Thanksgiving Report

With the return of a quiet and empty (except for the Christmas music playing and the Carolyn singing from her crib) house, I'm back to report on the Thanksgiving Day results.

We stuck to the schedule pretty closely and sat down to eat only 30 minutes later than I anticipated. I call that good. The old recipes were characteristically fabulous and the new recipes were (somewhat surprisingly) all hits with most of us.

This is my refrigerator Wednesday night: arranged, rearranged, and crammed to the brim to accomodate my large water-bath canner with brining turkey inside.

The Food List and Preparation Schedule:

Pie Preparations (gotta work on the cook time and temperature for a deep dish fresh pumpkin pie).

New roll recipe, Sweet Potato Twists. These were beautiful and delicious. Many thanks to my mother-in-law for making them, as my hands were too dry and cracked to knead dough in a sanitary fashion.

The Table (My aunt sets a beautiful table, does she not? I need her around to help me use my china to its full potential.)

The Turkey, pre-carving. A new recipe this year produced by far the best result yet, and there wasn't anything wrong with the previous years. But THIS. . .well it was the best turkey I've ever had, I think. We'll be saving this recipe for next year. . .if I wait that long.

The Buffet. From left to right: Green Bean Casserole, Vegetable Casserole, Dressing, Sweet Potato-Cranberry Galette, Cranberry-Strawberry Jello Salad, Turkey, Butternut Squash and Cheese Pannade, Mashed Potatoes. Not pictured: Deviled Eggs, Crudites, Gravy, Rolls, Pumpkin Pie, Tennessee Whiskey Cake, Whipped Cream

All in all, I was tremendously pleased with the outcome. I'm ever so thankful that I wasn't on my own--3 pairs of hands made lots of work much less work and much more pleasant. I actually feel like I didn't really do much more than spin in circles and delegate tasks. And, of course, I couldn't have done it without my lovely Thanksgiving Schedule Spreadsheet. ;-)


Thanksgiving with One Oven

Everyone is a little insane. I am well aware that my particular breed of insanity goes into overdrive in the holiday kitchen.

Growing up, we had holiday dinners at my grandparents' house--a half-mile from my house and a block from my cousins'. The nearness of our homes meant that we had 3 ovens (and any number of helping hands) at the feasting preparations' disposal. Thus, I am accustomed to a wide array of delectable dishes piled high, wide, and deep on the holiday table. And buffet. And extra table.

Now, when it's just the two of us for a holiday meal, I can control these habits and limit my preparations. But when additions come to table, my insanity kicks in and the food multiplies exponentially.

There are new recipes to try! There are old recipes that must not be forgotten! Everyone has to have his favorite thing! Or things! And we can't forget aesthetic appeal! Dishes of every color! And! And!

Hence, my Thanksgiving Schedule Spreadsheet, where oven time is meticulously mapped out, beginning at T-minus-6 hours with the turkey and proceeding through dressings and casseroles and rolls and pies (that mustn't be baked ahead, lest they cool), carefully arranged so that time-sensitive dishes will be fresh out of the oven, hardy faithfuls will be kept piping hot on the back burner (Thank goodness for an energy-inefficient vintage range that exudes heat from every orifice, and some places that aren't!), and desserts will tempt us with their still-baking aroma as we eat dinner.

I'm a little crazy. And it doesn't end there. Beneath the oven time columns, stove-top dishes are penciled in at their appropriate cooking times and, beneath that, preparation tasks are listed where they best fit. The way it's mapped out, one person could conceivably handle the whole grand banquet. Fortunately for me (and for Carolyn, whose needs aren't inked in), I won't be cooking alone.

Three chefs + one oven = A fabulous Thanksgiving spread. . .I hope!


The Big Blue Beast

As Thanksgiving is fast approaching, it was time to cook the Big Blue Beast. I did, while Carolyn looked on. This was my first time with a Blue Hubbard. It was interesting.

Can you tell? It bleeds yellow.

I did finally get it cut open, but it was rough--much rougher than the "normal" pumpkins I've done in years past or than the lighter-orange one (of a variety I can't remember) that I did earlier this year. The skin was tougher, and so was the flesh.

Scraping it out was still easy, though.

"Here, Mom. Let me bag that for you."

It was so big, I had to cut it further to fit it in the pan. I need to remember to pay attention to that when I pick my pumpkins--I switched to baking from steaming, because there's a lot less (hard) cutting to make the pumpkin fit in a baking pan than to make it fit in a pot on the stove. But if I still have to hack it smaller than halves. . .well, I prefer not. There's a fine line, when you're not paying per pound. I want the biggest pumpkin in a given price range, so I get the most for my money. But I should remember to get one sized and shaped such that half of it will fit in a pan I have.

