a second, much larger frozen bird out of the case. I had been to this store many times, but had never seen this item before. “This is new! They must have just gotten these for Thanksgiving!”

I hefted it from hand to hand. “This is bigger!” I added.

“It is,” he agreed.

“Well this is what we want,” I said, dropping it in the cart. “Something like this.”

He took the item out of the cart and put it back in the case.

“You don’t want that,” he said.

“Yes, I do!” I insisted. “I want the 12-pounder! That’s what we need!”

He sighed. “That’s a seven kilo goose,” he said, shutting the freezer door. “And the next case is roosters, so don’t even bother.”


The limited turkey selection was but the first of many Thanksgiving letdowns for an American in Finland.

I wanted to make all the “iconic” holiday dishes for the party – Bisquick biscuits, French’s green bean casserole, Libby’s pumpkin pie – but was disappointed to find that none of these brands are readily available in Helsinki. Even worse, there were no suitable alternatives.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I tried making biscuits with Finnish pancake mix and they turned out like flat, greasy hockey pucks. I attempted the casserole, but the stores offered neither French cut green beans nor condensed cream of mushroom soup – which made the whole thing pointless. I had all but given up on finding a can of pumpkin when one of Johann’s friends alerted him to what she dubbed “the Yankee shelf” at a grocery store in a Metro station. She saved us all from a pecan pie and for that I’m truly thankful.


What I really wanted to find – more than the canned pumpkin and the giant turkey put together – was a set of American measuring cups. I don’t have much of a go-to recipe collection, but all of my favorites involve cups and ounces as opposed to deciliters and grams.

“Well can’t you just convert the recipes?” Johann asked.

I put down the 500 grams of unsalted butter I was holding and motioned to our shopping cart, which was full of six different fresh herbs, two types of sugar, 16 potatoes, and a generic baby turkey.

“You think that’s what this situation needs?” I asked. “Math?!”

“It’s not that har–,” he said. “I’LL HELP YOU!”

And I’m pleased to report that he made good on that promise – from pies to potatoes. We did OK.

Actually, we did great. In the end, I decided to scrap the whole idea of an “iconic” Thanksgiving and just make a traditional menu without any of the gimmicks:

Ina Garten’s Herb Roasted Turkey

Real Simple’s Mashed Sour Cream Scallion Potatoes

Real Simple’s Classic Baked Stuffing

Genius Kitchen’s Easy Gravy

Martha Stewart’s Basic Cranberry Sauce

Genius Kitchen’s Brussels Sprouts in Garlic Butter

Deb’s Kale Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Pecans

Betty Crocker’s Dutch Apple Pie

Eagle’s Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Recognize the theme? Easy. Basic. Simple. I know better than to attempt anything fancy on the day I’m cooking for ten.

Considering that I never showed much talent in the kitchen and was also working with a math handicap, it turned out shockingly well. In fact, I’m including all the recipes because they’re simple enough that any first-timer should be able to pull them off without too much trouble. Some – like the cranberries, gravy and stuffing – can be made or prepped ahead. The potatoes and brussels sprouts are made on the stovetop, which means that the only thing you need to put in the oven is the turkey.

And as any kitchen novice will tell you: the less you have to use the oven, the better. It’s best we keep our food where we can see it.


Which brings me to my next point: a cooking tip! No, seriously.

It goes like this: If you want to cook 12 pounds of turkey in half the amount of time, just buy two 6-pound turkeys.

No really – it’s great! I’ve never made a large bird, but as of Friday, I’ve cooked two small ones side-by-side on a standard roasting pan and I will tell you that it’s easy as can be. They’re way simpler to clean and prep, a snap to carve and they’re done in less than two hours. Not to knock anyone else’s main dish, but they turned out juicier and more flavorful than most of the jumbo birds or large turkey breasts I’ve ever had.

Butterball has nothing on me.

A few more pictures. Sadly I didn’t think to take more since I was busy cooking or cleaning and my iPhone was serving as the resident DJ.

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Thanksgiving in Finland will never be the same as home, but it felt far more familiar than I expected. My new Finnish friends were good sports about filling their plates with roast turkey and pumpkin pie and drinking a full bottle of wine apiece. They indulged me as I talked about American holiday traditions and said nothing as I badmouthed the metric system. More than once, I heard someone used the phrase “next year,” which is about the nicest compliment I could receive.

In the end, I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday. And I wouldn’t change an ounce.


Giveaway Time: I made a 2018 calendar featuring some of my favorite photos from the past two years. The below shot is January, which was taken on the South Island in New Zealand. If you want to win a calendar, head over to Instagram and leave a comment on this image, or any of the upcoming posts marked #giveaway. Only one comment per photo, but you can comment on all twelve months for more chances to win. Must be an Instagram follower to win! xx

Update: Two people have now asked if they can buy calendars. I was originally going to offer that as well, but didn’t want to make my blog too salesy… but sure. If you want to, why not? Leave me a comment if you’d like to purchase one. The cost will be somewhere in the $15 range, which will include shipping. If the cost per item goes down because a lot of people order, then I’ll donate the remaining money to a well-rated, non-political charity. Next week, I’ll include an official purchase link – but for now it would be helpful to get a count!






    • Umm. Who needs TWO calendars? And, out of curiosity, where does he even plan to hang the second? In the Chinese restaurant? ;) But yeah, I was going to give you one as a gift… guess you know ALL your gifts now :)

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