How a French-American Cookbook Author Hosts a Traditional Thanksgiving in Normandy
The best tablescapes use things you already have lying around.
Published Nov 1, 2021 1:04 AM
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When Héloïse Brion, aka Miss Maggie’s Kitchen on Instagram, moved from Jupiter, Florida, to France in the late ’90s, she missed one thing in particular: Thanksgiving. So much so that she decided to introduce her French friends to the tradition, hosting a feast every year in her old Normandy hunting lodge. “I would write up quizzes so that everyone would get to know a bit about the history of this holiday,” says Brion, who published Relaxed French Entertaining in 2020 to share her love of cooking delicious, simple meals and hosting casual dinners at home.
For Brion, Thanksgiving is all about the joy of gathering loved ones and cooking together. “Family, friends, or complete strangers get together and share heartwarming time around the table. I love the fact that everyone participates: Some are in charge of the turkey, others a couple sides, the stuffing, the pies,” she notes.
Keeping up the ritual on another continent has its challenges (“The ovens and turkeys in France are smaller, and people aren’t used to eating leftover sandwiches,” she admits), but Brion has never lost her cravings for American cuisine. “I personally love a turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and cheese sandwich,” she says. “To some, these traditional recipes can be a bit puzzling…just like the French butter escargots are for our American friends,” she points out.
Below, she tells us how she hosts an authentic (but still stress-free!) Thanksgiving away from home.
Use Items You Already Have
Vintage tableware, glass, metal, natural elements—I love mixing materials when creating a tablescape. I find it brings the beauty out of each piece. For this table I used my great-grandmother’s plates and mixed them with antique metal army plates and cutlery in silver and wood—and I always have a lot of nature on the table. Here you’ll find eucalyptus and small white flowers from the farmers’ market, plus Baby Boo and soft green pumpkins.
Keep the Tunes Low
Music is so important during dinner parties! I make new playlists on a regular basis, depending on the mood I want to set and the season. Don’t hesitate to test the volume and adjust it if necessary so that everyone can hear one another around the table come mealtime.
Begin setting the table one to two days before the dinner party—this will reduce your stress level on the big day. It’s easy to do while things are cooking and baking, and it allows you to have the time to play around and make adjustments if necessary before your guests arrive.
Customize a Few Things
Brion swears by these quick DIYs for a personalized dinner table:
- Initial napkins: I had fun sewing the first-name initial of each guest with gold thread—it’s very easy (I did it while watching Maid!) and special for them.
- Pumpkin-shaped buns: You can use a basic bread recipe (I share one on the website) and make variations by adding nuts, fresh herbs, cheese, or dried fruit! I play around with beet powder, matcha, and turmeric to give them different colors and tones. Have fun with it!
- Painted glasses: You can easily find paint for art projects that dries on a variety of surfaces such as glass. I wrote Thanksgiving-themed words—gather, feast, grateful, love—on everyone’s water cups. This is also something you could have your children, nieces, and nephews do. Everyone loves to participate!
- Seasonal smudge sticks: I find smudge sticks are always a wonderful take-home gift for guests. So why not prepare a seasonal version with dried apples, fresh rosemary, and cinnamon for each place setting?