After baking (400 degrees, 1 hour), it was decidedly green. Kevin says it looks like an alien slug.

After scraping the flesh out and pureeing it in the blender, I put it in strainers lined with cheesecloth. This is the first year I've done this; I don't know why it didn't occur to me before. Actually, though, this pumpkin had far less water in it than any I've used previously (note the blackened pan in the middle of the last picture). Usually, the pan is half-full of pumpkin juice after baking, but this one I added water to and it STILL dried up. Anyway, some liquid still drained out, which makes it more the consistency of canned pumpkin and easier to bake pies with.

I don't think I'll buy a Big Blue Beast again. It looks great on the porch, but I buy my pumpkins to cook, and it wasn't as convenient for that end. Hopefully I'll see the same varieties next year that I saw this year and can figure out which the pale orange one was--I loved how easy it was to cut and how vibrantly orange the baked flesh was.


An Object Lesson

Carolyn gives me a thousand little lessons a day. Today, I was watching her stack blocks. She's just learning how to stack them, and they immediately topple more often than not. They topple because she doesn't just set a block gently atop another. She places it dead-on center, but then she pushes down just as hard as she can. . .to make it stay, I presume. Usually, the release of all her little force is enough to make the tower wobble and fall down.

We do this. When we want something so bad, we often apply all our force to making it happen. . .only to push too hard and knock away all the underpinnings as well. If we could just trust God, who has built up the tower thus far, to gently lay the top block in place, our overbearing shove would not be necessary.


Quote of the Day

The world wants good mothers. It can do without clever money-makers. . .
Ruskin says: 'The best women are indeed the most difficult to know. They are recognized chiefly in the happiness of their husbands and the nobleness of their children; they are only to be divined, not discerned by the stranger, and sometimes seem almost helpless except in their homes.'
quoted by a friend, from "The Little Kingdom of Home," copyright 1904


Is that a compliment???

In shoving her controversy-plagued healthcare reform bill to victory by a paper-thin margin, she (Pelosi) conclusively demonstrated that a woman can be just as gritty, ruthless and arm-twisting in pursuing her agenda as anyone in the long line of fabled male speakers before her.
The more I read Camille Paglia, the more I like her.

Which statement should not, in any way, shape, or form, be so construed as to imply that I agree with all--or even most--that she writes.

On to the previous post, which is far more interesting and far less likely to elicit controversy.

Slightly Crazy

Yesterday, I did two mildly irrational things (Just two? I know, I know--an unusually calm day for us.). Only one of the two became decidedly more than I had anticipated.

Carolyn has recently decided that I should not do anything--and I do mean anything--in the kitchen unless she can see what's happening. So, if I wash my hands, chop vegetables, wash dishes, or do anything else that requires me to have 2 free hands, she stands screaming at my knees. This is not a way to live.

And let's not even mention that my neck and shoulders are suffering from measuring, mixing, and generally cooking one-handed while supporting a 20-pound-plus baby on one hip.

Enter the "Learning Tower."

I drove an hour in D.C. Beltway traffic Sunday evening to pick this up from a Craigslister, as we were unwilling to fork over the $200 the company charges for a new one. Monday morning, (Carolyn and) I cleaned it top to bottom. Then I decided to let her stand with me while I washed dishes. It took longer than normal, but Carolyn enjoyed herself. True to prediction, by the time I finished a drainer-full, the floor had to be mopped up and Carolyn's soaked clothes needed to be changed. (Today went much more smoothly--the only thing she got her hands on during dinner prep was the bread knife. . .)

My second adventure, more than I wanted:
I decided to run to the store to pick up just a few things. It was a beautiful, happy seventy degrees. And the nearest store is a mere mile and a half. So I decided to run to the store. Well, walk, really. But I did some jogging on the way back. . .with 10 pounds of flour on my back. Seriously. I did think about this in advance: I'd put the small cold stuff (some chicken, yogurt, cheese) in the backpack (a backpacking daypack--it's really comfortable) and the heavy stuff in the stroller. It has a 50 pound weight limit, and Carolyn is nowhere near that, so it should have been fine. . .except I forgot (until after I'd purchased my 10 pounds of flour) that the basket on the stroller has a 5 pound limit. You'd think it wouldn't matter that much, but it's an all-fabric basket, so I was afraid to risk it (I also think it would have dragged the ground with that much weight). I could, obviously, have simply gone to customer service and returned the offending weight. But, if you know me, you know I'm entirely too. . .determined for such a defeatist decision. So I slogged the whole way home, including jogging (most of) the stretch on the shoulder of the busy road, with a generous 5 extra pounds in the stroller basket and 10 pounds of flour in my daypack. *sigh* I don't think I'll be repeating that trip.


Quote of the Day

When you have to explain to yourself over and over why you were really right, chances are very good that you were really wrong.