Thanksgiving Reflections from France

Thanksgiving flashcards I used in my classes

This week in all my classes here in France, I am teaching my students about Thanksgiving. I talk about the history of the first Thanksgiving (I leave out the bit about the pilgrims later killing the Indians-they’re ESL students ages 6-11 so it’s a bit difficult) and I explain how and why we still celebrate Thanksgiving today.

I tell them how all over the United States, families and friends gather to have a meal together, and I teach them the traditional Thanksgiving foods: turkey, cranberries, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc. I explain why it’s called Thanksgiving—because we give thanks. Then I have them do an activity where they have to write a few things for which they are thankful.

And this is where my students look at me with a blank stare. I explain again (in French and in English) that we are going to write a few things that we have that we really appreciate, for which we are grateful.

One child asks, “Like a list for Papa Noel?”

“No, not a list of things you want, a list of things you already have that make you happy.”

I make a list on the board to help them, of ideas they can use. I say, “Maybe you are thankful for family, or friends, or your house, or your pets.”

After a while they start to catch on, but it surprises me how difficult this concept is for them. I thought it would be simple, that would all immediately come up with family, friends, toys. I wonder, is it just a difference in cultures? A language barrier? Or are all children like this these days?

It makes me a little sad that the notion of being thankful is difficult. I know that all of the students in my school are quite privileged, and have everything that they need and more. I think it’s so important that we teach children about the importance of being thankful and to appreciate what they have.

As I think about all of this, I have a newfound appreciation for the holiday of Thanksgiving. I think it’s wonderful that there exists a day dedicated to being thankful. Never mind that the other 364 days a year people may forget about this; at least there is one day where people come together to give thanks and truly appreciate all of the things and people they are so fortunate to have in their lives.

So for everyone back home in the US, or those of you celebrating Thanksgiving abroad (like me), please don’t forget the true meaning of this great holiday. As for me, this year, I am thankful for Thanksgiving.


A Peek into a Colombian Kitchen

After having been in many different Colombian homes, and specifically, Colombian kitchens, it has come to my attention that nearly all kitchens here have a few staples, so I’m going to share with you the ones I have consistently noticed.  Continue reading

Bucaramanga, a Hidden Treasure

Photo Credit yonolatengo

Okay, now that I’ve caught your attention with this title, let me contradict myself by saying that Bucaramanga is not at all hidden, although it is a treasure.

Bucaramanga is the capital of the Department of Santander, in the Northeast of Colombia, and the city with the sixth largest population in the country. Continue reading

Colombian Christmas Traditions Day 3

**Every night for the nine nights before Christmas Colombians celebrate novenas, so I will be writing a blog post every day about Colombian Christmas traditions. Feliz Navidad!**

Yesterday I wrote about the different traditional Christmas food and drinks in Colombia, and today I have the recipes for you! If you want to see pictures or descriptions of anything, just read my post from yesterday here.

First, buñuelos. The easiest way to make buñuelos is with a pre-made mix; then all you need to add is cheese and water. However, if you can’t find the mix near you, then here’s how to make them from scratch:


2 pounds of Queso Fresco, very finely grated
1 ½ cups cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
Vegetable oil for frying


Mix all ingredients together, minus the oil, until it is a soft dough. Then form the dough into ½ inch diameter balls. Heat the oil. To know if it is the right temperature, you should form a tiny test ball of dough and drop it in. It should sink to the bottom, and then count to 11. If it rises at 11 seconds, it is ready. If it rises too quickly, it is too hot. If it takes longer to rise, the oil is not hot enough. The trick to buñuelos is the temperature of the oil; it has to be perfect, so make sure you test the oil. They are done frying when they are a nice golden brown on the outside. Then place them in a bowl lined with paper towels and serve immediately.

Next, natilla. Natilla mix also comes in a box, but here is the recipe to make this delicious cake from scratch:

Time: 30 minutes                                                                                             Servings: 8-10


950 millilitres of milk                                                                                                             1½ cups cornstarch                                                                                                               ¾ cup brown sugar                                                                                                                 4 cinnamon sticks                                                                                                                    1 tablespoon cinnamon to sprinkle on top


Dissolve the corn starch into the milk. Add the brown sugar.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. When the sugar has fully dissolved and begins the milk has started to thicken, add the cinnamon sticks.
Continue to cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, take the cinnamon sticks out, and pour the mixture on to a large and slightly deep, tray.
Allow to set, place cinnamon sticks and sprinkle cinnamon on top, and serve.

