Photo-blog // Thanksgiving in Nashville

So many moments we forgot to photograph–here are a few we captured:

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Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s been a beautiful (yet freezing) Thanksgiving day in Tennessee. I got enough quiet time to read two more chapters of Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist while my husband and in laws ran five miles. We had breakfast with the in-laws, thanksgiving lunch with my parents, an afternoon with my grandmother, aunt and cousin, and are now back at the in-laws for dinner. And drinking.

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This afternoon we made coffee the old-fashioned way, because the coffee maker at my parents’ house was broken and we just couldn’t have cheesecake without it. We boiled water, poured it over the coffee grounds, steeped for three minutes and then filtered through a Martha Stewart tea towel. (Thanks, Martha.) It was maybe the most fun thing ever, and it tasted great.

I have a few things on my shopping list (mainly cold weather items because holy moly it is freezing in Chicago) but I’m not shopping until Friday or maybe even Saturday. For today, I’ll be at home in solidarity with the hourly workers and retail employees forced into work on this American holiday.

Thanksgiving Dinner and How to Cook It

Thanksgiving is my favorite.  I love cooking up a big meal and I love eating it.  If you’ve never done the whole thing yourself, getting everything ready to eat at the same time can be a challenge.  So, I’m posting my method for you.  This isn’t necessarily a good method and certainly not the only method, but it has worked for me for three years running.  We sometimes change up the vegetables and desserts, but the method and the core menu stays basically the same from year to year.

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The Line-Up

Turkey

Dressing

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Green Beans

Brussels Sprouts with Figs and Bacon

Cranberry Sauce

Caramel-Pecan Pumpkin Cheesecake

The Recipes

TURKEY

For the most part, I follow Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Turkey  – with two big changes that will make your life easier and your turkey tastier.  First, no one has herbes de provence, I don’t even know what that is.  I melt up some butter and stir in dried rosemary and dried parsley.  Second, I don’t have a rack for my roasting pan.  Well, to be more accurate, I threw away the rack that came with my roasting pan. Instead, I use whole carrots as my rack.  Peel your carrots, chop off the ends, and place them in the bottom of your roasting pan.  It’s like building a raft for your turkey to fjord the river.  It makes your turkey and your gravy extra delicious, and I personally could eat those carrots forever.

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DRESSING

Dressing is personal.  I like mine the way my mom makes it, so I do nothing to make it different or fancy.  I think my mom’s dressing is perfect.  And let me say right now — this is NOT stuffing.  To make it, simply mix together the following ingredients and bake them at 350*F until done.  You’re going to want to use the largest bowl you own.

  • two round cake pans of cornbread
  • six to ten crackers (i like whole wheat off-brand Ritz crackers, she uses Saltines)
  • three celery stalks and 3/4 of a medium onion, previously sautéed in butter until soft
  • one can condensed evaporated milk (thanks Mom)
  • one can cream of chicken
  • approximately 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (more of less depending on how it looks)
  • a mountain of poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper
  • two eggs — or maybe four.  I used two and it tasted fine.

SWEET POTATOES

Roast your sweet potatoes in the oven while your turkey is cooking so you can just mash them up and spice them when you are ready.  Easy peasy.

GREEN BEANS

Good green beans should cook with a little water and a little butter for about an hour.  A little longer if you’re using frozen green beans from your parents’ garden like I did.  Salt and pepper at the end.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS

This year H added Brussels sprouts to our menu and he made them himself.  He loves them.  Basically, chop up and cook bacon, then add sprouts, then add figs (dried but fresh if you have them in season, we’ve done both) when they are almost done.  Salt and pepper at the end.

CRANBERRY SAUCE

Cranberry sauce can be simple or complicated or from a can.  I like it every way.  For years I would only eat the canned kind, and I enjoyed slicing it along the lines of the can so it was perfectly straight.  Now I eat all kinds.  This year I used the recipe of my dear friend and it was great, adding walnuts and orange zest.  The basics of homemade cranberry sauce are cranberries, a little water, white sugar, and orange zest.  Just Google any which recipe: if it has those ingredients in some combination, I’m sure it will be delicious.

