I remember my mother and grandmother flitting around busily for days before a holiday, preparing and precooking and who knows what, preparing for the big event. We rarely have guests, but my everyday head count is higher than most of my mom’s dinner parties. I was determined not to stress out this year. I would just make a nice meal for my family.
But my husband approached me two days in advance to ask if I planned dinner; would I be making a pie? Uh, I didn’t realize this was a question when it came to Thanksgiving. I answered that the usuals would be present for the event. He looked worried. I wasn’t doing enough.
Every year has something new and different, and this year was no exception. I didn’t make the lovely, braided, French bread loaves from scratch to turn into crumbs for stuffing. I bought some crusty rosemary bread at the market instead. Now that’s unusual. I’m not a huge fan of commercial anything, but the smell of that bread was too enticing. I thought it might complement the organic turkey that Hubby spent a little extra on since we didn’t raise our own.
Yesterday was a lovely day. Hubby took all the boys out to run errands, leaving the girls home to bake pies and prepare stuff. Faith made an apple pie, including double crusts, completely by herself. I made the usual chocolate cream and pumpkin pies while hers baked. And then I had another newbie I wanted to try: Chocolate Pecan. This would not normally be a big deal, but I don’t use corn products. I figured I could combine a recipe for a maple syrup walnut pie with another for a standard chocolate pecan pie. It just wasn’t blending as seamlessly as I’d anticipated. Then I remembered my Great-Aunt Carrie; she despised corn syrup as being a great invention, but way too sweet for her tastes. Her hand-written recipe that I had to be there to have explained while she wrote was unearthed from mom’s old tin recipe box. It was perfect: I could see how to add chocolate and substitute maple for the little amount of corn syrup called for without losing the consistency. I remembered too late why I had been required to be present 33 years ago. The recipe emphatically states to cook the pie for 50 minutes, decorate with pecan halves, and bake for another 15. She’d told me it was 50 minutes total, and that the decoration should go on 15 minutes prior to the end. I’m glad decorations are non-essential and laughs at bygone eccentrics are priceless.
Four freshly baked pies on the sideboard alleviated some of Hubby’s stress about dinner. The boys, however, are the ones responsible for engineering leftovers into the refrigerator. Their brows developed a furrow I’d never seen before, identical across the row of them.
Then that evening, after the little ones were in bed, I started some Hawaiian Sweet Rolls. I left out the spoonful of mashed potatoes, since they wouldn’t be peeled until tomorrow and aren’t essential. “Uh, mom?” my daughter called from the other side of the kitchen. “Do we have more honey somewhere?” Uh-oh. Honey is what I consider the defining ingredient, and at 10 pm the night before serving, it is not likely to be included now. I used sugar like the recipe said. I think that was when my oldest son fainted. He’s never seen me actually follow a recipe. (Just kidding – it was only his jaw that hit the floor!)
This morning, Faith and I sliced and sauteed onions, celery and mushrooms to add to the rosemary bread crumbs for stuffing. We washed and patted dry the naked beast before I realized that the pan we needed was still above the cabinetry, where it had sat since last Christmas. It would have been much easier to wash the cobwebs off that huge thing before the turkey took over the sink.
We finished stuffing just as little sister rolled out of bed. For a wee one, Pips sure can sleep in like a teen. She had wanted to make the rolls, and I assured her I would save them for her. We put her Home Depot apron on, helped her cover her hands in flour and then do the funnest part of breadmaking: punching down the dough. Then the girls took turns kneading. Push, turn, push again. I couldn’t believe how well Pips did this for her first time. We all had a good time pulling off blobs and folding them into golf-ball sized rolls in the pan.
I basted the bird every half hour with a mix of Jack Daniels Whiskey and apple juice, something I learned during the years I cooked with a smoker. Oh, for some apple wood about now to burn under this bird….but the convection oven does cook a lot faster.
Aunt June’s candied sweet potatoes are essential to any holiday meal, so I juiced oranges for those while Faith peeled russets for the mashed potatoes the boys prefer. Fresh green beans would steam lightly over the top while the potatoes boiled. As the turkey neared done, the lineup of pans ready to go into the oven as the turkey came out exceeded the countertop available.
The lovely, golden brown bird emerged from the oven and everything else went in. Final approach is always the busiest time. Hubby started carving the bird before I got a photo, and then the one I did get turned out blurry. In turning the mashed potatoes out of their pot into a serving dish, my son burned his arm on the range hood light. When he recoiled from that, he burned the backside of his elbow on the turkey pan. Little brothers came in to sit down and didn’t consult the newly devised seating chart, which sent big sister off to her room in a huff. Then the cat walked along the sideboard to see what smelled so good on that plate Dad was loading – right across all the pies.
And really, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Reality. We never get things as we plan, no matter how thoroughly we plan them. But we do the right things because we love the ones around the table. Regardless of how lovable they are. Everyone sat where they were comfortable. We hadn’t had such a splendid meal in years – everything turned out exactly perfect. I was relaxed after spending a full day cooking and puttering happily in my kitchen with no preconceived notions of how things should be hanging over my head. My girls had contributed proudly to this, and the boys were looking forward to seeing how much they could devour. We thanked God for all his blessings, ate like royalty and laughed over conversation. We have more left over than will ever fit in the fridge. God is good.