Thanksgiving Menu, Tried and True

I do it every year.

When the November magazines start to arrive, and the covers showcase all versions of updated Thanksgiving classics, I think, “Maybe this is the year to tinker with my menu.” I start to daydream about change. That brown-sugar glaze looks amazing – and easy. Maybe I should add another vegetable dish, like that one with the Brussels sprouts and pancetta. Wow. Check out that pear and custard pie. Do you think it’s crazy to make four different desserts for my family of six?

And then, when it’s just days from The Big Meal and I’m forced to make a decision, I always end up sticking with my traditional line-up. I put it together a few years ago, and it works so well, I can’t bring myself to mess with it.

So I thought I’d share it with you, in case you’re still flirting with decisions. (And if you are, trust me. I understand. No one in my family eats stuffing, except me, but it seems wrong not to make stuffing, doesn’t it? How do I force myself to leave that dish out?)

There are three reasons why I am sold on this particular menu.

1. You can make almost everything the day before. Even for people like me who love to cook, this is a sanity saver. It allows me to enjoy the day of Thanksgiving and spend most of it playing games with my children or going on hikes through the woods outside my door instead of standing on my feet in front of the stove for eight hours. You might say, it enables me to have a slice of Sabbath with my pie – and Sabbath is fuel for a thankful heart.

It was also crucial the last few years because all of our recent homes have only had one oven, which can make Thanksgiving Day extra tricky. Having the side dishes already prepared and ready to reheat in the oven while the turkey rests took a lot of mental gymnastics out of the day.

2. It’s a symphonic menu - meaning, it is more than the sum of its parts. If I remove even one dish, the meal loses something. Put together, it’s the perfect balance of savory and sweet, crispy and creamy, fresh and rich. It touches on every Thanksgiving must-have, sometimes in unexpected ways, without overwhelming the table with any one food group.

3. It tastes phenomenal. 'Nuff said.

Without further ado, here's Thanksgiving Day chez Love Well:

Good Eats Roast Turkey Nothing trendy here. No figs in the stuffing or deep-frying the bird or roasting it upside down. Nope, it’s just turkey, Alton Brown-style. It’s brined – which is really the key to taking a turkey from OK to O WOW – and then cooked at high heat in your oven. The recipe videos are especially helpful to me. (And highly entertaining. "Stuffing, by and large, is evil.") I watch them every year – it’s my own Thanksgiving tradition – so I can be re-educated about the science behind cooking a 15-pound bird in my oven. Also? If you doubt me, believe the good people on the Food Network’s website. This recipe has five stars and almost 3500 reviews.

White Wine Gravy
Gravy is one of those dishes I feel free to play with, but this recipe is close to what I do. I really like the white wine undertones in this. I don't serve wine at Thanksgiving, so I don't offend my Baptist in-laws. But this gravy almost makes up for it.

Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes
The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Seriously. These are a revelation. And so easy. I especially love that I can make them on Wednesday and then pop them in the oven to warm on Thanksgiving and yet they lose nothing in the process. They are just as good the second day as the first.

Roasted Harvest Vegetables
From one of my favorite magazines, Everyday Food. A medley of carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and garlic are roasted at high heat the day before Thanksgiving. (Note: If the aroma of this dish could be made into a perfume, I would wear it.) Just reheat before serving. Again, nothing is lost in translation.

Green Bean, Watercress and and Crispy Shallot Salad
Another Everyday Food contribution. This is a simple salad -- blanched fresh green beans tossed in a light lemon-Dijon vinaigrette and topped with pan-fried shallot circles. Best: It's best served room temperature. Nothing to reheat here. Just prepare the different parts on Wednesday and toss before serving on Thursday.

Dinner Rolls
Normally, I make homemade crescent rolls - and these I do make on Thanksgiving Day, because Corey begs for the bread to be fresh. But this year, I'm going to change it up a little, because the November 2011 Everyday Food had an updated Parker House rolls recipe in which the rolls are brushed twice with melted butter and finished with a sprinkling of salt. (Pardon me. I just drooled.) The recipe isn't on the web yet, nor is the picture, which alone can cause a diabetic coma. So the link up there is only similar, not identical. I'll let you know how they turn out.

