It’s been a beautiful (yet freezing) Thanksgiving day in Tennessee. I got enough quiet time to read two more chapters of Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist while my husband and in laws ran five miles. We had breakfast with the in-laws, thanksgiving lunch with my parents, an afternoon with my grandmother, aunt and cousin, and are now back at the in-laws for dinner. And drinking.
This afternoon we made coffee the old-fashioned way, because the coffee maker at my parents’ house was broken and we just couldn’t have cheesecake without it. We boiled water, poured it over the coffee grounds, steeped for three minutes and then filtered through a Martha Stewart tea towel. (Thanks, Martha.) It was maybe the most fun thing ever, and it tasted great.
I have a few things on my shopping list (mainly cold weather items because holy moly it is freezing in Chicago) but I’m not shopping until Friday or maybe even Saturday. For today, I’ll be at home in solidarity with the hourly workers and retail employees forced into work on this American holiday.
Thanksgiving is my favorite. I love cooking up a big meal and I love eating it. If you’ve never done the whole thing yourself, getting everything ready to eat at the same time can be a challenge. So, I’m posting my method for you. This isn’t necessarily a good method and certainly not the only method, but it has worked for me for three years running. We sometimes change up the vegetables and desserts, but the method and the core menu stays basically the same from year to year.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Brussels Sprouts with Figs and Bacon
Caramel-Pecan Pumpkin Cheesecake
For the most part, I follow Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Turkey — with two big changes that will make your life easier and your turkey tastier. First, no one has herbes de provence, I don’t even know what that is. I melt up some butter and stir in dried rosemary and dried parsley. Second, I don’t have a rack for my roasting pan. Well, to be more accurate, I threw away the rack that came with my roasting pan. Instead, I use whole carrots as my rack. Peel your carrots, chop off the ends, and place them in the bottom of your roasting pan. It’s like building a raft for your turkey to fjord the river. It makes your turkey and your gravy extra delicious, and I personally could eat those carrots forever.
Dressing is personal. I like mine the way my mom makes it, so I do nothing to make it different or fancy. I think my mom’s dressing is perfect. And let me say right now — this is NOT stuffing. To make it, simply mix together the following ingredients and bake them at 350*F until done. You’re going to want to use the largest bowl you own.
- two round cake pans of cornbread
- six to ten crackers (i like whole wheat off-brand Ritz crackers, she uses Saltines)
- three celery stalks and 3/4 of a medium onion, previously sautéed in butter until soft
- one can
condensedevaporated milk (thanks Mom)
- one can cream of chicken
- approximately 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (more of less depending on how it looks)
- a mountain of poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper
- two eggs — or maybe four. I used two and it tasted fine.
Roast your sweet potatoes in the oven while your turkey is cooking so you can just mash them up and spice them when you are ready. Easy peasy.
Good green beans should cook with a little water and a little butter for about an hour. A little longer if you’re using frozen green beans from your parents’ garden like I did. Salt and pepper at the end.
This year H added Brussels sprouts to our menu and he made them himself. He loves them. Basically, chop up and cook bacon, then add sprouts, then add figs (dried but fresh if you have them in season, we’ve done both) when they are almost done. Salt and pepper at the end.
Cranberry sauce can be simple or complicated or from a can. I like it every way. For years I would only eat the canned kind, and I enjoyed slicing it along the lines of the can so it was perfectly straight. Now I eat all kinds. This year I used the recipe of my dear friend and it was great, adding walnuts and orange zest. The basics of homemade cranberry sauce are cranberries, a little water, white sugar, and orange zest. Just Google any which recipe: if it has those ingredients in some combination, I’m sure it will be delicious.
For dessert, we made pumpkin cheesecake according to this recipe. It was easy and delicious and you should try it if you want something low-key but nice looking. The caramel made it more fancy but it was pretty great tasting without it. I subbed in low-fat cream cheese for regular and it still tasted great.
The easiest way to make thanksgiving ready to eat on-time is to give yourself a schedule. Here’s my cooking schedule so you can see what I mean. When making your own schedule, the most important thing to remember is that your oven can only be one temperature at a time.
This plan prepares a full dinner to eat at 5:00 p.m. If you’d rather have a noon-ish meal, just make your dessert and cranberry sauce the day before and move the rest to the morning. That’s going to require an early wake up. Also, this plan assumes you’ve made the cornbread for your dressing in advance.
7:00 a.m. Take the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge. Make coffee, watch some tv, eat breakfast, enjoy the quiet while everyone else sleeps.
9:00 a.m. Take your turkey out of the fridge.
9:05 a.m. Make your dessert (it needs to cool for several hours in the refrigerator).
9:45 a.m. Throw your cranberry sauce together so it can chill in the fridge too.
BREAK TIME: Use this time to do the dishes, pull down ingredients, send someone to market for anything you’ve forgotten and/or frantically Google substitutes for ingredients since stores
are should be closed.
11:30 a.m. Prep your turkey. Pre-heat the oven to 400*F, unwrap the turkey and give it a good rinse, inside and out. Make sure you pull out the bits — there should be a bag of gross stuff and a neck. I let the neck cook in the pan with the turkey but toss the rest because who are we kidding, that’s gross.
12:30 p.m. Turkey goes in the oven. Your turkey should be stuffed with chunks of onion, lemon, and orange and covered in butter, herbs, and lots of salt and pepper. Don’t forget to stuff the butter mixture under the skin on top of the meat. Follow Giada’s cooking instructions but take it out a little early if the thermometer says you can.