Last, canelazo, a tasty drink you can serve all winter long. It’s perfect at Christmastime or on any cold day.


2 cups aguapanela (sugar cane drink)
1 cup aguardiente (Anise-flavored alcohol)
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon lime juice                                                                                                    Sugar for serving


Mix the aguapanela, aguardiente, cinnamon, and lime juice in a pot over medium heat. Simmer for about 7 minutes, without allowing it to boil. Cover the rims of the cups or glasses with lime and sugar and pour in the liquid and serve.

Happy cooking!

Colombian Christmas Traditions Day 2

**Every night for the nine nights before Christmas Colombians celebrate novenas, so I will be writing a blog post every day about Colombian Christmas traditions. Feliz Navidad!**

Today is December 17, the second day of novenas, and my second of nine bog posts about Colombian Christmas traditions.

There are many foods that are traditionally eaten around Christmastime in Colombia. My personal favorite is buñuelos. Buñuelos are a delicious dough ball with cheese and are fried, so they’re nice and crispy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.


Natilla and paneton are typical Christmas desserts. Natilla is a cake with a texture a bit like flan and the primary ingredients are milk, panela, and cornstarch. People often make it with arequipe as well. Paneton is a more traditional cake, baked in a round form with a hole in the middle, and is usually made with dried fruits or chocolate chips.



The traditional Colombian family Christmas meal is served on Christmas Eve, and the main dish is turkey. Pretty much the only time you can find turkey in Colombia is around Christmastime.

Traditional drinks, which can be found all year round but are even more prevalent at Christmastime, are canelazo and hot chocolate. Canelazo is agua de panela with a shot of aguardiente and a bit of lime and sugar, and sometimes cinnamon as well. It is delicious and will warm you up right away. Hot chocolate is the same as anywhere else, but in Colombia people often melt cheese in the hot chocolate and then eat it or dip their bread in the hot chocolate.


Tomorrow I will have recipes for all of the foods mentioned today!

Thanksgiving in Bogotá

Thanksgiving Dinner

On Thursday I hosted Thanksgiving at my apartment in Bogotá. It was the first time I’ve ever been in charge of Thanksgiving dinner, and I was a bit concerned about how it would turn out, but fortunately I had lots of help and everyone seemed to enjoy the food. Continue reading

Top 5 Things I Miss from the Coast

Flag of Barranquilla

Today is my last day in Barranquilla; I go back to Bogotá tonight. The next time I’ll be here will be for CARNAVALES! I can’t wait. I’m excited to go back to Bogotá, but there are some things from Barranquilla that I have really missed, so I want to share my top five.  Continue reading

Back in La Costa!

View from my old classroom of the preschool where I taught

I am back in Barranquilla, my old home, for the first time in five months. It is wonderful being back. Everything feels so familiar still; it really feels so much more like home to me than Bogotá does. Although perhaps that will change in a few months.   Continue reading

Sundays at Usaquén

Ciclovía in Bogotá

We always try to wake up early on Sundays in time for ciclovía, Bogotá’s bike path on one of the main streets that is closed to cars from 7 am to 2 pm. Usually we walk, instead of riding bikes, about 45 blocks to a little borough of Bogotá called Usaquén. Continue reading

Colombian Cuisine

When discussing cultural differences of a place, one simply cannot ignore the food. Colombia has some very interesting and different foods that also vary within different regions of the country.

First, the fruits. There are some crazy fruits found in Colombia. Well, crazy to a gringo, that is. No Colombian meal is complete without a pitcher of freshly made fruit juice. In the coast, I drank juice of pineapple, mango, blackberry, passion fruit, guava, strawberry, orange, mandarin, lulo, corozo, tomate de arbol, guanabana, and many others. There are even more unusual fruits that are not commonly made into juices. My favorite is definitely tomate de arbol. It’s sort of like a citrusy tomato juice—think V-8 Splash, not the regular V-8.

Arepa de choclo con queso-Medellin

Frozen White Corn Arepas

Continue reading