Zesty Cranberry Sauce
I love cranberry sauce, and this homemade version is so good, I sometimes eat it for dessert. (True story.) I can't find the recipe online; I've had it so long, I'm not even sure where I got it. But it's easy and short, so I'll just give it to you here.
1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine everything in a medium pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to pop, about 8-10 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Pumpkin Pie
I've loved pumpkin pie for as long as I can remember -- only, it must be THIS pumpkin pie, the kind my mother made and her mother before her. (That's my pumpkin pie in the picture, accompanied by the pear-apple crostata I sometimes make.) It has the right blend of spice and sugar for me. According to family lore, my Nannie got the recipe off a Kroger's can of pumpkin in the 1940s -- which is not the recipe Kroger's shares today. So, for what it's worth, here's what I make.
16 oz canned pumpkin (I can only find 15 oz cans, usually; maybe they don't make 16 oz anymore)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients well. Bake in an unbaked pie crust at 450 for 10 minutes, and then 350 until set, about another 45 min.

Now I'm off for some final grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. Because avoiding a last-minute trip to the grocery store on the day before Thanksgiving is just as critical as the menu itself. Are you with me?

Kieran : 18 Months

A few days ago, I posted this picture to my Instagram stream.

Yes. That’s exactly what you think it is. I heard lapping sounds coming from the laundry room, realized the dog was outside, entered to find the scene above.

The dish was half empty. (Or half full?) And the boy was so happy.

It’s a fitting story to mark Kieran hitting 18 months. He is so male. All exploratory and delight and belly and giggles. I truly love this age. It’s when toddlers teeter on the brink of babyhood. They are old enough to develop some consistency of routine but not too old to need cuddles every 15 minutes. They can laugh at their own discoveries and at your reaction to them.

A few notables about Kieran at 18 months:

He loves to be outside.
“Out? Out? Out?” he says whenever he remembers the garage door is just beyond the kitchen. He will grab his size 7 tennis shoes (which is GIGANTIC for our kids at this age; he’s wearing shoes Connor wore when he was 3), and sit down on the mudroom floor and try to cram his pudgy little feet into a few inches of Velcro. And once he’s out, please don’t micromanage. He just wants to explore. He will find sticks and bang stumps and poke rocks and wander around the forest (under Daddy’s watchful eye, usually), content to be allowed to roam at will.

He is verbose. When Kieran hit 15 months, I happened upon one of those monthly milestone emails that said most babies have a vocabulary of about five words at 15 months. I almost fell off my chair. At that point, Kieran had command of about 30 words. And his range has only grown since then. In fact, he just called from the other room, “Mother, would you please change my nappy?”

OK. That might be an exaggeration. But he is prone to saying, “Mah-mee? Pooh-pooh?” Which is his gentle way of saying, you might want to grab the smelling salts, woman, because I don’t do anything half way.

Other words (not an exhaustive list, obviously): Ball. Up. Down. All done. Eat. Banana. Water. Milk. Juice. Cookie. No. Connor (which sounds a lot like Cahr). Natalie (Nanee). Uh-oh. Apple (app-oh). Wow. Papa. Gigi. Cow. Woo-woo (dog). Hi. Bye. Car (which sounds a lot like Connor). More. Bubbles. Ah-pane (airplane). Choo-choo (train). Ding-ding-ding (train crossing gates). Hee ‘tis! (Here it is!) Dank do (thank you).

And our new favorite: PUN-kin. (Pumpkin.) Oh the cute. I die.

He also does great animal noises. But I’ll save those for a future day. (Read: As soon as I get all of them on video.)

He is tough.

