Before we get into the nitty-gritty and delicious details, here's some context for my Friendsgiving dinner abroad in London. 

The Context

Thanksgiving has never been a big deal in my house. We don't spend it with the same people every year, nor do any of my family members enjoy a Thanksgiving turkey. I think we made fried rice last year for Thanksgiving. Maybe that's why my parents so graciously paid for my ticket to London to visit my brother, a graduate student at Goldsmiths, University of London. My brother and I are five years apart in age, but we've always been very close. I had really been missing him, and my mom suggested that I go to the UK instead of back to New Jersey for the holiday, (I think she's now regretting her generosity JUST a little bit after spending Thanksgiving without either of her children!). 

Our Contribution

After a couple of weeks of explaining to friends and acquaintances that I was not, in fact, going home for Thanksgiving, I was finally on my way to London. My brother told me that we had been invited to a Friendsgiving dinner at his friend's flat. He asked me what I thought we should cook for Friendsgiving, and I suggested mushroom barley soup. Although not a classic Thanksgiving dish, it always feels festive to me, and it is a Jewish staple that generally makes an appearance at Rosh Hashanah dinner. While we planned to cook the soup together, I was overcome with jet lag and slept until 2:30 pm on Thanksgiving Day; my brother graciously made the soup all by himself. Since the Sainsbury's near my brother's flat didn't have mushroom broth—only vegetable broth in soda cans—he substituted it for mushroom stock cubes. I'll link the recipe he followed loosely hereHere's soup cooking in action!

Rebecca Casel

At around 6:00 pm we left to make the trip to Friendsgiving dinner. Once we walked the ten minutes to the train station my brother realized he forgot the soup. Whoops. Twenty minutes later—armed with two tupperwares of soup—we made our way to the overground (I spent a month dancing in London and I had never once heard of the overground; I only ever took the tube). One forty-minute train ride later and we arrived at my brother's friend's flat. Our host graciously greeted us and she put us to work chopping red potatoes to be mashed. Slowly, more friends began to arrive, and the food was close to ready. At 8:00 pm, Friendsgiving dinner was served

The Spread

Rebecca Casel

So what was on the menu aside from mushroom barley soup? Brown sugar and bourbon caramelized sweet potatoes, sauteed king oyster mushrooms in place of turkey, roasted brussel sprouts, french onion stuffing from the New York Times, mashed red potatoes, and green beans. Oh, and did I mention it was an entirely vegan Friendsgiving dinner? This worked out well for me, as I keep kosher, and don't particularly like turkey anyways. As it turns out, my brother and I were the only guests to bring dinner food. Our lovely host cooked everything you see pictured above. Two guests who are roommates were supposed to bring dessert. They attempted to bake a vegan cheesecake, but it ended rather disastrously. They used vegan cheddar cheese, which was an interesting choice. The baker in me was appalled. After being baked the "cheesecake" developed a skin; they brought tulips instead. Another guest brought a gorgeous apple pie, which I only learned was vegan after the fact. It was delectable!

Rebecca Casel

The Conversation

Friendsgiving dinner was made up of an eclectic and international group of academics. There were seven of us crowded around a table for four, in a cozy one-bedroom apartment. Two friends were from China, one from Germany, one from the UK, and two from the US. Two are studying research architecture (I know, what even is that?), one is studying film, another studies music theory, another is studying queer history, and one is studying dramaturgy (that's my brother!). Instead of the usual Thanksgiving conversation of comments from out-of-touch grandparents, aunts who ask personal questions about dating, marriage, and babies, and general queries about weight loss/gain, our conversation ranged from the German version of Santa Claus (baby Jesus), to the origins of Thanksgiving and the pardoning of turkeys, to the university strike happening at Goldsmiths, where professors are striking against job cuts which would render entire departments ineffective.

All in all, this Thanksgiving was one I won't ever forget. I would highly recommend spending Thanksgiving in a foreign country. 10/10 experience!

P.S. Hot tip: don't put soup in a plastic cup. And for the love of god, don't try baking a vegan cheesecake.