DESSERT

For dessert, we made pumpkin cheesecake according to this recipe.  It was easy and delicious and you should try it if you want something low-key but nice looking. The caramel made it more fancy but it was pretty great tasting without it.  I subbed in low-fat cream cheese for regular and it still tasted great.

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The Plan

The easiest way to make thanksgiving ready to eat on-time is to give yourself a schedule.  Here’s my cooking schedule so you can see what I mean.  When making your own schedule, the most important thing to remember is that your oven can only be one temperature at a time.

This plan prepares a full dinner to eat at 5:00 p.m.  If you’d rather have a noon-ish meal, just make your dessert and cranberry sauce the day before and move the rest to the morning.  That’s going to require an early wake up.  Also, this plan assumes you’ve made the cornbread for your dressing in advance.

7:00 a.m. Take the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge.  Make coffee, watch some tv, eat breakfast, enjoy the quiet while everyone else sleeps.

9:00 a.m. Take your turkey out of the fridge.

9:05 a.m. Make your dessert (it needs to cool for several hours in the refrigerator).

9:45 a.m. Throw your cranberry sauce together so it can chill in the fridge too.

BREAK TIME:  Use this time to do the dishes, pull down ingredients, send someone to market for anything you’ve forgotten and/or frantically Google substitutes for ingredients since stores are should be closed.

11:30 a.m. Prep your turkey.  Pre-heat the oven to 400*F, unwrap the turkey and give it a good rinse, inside and out.  Make sure you pull out the bits — there should be a bag of gross stuff and a neck.  I let the neck cook in the pan with the turkey  but toss the rest because who are we kidding, that’s gross.

12:30 p.m. Turkey goes in the oven.  Your turkey should be stuffed with chunks of onion, lemon, and orange and covered in butter, herbs, and lots of salt and pepper. Don’t forget to stuff the butter mixture under the skin on top of the meat.  Follow Giada’s cooking instructions but take it out a little early if the thermometer says you can.

BREAK TIME:  You’ll have to check your turkey every now and then but warm some cider and watch a movie, or put someone else on turkey watch and go for a walk.

3:30 p.m. Green beans go on the stove.

3:35 p.m. Stir up your dressing, pour into pan(s), set aside.

4:15 p.m. Dressing goes in the oven.  Sweet potatoes can come out.

4:20 p.m. (or when cool enough to touch) Peel skins off sweet potatoes, throw in mixer, blend up with milk/butter/spices.

4:30 p.m. Make Brussels sprouts and gravy.  You’ll need someone on gravy stir-duty so you can do both things at once.

5:00 p.m. Everything is ready and you can eat!  

Good luck with your Thanksgiving cooking adventures — whether it’s one traditional dish for a pot luck or the entire meal for your extended family, I hope you have a wonderful turkey day!

Full hearts

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We spent our last night with family in one of Chicago’s top-three deep dish pizza chains. Lou Malnati’s is not my favorite of the three, but it is our guest’s favorite so that is where we went. And I’m not complaining–it was delicious.

These past few days have been so full. I’ve loved every minute but I am also pretty tired. All of the things I do to prepare for my workweeks, including those things I’ve been writing about this past week, have been set aside to make room for fun in our lives. And that’s the thing about successful weeks: you prepare for what’s coming so that you can enjoy what actually happens.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up our series on successful weeks. Wednesday I’ll post my meal plan and cooking schedule from Fake Thanksgiving, just in case you need last-minute inspiration. Thursday through Sunday we’ll be with family and friends in Tennessee. I’ll try to meet you here each day as I finish National Blog Posting Month.

Tips for a Successful Week: Introduction

Successful Week One

When I announced my decision to join NaBloPoMo this month, I mentioned that using Sunday afternoons to prep a few advance posts for the week makes a huge difference in my ability to post daily.  The first week of November, I did this well and had a pretty great week, on the blog and otherwise.  Last week, I didn’t make my time count over the weekend and spent the entire week paying the price.  It is only half-way through the month and already I am frustrated with having to blog each day; the timing of my postings is getting a little later each night of the week.  So today, while the rain and wind and thunder and hail bounce against our windows, I’m putting in the time it takes to get things back on track.

