Published on November 23rd, 2015


Expat Creativity: Devising Substitutes for Traditional Holiday Eats

Thanksgiving 2012: a Subway turkey sandwich en route from Thailand to MyanmarLiving in foreign lands now for more than 4 continuous years, I’ve obviously celebrated many holidays without benefit of the full array of traditional eats normally enjoyed on such occasions in my native land. Especially so when it comes to the traditional fare of a U.S. Thanksgiving dinner. It’s often been quite the challenge to unearth even a facsimile of the ubiquitous turkey, dressing, cranberries and pumpkin pie.

Indeed, two years ago I was scheduled to be aloft en route from Thailand to Myanmar on Thanksgiving Day, so… the best I could come up with was to board my morning flight toting a somewhat soggy turkey sandwich purchased at “Subway” in Bangkok the day before. As we hovered at 30,000 feet, leastwise I had a (o.k. utterly pathetic, but nonetheless) smidge of “Thanksgiving” to chow down on in lieu of the Pad Thai noodles proffered for my in-flight meal.

Come to think of it, I seem to have been “en route” to someplace most every Thanksgiving since 2011 – 3 years ago I was apparently on an overnight bus in Vietnam slurping pho at a rest stop.

And the year before, though stationary – alas my Thanksgiving dinner was arguably the worst yet:  fast food at my laptop in Ho Chi Minh City, as I struggled with yet another CELTA teaching assignment.

Crispy brown roasted Thanksgiving turkey

Ah but the good news is that this year I’ll be tuckin’ into a true-blue U.S. of A. turkey dinner with all the trimmings (a family-style dinner served at a local gringo restaurant here in Cuenca). We’ll enjoy all the usual Thanksgiving fare – save for the one particular item that nobody here in Ecuador seems to be able to lay hands on. Two words:


Actually, I did manage to unearth two cans of the “jellied” variety at the gringo supermarket here in Cuenca last year (though alas, I checked yesterday and found nary a single can on the shelves). Fortunately, I’ve been hoarding my two precious cans of the jellied variety all year, and have benevolently offered to donate them both to the restaurant so that each of us can at least have a dab of cranberries.

But still…

The truth is, I’ve never liked the jellied version, and much prefer my Turkey-day cranberries made with whole berries, not the bland “jello” variety. But apparently fresh cranberries are another elusive here amid these towering Andes mountains, and the only option is dried cranberries.

Thus I became hell-bent on a new culinary mission. A courageous mission to somehow whip up a reasonable facsimile of my childhood whole-berry cranberry sauce – using dried árandanos (cranberries).

Armed with the following ingredients:

Ingredients for making whole berry cranberry sauce from dried cranberries

…along with this recipe which I gleaned from some obscure online cooking forum:

2 cups water or preferably cranberry juice or pomegranate-cranberry juice mix
2 t. cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup orange marmalade
1 cup chopped orange sections (not mandarin orange), peel and pith removed
1 T. grated orange peel
1/4 t. grated fresh ginger
pinch of ground allspice

Whisk together cranberry juice, cornstarch and brown sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium low heat; cook for five minutes, whisking occasionally, until mixture is reduced by one third. Stir in dried cranberries.

Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for another 8-10 minutes or until cranberries are slighty re-hydrated. Stir in orange marmalade, chopped orange, grated orange peel, ginger and allspice. Remove from heat.

Chill before serving. *You can add more sugar if it’s not sweet enough and/or stir in some chopped toasted pecans or walnuts for variety

…I was determined to concoct a tasty clone of my favored chunky whole cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving. I mean, how hard could it be?

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find cornstarch (nor truth-be-told, did I have the heart to search for it) but surely a bit of flour would work to thicken. I also wasn’t sure if I could lay my hands on allspice, but I did (by some miracle) happen to have ground nutmeg which is similar, no? Oh and while I couldn’t find orange marmalade, I opted for “mora” (blackberry) instead (which I thought might be even tastier). In any case, I was game to give the recipe a try.

And the result?    Ta-daaa!

Mighty close to Ocean Spray!

Cobbling it all together was actually quick and easy. And once cooled, the consistency is very close to what I remember dumping out of a can in the U.S. The taste too, proved yummerishes – tart enough to impersonate fresh cranberries, yet just sweet enough to my liking.

In short, hot-diggity – yet another success in creatively adapting to life as an expat!

Happy Thanksgiving to
all my family and friends in the U.S.A.!

About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

2 Responses to Expat Creativity: Devising Substitutes for Traditional Holiday Eats

  1. Ted says:

    Forgot all about Thanksgiving this year. Usually our daughter arranges something or they come to us. 2nd grandchild on way, so she’s kinda busy, sort of, ‘ish. Probably rustle up something simple.
    Ted kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Pruning for my travelMy Profile

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