Thanksgiving 2015, Reviewed

Thanksgiving 2015, Reviewed

Feast is finished, dishes are done, leftovers are almost gone.  Time to review Turkey Day 2015.

A dozen of us gathered round, chattered and nibbled and feasted and enjoyed one another.  Our friends’ dogs are always welcome, so we monitored their competition for title of Beggar Extraordinaire.  Unanimous decision – the dogs won.

The Not-So-Great

I say, get the negative out of the way first, then we can bask in the glow of the good parts.

  • Single digit temperatures and an ice storm kept some folks (and their dogs) away.  Rosy was disappointed as she only had one big dog to hang out with.
  • Daughter couldn’t make it, for the first time, ever.  Missed her loads.
  • One couple arrived 135 mimnutes prior to designated time, and had to witness me, hair still damp, desparately trying to make my home guest-worthy.  This year’s photos confirm that I never did manage to get back to finishing my hair.
  • An acute asthma attack sent a guest and his wife packing as they headed home to find an inhaler and some Benadryl.
  • That asthma incident ended in some guests being stranded at ours – no biggie driving them home, but the return trip was ghastly.  Apparently I was the only one out there with tread on my tires and the ability to drive in winter conditions.  Nothing to put the fear of fate in you like a chevy in front crawling along at 12 mph whilst the giant camper van behind is so close you can’t even see his taillights.  Took an hour to go about six miles.  Yes, I guess I’m griping.

But, as far as griping goes, I guess that isn’t so bad.  Some friends suggest we enjoy Thanksgiving because none of us were actually with family.  I can see a wee bit of merit to that idea.  All in all, despite a couple of bumps (and what Thanksgiving gathering doesn’t have those?), I’d say this year was a winner.

Moving on to all the good parts…

Before the Feed

Mulled wine in a crockpot  – perfect for a blustery day.  Yes, it was my intent to get eveyrone warmed up and maybe a tiny bit lubricated.  And here’s what was out for grazers wandering through the kitchen – easy to snag without slowing down conversations:

  • Veggie tray with ranch dressing, by request.  The only diner who touched this was the guest who asked for it.
  • Eggplant red pepper spread, served with rosemary crostini, devoured with full-mouthed muffled compliments.  I’ll definitely serve this again.
  • The cheese & cracker tray received much less attention than usual.   It was suggested that some plain old cheddar and a good baby swiss would have been better.  I’d laid out some more adventurous choices.  Lesson learned.
  • From scratch gooey cheesy spinach artichoke dip, should have made twice as much.  Good thing I’d tucked a little extra in the fridge, just in case.  Madam microwave to the rescue as I had to replenish the bowl.

All in all, before dinner visiting and munching went off without a hitch.  Introductions, small talk, dogs underfoot, catching up… I love my kitchen right before we all sit down.  Happy hungry people, on to the main event…

The Feast

IMG_0332It was more than a decade before our dining room actually housed a place to dine – took that long for Dave and I to find one we agreed upon.  And we love what we chose, but it doesn’t seat a dozen.  So we rearranged the living room, hauled the kitchen table a
round the front hall, and set it on end with the dining table, overflowing into the living room.  I know we’re not the only ones who go through this each year.  And we avoided segregating anyone to a separate “kid’s table”.

I carved and plattered the turkey in the kitchen – mine never looks like the Martha Stewart video, and I’ve decided that next year I’ll try to emulate Alton Brown instead.  Still, the disassembled bird looked appealing on the platter.  We dined on my grandma’s Fiesta Ware,  spooning and slicing with my other grandma’s silver.  Both gone for years, but still treasured and cherished and remembered each time we drag out the feast ware.  We gathered round, began passing platters and bowls, and, well, you know the rest.  Here’s the recap:

  • I don’t get fancy with the bird – buy turkey gets some aromatics stuffed in the cavity, a bit of butter under the skin, and a good shake of salt.  This year I also oven-braised a whole breast, as white meat seems to go fast.  Good decision. All that was left was a drumstick and half a breast I hadn’t carved.  Good thing – I wouldn’t want to be around me if I’d been denied my day-after turkey sandwich.
  • Fancy green salad with goat cheese, provided by a guest.  Perfect.
  • Mashed potatoes are a non-negotiable part of our Thanksgiving.  Made ahead with tons of butter, some milk and a bit of sour cream, always a few lumps to be found.  They evade me until serving time and IMG_0333then reappear as if by magic. Potatoes waited, warm and ready, in a crockpot.  When it came time to pack up leftovers, I had to sneak in and grab some, else husband would have wanted me to make another whole batch.  So, yes, the mashies went over well.
  • Fruit salad, provided by one of our guests.  I so appreciate this, as I can eat something reasonably healthy and she’s the one who spent all that time cutting up fruit and seeding a pomegranate.
  • Gravy.  Of course, and lots of it.  Costco sells the most amazing turkey gravy.  But not for us – I insist on making mine from scratch.  Helps prevent me from cutting into the bird too soon, since I possess insufficient self-control to wait that thirty minutes.  All good in the end, because who doesn’t love gravy?  My gravy is different every year, as I never use a recipe.  This year, my gravy was thin, but delicious.
  • Sweet potato soufflé… for some of our guests, it isn’t a feast without sweet potatoes, so I succumbed.  I knew what I wanted to make, but I couldn’t find a recipe, so I came up with my own, Gabrielle’s Sweet Potato Soufflé.   This dish was well-received by sweet potato lovers and largely ignored by everyone else.  I thought it was delicious, which is good, since we’ve still got some in the fridge.
  • Green beans, Christina’s way.  A nod to daughter, who couldn’t be with us.  Her favorite, and nothing close to the creamy, french onion covered standard.  Lightly steamed fresh greenies seasoned with toasted garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and a dash of salt.  Delicious!  However, this dish must be made at the very last minute and doesn’t hold well for second helpings.  Too bad, we make them anyhow and can all feel virtuous for the green veggies we’ve consumed.