While planning for the blog is a big part of what I do on the weekend to prepare for the workweek, it isn’t the only thing I need to prioritize if I want to be successful.  When I’m being responsible, I take a few minutes on the weekend to make some decisions in advance so that I can head to work each morning with minimal stress and spend my weekday evenings doing things I enjoy instead of constantly playing catch-up.

I know that doing these small tasks on the weekend makes me happier and more successful, but I don’t always do them.  I sometimes struggle to follow through on things I want to do, especially if they are good for me.  As we enter the busy holiday season, I must remind myself how important these small things are for my own satisfaction and save time on the busy weekends to take care of myself.  H and I have two special guests arriving mid-week and staying with us until we all leave for Thanksgiving in Tennessee, so I need to fit in all of my usual tasks along with the extra baking, cleaning, cooking, and shopping I want to do so we all have a wonderful, stress-free weekend and holiday with our families.

Since it’s timely and a needed reminder for myself, I’ll be posting a bit this week about how planning ahead helps me stay on-track in the following areas:

  1. Arriving at Work Professionally Dressed
  2. Healthy and Budget-Friendly Meal Planning
  3. Keeping your Apartment Comfortable and Welcoming

As we go through the week, please be sure to share your own weekly and/or nightly rituals that keep you on top of your game.

 

 

Holiday Wrap-Up

I didn’t take any pictures on Thanksgiving Day.

We had 2.8 beautiful meals on the big day and several more the rest of the week, played corn-hole like champions, rummaged our parents’ garages for tools to “chop wood” so we could build fires and make s’mores.  It was, honestly, wonderful.  I’ve always been one to say “oh, we are too [fill in the blank] to have those picture-perfect holidays like you see in the movies,” and to be honest, we are, but it was about as great as I could have imagined.

I took a few pictures on Friday afternoon when I went with H’s family to choose a Christmas tree.  We have a few glamour shots (see below) but, weirdly, I never got a photo of the tree we chose, other than a quick snapshot of H and his dad carrying the tree to the car.  In case you are wondering, the men in our family carry chopped-down-Christmas-trees like the men in the mafia carry dead bodies:  one at the head and another at the feet.

The drive back was slow due to traffic, but happily uneventful, and we are back in DC working all day and, unfortunately for H, doing a lot of homework at night.  I’ve ordered a few more Christmas gifts that should be arriving soon, and am very excited to be entering prime J-O-Y territory and hope that I can keep the Christmas spirit going even if we hit a few rough patches along the way.

I spent the evening getting the house apartment ready for decorating, which will probably happen on Friday evening while H is at the UT-Georgetown basketball game.  I mean, I can save a few ornaments for him to place on the tree when he gets in, but is H interested in my obsessive-compulsive approach to hiding the cords between the light bulbs in the Christmas tree branches?  Not at all.  [You do understand, don't you, that Christmas tree lights should look like they are growing right out of the tree, and that the women in my family will stop at N-O-T-H-I-N-G to ensure that everyone believes God miraculously placed glowing lights in our holiday decorations, no electricity required.]

It has been a tumultuous but quite lovely year thus far.  Here’s to finishing it out with a bang, and showing those Mayans who knows what about calendaring.

Pre-Thanksgiving

It’s Wednesday and we are at home in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee, cooking up a storm with our families and having a wonderful time [hopefully, if things went well on our drive!].  Here are some shots of our pre-Thanksgiving celebrations to help you get excited.

And, for a little extra enjoyment, here’s a glamor shot of the greatest cat that ever existed on the face of the earth.

Cranberry Sauce

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Wow, blogging every day is pretty hard. There’s your regular old nothing-to-write-about days, but there are also other days: days where people take precedence over typing and suddenly it is past your bedtime and you still haven’t made the cranberry sauce for the next day’s Thanksgiving Potluck at work. So today, this is all I have for you: a pot over medium-high heat with 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, and one cup of water.

