We typically host Thanksgiving every year. This year, however, we wanted to escape the issues and chaos and crazy that comes with bringing the extended family together (yes, I said it). We wanted to boycott Thanksgiving. We are thankful. We give thanks daily. Yet, we were ready to head out of town and make reservations, just us. Some do this annually, I have only had Thanksgiving in a restaurant once in my 44 years. For the past 15 years, I have cooked. I love the tradition, but this year, I wanted a break (or read this as an escape). In October, I was making a list of restaurants to check out their Thanksgiving menus and plans.
In less than 30 days to Thanksgiving, a whole lot of life happened in our family on multiple levels, from coast to coast. Our reality was checked. The realization that time is fleeting and the reminder that life gives guarantees were upon us. Ready or not, Thanksgiving is a time to bring family together. Our decision changed from reservations to hosting Thanksgiving Dinner.
With two weeks to plan, evites were sent, tables and chairs reserved and the menu was planned. Thanksgiving Dinner for 20 was in the works. To accomodate all, Thanksgiving would have to happen on the Sunday prior, not the traditional Thanksgiving Thursday. In our house, every day is a day to give thanks, so spin the wheel, pick a day, and get the party started.
We celebrated yesterday. Considering I started from a mindset of running the opposite direction, away from Thanksgiving with the extended family, our Thanksgiving celebration was our best ever. Though I am sure this has something to do with family togetherness, I am thankful for my keep-it-simple-yet-fabulous menu:
Roast Turkey (stuff it, season with sage, salt and pepper, roast it). 23 pounds this year.
Stuffing with Giblets (bread cubes, butter, stock, giblets, herbs and spices)
Mashed Potatoes (potatoes peeled by my 18, 11 and 8 year olds taste amazing!)
Gravy – Gravy makes the meal. I put a lot of time into making a great stock the day before (roasted turkey wings, onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, celery, peppercorns, bay leaf, garlic, parsley and salt; cook for 5 hours). This delicious, dark, rich stock makes a terrific gravy, especially when stirred into a frenzy by my sister-in-love.
Choucroute au Champagne (James Beard) – kraut is good, prepared this way, incredible
Brown Sugar Glazed Yams – bake the yams whole the day before. Day of, peel, chop and cover with a struesel of brown sugar and melted butter; bake until heated through.
Whole Cranberry Sauce – cranberries, sugar, water. Keep it simple.
Waldorf Salad – This salad has many variations. Ours consists of apples, grapes, walnuts, celery, lemon juice, mayo, whipped cream, nutmeg. My favorite part of this salad is putting it on my turkey sandwich with a spread of cranberry sauce on the days following the feast.
Roasted Brussel Sprouts – Trim and halve sprouts, toss with olive oil and salt. Roast on baking sheet until browned. My girl did a great job trimming, cleaning and halving.
Green Beans – I love green bean casserole, I really do. Really, really. This year, I couldn’t do it. I needed something pure and green and simple. Haricort verts blanched, topped with butter.
Corn – Corn is the great safety net of life. My 7 year old loves to open cans. This was one of his contributions to the meal. How could I resist? Straight from the can, microwave blasted. Classy.
Parker House Rolls – making your own bread on Thanksgiving is a must. Use a bread maker if you must but make your own bread. These rolls are easy to make (I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for our shared love of butter; Bon Appetit has a recipe in their November 2012 issue too). If you can get your European brother in law to rave about your bread you know you found a winning recipe.
We also had an off-menu fruit salad studded with mini marshmallows added and prepared by my knife weilding seven year old fruit ninja.
Don’t forget dessert.
Date Bars – My Grandmother’s recipe that I cherish. A Thanksgiving tradition as far back as I can remember. Even if I made reservations, I would still make date bars.
Pies – Yum. Pumpkin, Pecan and Harvest (comination of apple, pear and cranberry). Does anything get better in life than pie with homemade crust? No. It only improves with homemade whipped cream on top. Mmmmmmmmm.
I don’t delegate when I cook, admittedly, a cooking control freak. Maybe I’ll work on this, probably not. If you’re not cooking, word to the wise, bring wine or a beverage of choice.
Today, the day after, while drinking my morning coffee and nibbling on date bars (YUM!), I look back, and though it was two days of serious work, the outcome was worth the effort. I am thankful for family, the joy on my mother-in-law’s face having her children and their children together, the cousin’s giggles and endless play action, and the photos taken to keep the memories alive. Thanks to our family for always ready to eat. Thanks be given to my husband for taking care of the honey-do list and to my daughter/sous chef-in-training for her diligent efforts and for my boys for being there when I needed them and staying clear mostly. I am thankful for another year of cooking and delicious food.