I woke to this early AM text:
I’m supposed to be brining the bird right now. Know what I’m doing? Playing solitaire on the computer! What’s wrong with me?
Apart from a good chuckle, that text reassured me (as I did its author), that I’m not the only one who bogs down in the hoopla of this holiday week. I’m not a runner, but if I were, on the day before Thanksgiving, I would be somewhere in the last miles of the Boston marathon, with the Newton Hills just ahead. Preparing for Thanksgiving always feels that way. The push always comes at the end.
First off, let me say, unequivocally, that Thanksgiving is a lovely, tradition rich holiday, with a more reasonable expectation level and a much shorter “to do” list than Christmas. But Thanksgiving dinner, though not difficult, isn’t my favorite meal to prepare. Theoretically, you can do the prep, bake the pies, and—assuming those TV cooks are correct—even mash the potatoes ahead of time (which I don’t). Still, a lot has to happen at the last minute if you want everything to be hot and on the table at the same time.
Before you commiserate too much, let me confess. First of all, I’m an only, and Hubby’s brothers and their families are at opposite ends of the East Coast. Our stepsons and their families are scattered, too. Our Thanksgiving Dinner is very small by most people’s standards. On occasion we do have an additional guest, but mostly, it’s my 95-year-old godmother and another relative who was widowed a few years ago. My kids tell me they like the fact that we always make sure these two have a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That makes me smile.
Second, I’m very lucky to have a daughter who’s a trained chef, a son who’s a fine cook, and a Hubby whose mashed potatoes are always perfect. I happily cede control of the kitchen to them as necessary on Thanksgiving and other major holidays. (Note: I had to learn to do that!)
Third, I don’t gild the lily. Thanksgiving is an extremely heavy, carbohydrate-laden meal; I don’t see the need for appetizers, dinner rolls, additional sides, or extra fancy desserts.
Given that we have only one oven, it’s important to be organized and to do what I can ahead of time—the TV cooks are right about that. Last night I made the cranberry sauce and cooked and strained the butternut squash* for pie filling. I’ve made these from scratch for as long as I’ve had my own kitchen and don’t see any need to resort to canned. As you may have read in my last blog post, the applesauce is defrost in the fridge, as is the chicken stock for the stuffing.
Today I’ll make the apple and the squash pies and prepare the vegetables for the stuffing and relish tray. On Thanksgiving morning, my son, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, will put the stuffing together and my daughter will take charge of the turkey** that she’s brined in salt water and apple cider. She’s also made the turkey stock for the gravy. She’s been gardening the last several years and always provides the corn for the corn pudding. There’s no green bean casserole on our table; our green vegetable is usually brussels sprouts, served more or less au naturel. In the Italian tradition, the relish tray always includes fennel. I usually make the gravy. My son whips the cream from grass-fed cows at Apple Valley Creamery in Adams County, PA. It’s so thick you could almost whip it with a fork.
And, simple though it may be, that’s our dinner. Now that I’ve written it all down, it really doesn’t seem so daunting.
Whether you’re in the US celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, or you are elsewhere in the world, I wish you every blessing. We all have much to be thankful for, don’t we?
*Our preference over pumpkin.
**For the last few years, my daughter has bought us a beautiful heritage breed Naragansett turkey at Snouts and Sprouts in Chester County, PA. I can tell you that the flavor and texture bear no resemblance to a typical grocery store bird. If you have access to a farm that produces naturally raised birds, you should explore the option.