So today I almost died.

Literally.

I was crossing the street in the crosswalk from my bus stop around 6:00 p.m.  I was wearing a black raincoat and brown boots.  And a car ran into … my satchel.  Literally, my bag was in a car accident while I was wearing it.

And while that is kind of incredibly funny and I am cracking up writing about it now, I also was about six inches from being actually hit by a car in the middle of a six-lane road.  And that is insane, and a little frightening.  And I still feel a little tense in my lower back from the shock, even though I didn’t get hit.  I thought someone was trying to steal my bag or had run into me while jogging.  I turned around to see what was going on and it was a car.  Not a person, but a four-door 2000-ish Mercury Grand Marquis.  The driver did check to see that I was still walking before driving quickly away, which was very kind of him considering I’m sure he had somewhere very important to be.

So basically, I am a miracle.  And perhaps the victim of a hit-and-run, although I’m not so sure about the law surrounding car-to-purse collisions.

In other news, Operation Thanksgiving is going okay.  I remade the Apple Cake and it is still a little darker than I wanted on the bottom, but I’m just going to saw off any bad parts once it cools.  [hopefully none of H's family will see this!  haha]  The dressing is stirred up and in a gallon-sized ziploc bag, with extra cornbread and stock available for fixing the texture if it changes before Thursday.  Now all that is left is baking my pie [I assembled and froze that bad boy] and stirring up the sweet potato casserole — the rest is happening on Thursday!

Oh, and I also pre-made a baked brie [which is pretty inaccurate -- it is currently a sliced, layered, and refrigerated brie, since it isn't getting baked for a bit] and apparently it is good for two weeks in the fridge, so we’ll see if that makes it to the menu or not.

And yeah, I’m totally blessed to be completely fine after a near-catastrophe.  Praise the Lord.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Hi world — sorry for the clear lack of posts these last few days.  I’ve written a couple, but just never posted them for some reason or another.  I have this great wordpress app on my blackberry, but it is hard to put links and photos in and so I keep holding posts for media and forgetting about them.  Perhaps I should just accept that I am more successful as a low-tech blogger?  I typically can type out a pretty fantastic post about nothing during my morning commute and send it out to you before I go in the tunnel at Union Station.  [i hate you, red line, and your never-ending delays.]

Something big is happening this week — Thanksgiving!  I’m cooking this year for the second time, but it is much more pressure because my husband’s parents and brother are coming to eat with us.  Usually when it is just me and H, I blame any messed up parts on him.  That’s going to be harder when people are watching!  But, I don’t plan on having any mess-ups because I’ve been working hard to plan out what we are eating and get as much advanced prep work done as possible so I can actually hang out with our family while they are here.

The Menu

Turkey. I’m combining my mom’s classic recipe with this one by Giada and hoping for a delicious turkey.  Last year, H said my turkey was one of the moistest turkeys he had ever eaten, so that is a good start.  :)

Dressing.  We do NOT eat stuffing in this family.  We are from the South.  With a capital “S.”  And we eat dressing. [H would disagree with this whole-heartedly and he nearly always calls it stuffing, but lucky for me he is the one person that I know never reads my blog.  So, I can totally make family rules here.]

Cranberry Sauce.  This is a new one for me — I prefer the jellied version from the can, and I even like to keep it in sliced rounds to showcase the beautiful can-shape.  But H wants to make fresh, so we are going to make our own.  And there is definitely a can of jellied cranberry sauce in the cabinet just for me.  Because I don’t like lumpy bits.  But I might save it for the leftovers so I don’t have to share.

Sweet Potato and Honey Rolls.  This recipe is awesome.  I made them about three weeks ago and froze them in ziploc bags.  So now, all I have to do is take them out of the freezer, brush them with egg wash, and bake them for 20 minutes.  I did a test run last week and they are literally delish.  I think I’ll stir up some honey butter to go with them.