Accompanied By…

All in the details, folks.  Our table was long, so our table sported two each gravy boats, butter dishes and S&P.   Guests appreciated speedier access and the table suffered less reach-across-the-table spills.  Some standards grace our table by tradition, some new tastes for adventure:

  • Breads – homemade sourdough and ancient multigrain breads, plus the mandatory biscuits from a can.  Guess which disappeared?  Next year, carbs from a can.
  • Olives from Spain, sweet hot mini red peppers, pickles, real butter… The nibbles weren’t necessary.  And one guest asked for margarine.
  • Cranberry sauce, of course.  By tradition, we must serve the kind from a can – and it must be served intact, so the shape of the can is clearly evident.  Enjoyed by many, every single year.
  • Fresh cranberry-orange relish, for those of us who want to see identifiable cranberries in a cranberry condiment.  I could eat this stuff with a spoon and apparently some of our guests did.  Nice to see an experimental addition go over well.   If you want to give it a try, you can find my recipe here Gabrielle’s Cranberry Relish for Thanksgiving.  Enjoy!
We took a break before dessert…

Sweet Finish

We wandered away from the table, cleaned up a bit, chatted, loved on the dogs,and yelled at a little football.  Once we’d adequately recovered from our tryptophan coma,it was time to work on maximizing our carb consumption.  Pretty much all the dessert was provided by our guests.  No extra days baking for me – I am so going to do it this way again next year!  And every single one of us had at least a little.  Who says you can’t have a dessert or two, just once a year?

  • One of our guests makes the best pumpkin pie, and we had it with whipped cream, ice cream, or both.  Strange, this year there were no takers for both.  We must be growing up or something.
  • Warm-from-the-oven brownies.  Yum.
  • Cheesecake.  From the kitchens of Sara Lee, who really got cheesecake right.
  • Broncos cupcakes.  Sadly, I don’t think they’re going to help our team come back from too many injuries this season.  Still, tasty and easy to add to the plate next to those other choices.
  • Coffee, decaf, black tea, herb tea, hot chocolate.  Thank heavens for my Keurig.

A bit more lounging and visiting, some picking up, getting the dogs back inside… our feast was coming to an end.  I deposited  take away boxes on the counter and instructed everyone to have at it.  That started a frenzy of activity.  Made certain that all the dessert items were destined for a different home.  Dave made a quick run out with shovel and salt to ensure safe passage to vehicles, and our friends headed for home.

Of course, Thanksgiving is not just about feasting.

Thanksgiving at our house ended on the couch with a cuppa.  We caught the end of the Macy’s parade we’d saved just in case, the quiet rumble of the dishwasher in the background, while outside, snow continued to float down.  Just like a Norman Rockwell, inside and out.

Feasting with friends is just one of so many things to be thankful for.  Hoping you’re Day of Thanks was as enjoyable as ours.

That Birthday Last Month

That Birthday Last Month

So, for Bea’s 75th, we got together and created a memory book for her – you can see it here: Bea’s Birthday Book. That book has photos that span about a hundred or so years, and pages about all the places Bea’s lived, and even some pages dedicated to pets. Every photo was handpicked to represent something meaningful, and I’ve heard the book was appreciated. I love that almost all the surviving children and grandchildren, nieces, nephews and siblings got involved. What a joy to work together to create something meaningful for someone we love.

The Arrington kids made some fun tees and a really cool giant birthday card. Some of us sent personalized family t-shirts, because Bea loves her t-shirts, and they might as well give her a chance to brag about her family. And while Kim and Jozi presented all the gifts in person, the rest of us joined in the fun via video chat. Andrea and Kevin even had a cake out in Las Vegas. This birthday was celebrated across the country – from New Hampshire to Texas to Colorado to California. What fun!

mom's birthday dinner
mom’s birthday dinner

Additionally, back in New Hampshire, a celebratory birthday dinner at a lovely Indian Restaurant was enjoyed by Bea, Jozi, Kim and Freya. Our hope was that it would be a birthday to remember, and I like to think we pulled it off.

Birthday blessings, Mom! Your journey has taken you across thousands of miles and probably through thousands of diapers. You’ve seen your children grow up, move on, raise children of their own. You’ve raised two of your grandchildren and buried a husband and a child. And the adventure continues…