BREAK TIME: You’ll have to check your turkey every now and then but warm some cider and watch a movie, or put someone else on turkey watch and go for a walk.
3:30 p.m. Green beans go on the stove.
3:35 p.m. Stir up your dressing, pour into pan(s), set aside.
4:15 p.m. Dressing goes in the oven. Sweet potatoes can come out.
4:20 p.m. (or when cool enough to touch) Peel skins off sweet potatoes, throw in mixer, blend up with milk/butter/spices.
4:30 p.m. Make Brussels sprouts and gravy. You’ll need someone on gravy stir-duty so you can do both things at once.
5:00 p.m. Everything is ready and you can eat!
Good luck with your Thanksgiving cooking adventures — whether it’s one traditional dish for a pot luck or the entire meal for your extended family, I hope you have a wonderful turkey day!
We spent our last night with family in one of Chicago’s top-three deep dish pizza chains. Lou Malnati’s is not my favorite of the three, but it is our guest’s favorite so that is where we went. And I’m not complaining–it was delicious.
These past few days have been so full. I’ve loved every minute but I am also pretty tired. All of the things I do to prepare for my workweeks, including those things I’ve been writing about this past week, have been set aside to make room for fun in our lives. And that’s the thing about successful weeks: you prepare for what’s coming so that you can enjoy what actually happens.
Tomorrow we’ll wrap up our series on successful weeks. Wednesday I’ll post my meal plan and cooking schedule from Fake Thanksgiving, just in case you need last-minute inspiration. Thursday through Sunday we’ll be with family and friends in Tennessee. I’ll try to meet you here each day as I finish National Blog Posting Month.
When I announced my decision to join NaBloPoMo this month, I mentioned that using Sunday afternoons to prep a few advance posts for the week makes a huge difference in my ability to post daily. The first week of November, I did this well and had a pretty great week, on the blog and otherwise. Last week, I didn’t make my time count over the weekend and spent the entire week paying the price. It is only half-way through the month and already I am frustrated with having to blog each day; the timing of my postings is getting a little later each night of the week. So today, while the rain and wind and thunder and hail bounce against our windows, I’m putting in the time it takes to get things back on track.
While planning for the blog is a big part of what I do on the weekend to prepare for the workweek, it isn’t the only thing I need to prioritize if I want to be successful. When I’m being responsible, I take a few minutes on the weekend to make some decisions in advance so that I can head to work each morning with minimal stress and spend my weekday evenings doing things I enjoy instead of constantly playing catch-up.
I know that doing these small tasks on the weekend makes me happier and more successful, but I don’t always do them. I sometimes struggle to follow through on things I want to do, especially if they are good for me. As we enter the busy holiday season, I must remind myself how important these small things are for my own satisfaction and save time on the busy weekends to take care of myself. H and I have two special guests arriving mid-week and staying with us until we all leave for Thanksgiving in Tennessee, so I need to fit in all of my usual tasks along with the extra baking, cleaning, cooking, and shopping I want to do so we all have a wonderful, stress-free weekend and holiday with our families.
Since it’s timely and a needed reminder for myself, I’ll be posting a bit this week about how planning ahead helps me stay on-track in the following areas:
- Arriving at Work Professionally Dressed
- Healthy and Budget-Friendly Meal Planning
- Keeping your Apartment Comfortable and Welcoming
As we go through the week, please be sure to share your own weekly and/or nightly rituals that keep you on top of your game.
I didn’t take any pictures on Thanksgiving Day.
We had 2.8 beautiful meals on the big day and several more the rest of the week, played corn-hole like champions, rummaged our parents’ garages for tools to “chop wood” so we could build fires and make s’mores. It was, honestly, wonderful. I’ve always been one to say “oh, we are too [fill in the blank] to have those picture-perfect holidays like you see in the movies,” and to be honest, we are, but it was about as great as I could have imagined.
I took a few pictures on Friday afternoon when I went with H’s family to choose a Christmas tree. We have a few glamour shots (see below) but, weirdly, I never got a photo of the tree we chose, other than a quick snapshot of H and his dad carrying the tree to the car. In case you are wondering, the men in our family carry chopped-down-Christmas-trees like the men in the mafia carry dead bodies: one at the head and another at the feet.
The drive back was slow due to traffic, but happily uneventful, and we are back in DC working all day and, unfortunately for H, doing a lot of homework at night. I’ve ordered a few more Christmas gifts that should be arriving soon, and am very excited to be entering prime J-O-Y territory and hope that I can keep the Christmas spirit going even if we hit a few rough patches along the way.
I spent the evening getting the
house apartment ready for decorating, which will probably happen on Friday evening while H is at the UT-Georgetown basketball game. I mean, I can save a few ornaments for him to place on the tree when he gets in, but is H interested in my obsessive-compulsive approach to hiding the cords between the light bulbs in the Christmas tree branches? Not at all. [You do understand, don’t you, that Christmas tree lights should look like they are growing right out of the tree, and that the women in my family will stop at N-O-T-H-I-N-G to ensure that everyone believes God miraculously placed glowing lights in our holiday decorations, no electricity required.]
It has been a tumultuous but quite lovely year thus far. Here’s to finishing it out with a bang, and showing those Mayans who knows what about calendaring.
It’s Wednesday and we are at home in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee, cooking up a storm with our families and having a wonderful time [hopefully, if things went well on our drive!]. Here are some shots of our pre-Thanksgiving celebrations to help you get excited.