Green beans.  I mean, you can’t get anymore Thanksgiving than cooking down green beans.  I love them plain with butter and salt/pepper, cooked for about an hour or so and super soft.

Sweet Potato Casserole.  This is H’s grandmother’s recipe and we made it last year.  It was my first time ever eating sweet potato casserole and I have to admit, it is kind of delicious.  I spent the first 24 years of my life avoiding sweet potatoes.  Also onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes.  What a terrible mistake. I’m working hard to make up for lost time now.  Oh, and this casserole has coconut and pecans on top instead of mini-marshmallows.  That’s right, awesome.

Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake.  It is dynamite.  I made a test run for my work Thanksgiving dinner and even though I had some trouble with the first product, I know the final results will be fantastic.  The cake is completely delicious, but I put too much batter in the wrong-sized pan and had to overcook the bottom to get the center done.  But, since I am never one to give up, I just sawed the bottom of the cake off and took it to work midget-style.  And everyone loved it.  I think I’m going to change it up and bake it in a 9 x 13 pan this time, because it will be easier to slice and cook faster.  But, I’m still working this out — if I don’t make it in a big beautiful pan, we won’t have a big beautiful dessert!  Is that bad?  I could put it in a bundt to make it cuter, but then it won’t have the apples on the top.  Or I could just go buy the tube pan she recommends using, but do we really need another pan?  I can’t decide.

Berry Spice Pie.  That’s right, berry pie.  No pumpkin pie (which I was totally going to make and have all the ingredients for, but H doesn’t want), and no pecan pie (which I don’t really like and wastes requires about $10 worth of pecans).  We are going berries.  Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cinnamon and nutmeg cooked up in a homemade crust.  Delicious. I’m using Barefoot Contessa’s food processor pie crust recipe and I watched this youtube video to learn how to make perfect crust-edges.  Apparently, the secret is tucking the crust hangovers up under to give about a 1/2 inch tall edge all around before shaping with your thumb.  I’ll try to post a photo for you when I get the pie made.

The Prep

The key to having a safe, trouble [and fire] -free Thanksgiving is to plan ahead.  I know that our kitchen is tiny, so I’m trying to limit the number of things that have to be done in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day.  That way we can spend time together outside of the kitchen while we wait for our turkey to cook.

Before our Thanksgiving guests arrive late on Wednesday night, I will do the following:

1.  Bake cornbread and chop the veggies for dressing.  On Wednesday night, I’ll stir up the dressing and stick it in the fridge so I can pop it in the oven Thursday when the turkey comes out.  If you are also doing this ahead of time, don’t forget to pour a little extra chicken stock over the dressing on Thursday morning to make sure your liquid has not been too absorbed.  Dry dressing is not okay.

2.  Make cranberry sauce.

3.  Make the pie crust, and then the pie.  I”m doing this on two separate days so I won’t be too tired after working all day.

4.  I’m also going to cook and mash the sweet potatoes before Wednesday, so we can just pull a baggie out of the fridge to start the casserole.  Thus, we’ll only be stirring with no added cooking for that entire dish.

5.  Baking the apple cake.  It gets better over time, because the apples and the cake mellow together.  So, I’m going to get it done Tuesday night so it has all Wed. and Thurs. to marry the flavors.

6.  Finally, on Wednesday night I’m going to prep my turkey.  Except for buttering the skin, I’m going to stuff the bird and put the butter under the skin and everything.  I’ll take the turkey out of the fridge at 8:00 am and let it sit on the counter until 8:45, when I’ll stick it in the oven and jump-start the morning of cooking.

But, most importantly, I’m going to stay flexible and not worry.  If I don’t get around to baking pies this week, then I’ll bake it on Thursday.  If I don’t prep the turkey early, I’ll just wake up a little earlier and do it on the day of.  Because I already know how to make every single thing I’m making, last-minute change-ups are no big deal.  And, if things go terribly wrong, we’ll have a frozen pizza in the freezer and we have a pretty fantastic Chinese restaurant down the block.

Best of luck to you as you plan your own holiday meal.  If you have any cool tricks or suggestions, you know I would love to hear them.

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