Exhibit A: A few weeks ago, when I was hanging out with college students so Shaun Groves wouldn’t feel so old, I was walking with Teyla and Kieran across a campus courtyard. Kieran, as usual, was bounding ahead, running and talking to himself. A cute young couple was walking toward us, smiling as they watched his obvious joie de vivre. Right about then, he stumbled and skidded and fell – splat. The young couple gasped and winced. I didn’t even break stride. “Just watch,” I said. Kieran promptly gathered his wits, pushed himself up and ran away. They laughed out loud.

Exhibit B: Chair climbing while wearing a cast.

He has tenacity. Last week, I found Kieran sitting on the floor next to the games cabinet. He had spilled out the contents of Battleship, and was quietly stacking little red and white pieces into towers.

He had some stacks that were 15-20 high. And he just kept building. His pudgy little fingers would reach down, find a new piece, he would diligently try to push the pegs together the right way and keep going.

I was completely entranced by his calm determination.

He is a snuggle puppy. Despite his boyishness, his outward rough-and-tumble, he will drop just about anything to snuggle. When I get him out of his bed in the mornings right now, he wraps his whole body around me and lays his head on my shoulder and we sit together on the couch and burrow under my blanket until the rest of the family gets up. (Sometimes, we watch Little Bear or Oswald at the same time. Great gentle little kid TV, in my opinion. Perfect for 7:00 AM.) He’s also learned that reading books (or to “googee-googee-googee” which, inexplicably, has come to mean “Let’s read some books together” in his brain) is a great time to snuggle. For months now, he has approached me with a book and then turned around and backed into me – as if to say, “I’m here with a book. You will hold me in your lap now.” And with Corey? Goodness gracious. There have been a few times when I couldn’t find Kieran and I eventually discovered him snuggled in Corey’s arms while Corey paces his home office on a conference call.

And there's so much more. He's sleeping through the night now. He's getting better at taking at least one nap a day that is longer than an hour. He's fully into 18-24 month clothes. He
inexplicably started to suck his fingers and thumbs recently.

And ... he just climbed into my lap. (See snuggle puppy above.) Time to go inhale some sweet smelling baby hair and read some books and savor every minute.
Eighteen months goes fast.

Why I Can't Find Anything

The windows in my kitchen had already turned to mirrors, the inky sky outside a foil to the pre-dinner chaos inside.

The counter was littered with dishes, both clean and dirty. I was trying to regain a foothold and straighten up before we launched into another meal and dirtied even more dishes. Standing at the sink, washing Kieran's highchair tray for the 483rd time that day, I saw said toddler walk calmly into view. My eyes followed him as he walked past me, to the cupboard next to the oven. He opened a door, the one to the pots and pans, and threw in a sock. Then he shut the door and walked away, as if the whole thing never happened.

No wonder I can't find anything in this house.

Joining Heather today for Just Write.

On Writing Goofy -- and Calling it Good

You know what’s goofy?

I’m not a serious person in real life.

Yes, I love to think and I’m passionate about discovery and I only read nonfiction and I listen, religiously, to NPR. (And then I bore my husband to tears with all the retelling of interesting stories and conversations. Pray for him.)

But those are my inner workings, my deep life.

On the surface? I’m a people person. I love to laugh. I really love to make you laugh. I love meeting new people and eating new foods and I get bored easily. I’m an extrovert. I wear bright colors. I puffy-pink-heart 80s music.

You might not know this if you only read my blog.

True, I did set myself up to blog about Sabbath for 31 Days. Not a frivolous subject, that. And yes, I do think writing is where my soul indulges itself and works out the quiet mysteries that I might not express to you if I were to meet you for coffee.

But good gravy. Lately, my inner sanguine is chomping at the bit for a little freedom. I’ve been trying to keep her quiet, because I still haven’t finished my 31 Days of Sabbath series and the Compassion bloggers are writing this week and Orphan Sunday just wrapped up and shouldn’t I be writing for Jesus?

But then I step back and look at the blogs I love to read and I think about all these creative, quirky, deep and funny friends I’ve made online. And I realize Jesus is our life, even when we are sharing about that time the baby ate her sister’s Polly Pocket shoes. It’s all for His glory. It’s all a gift.

I just want to share it.

So permission granted? The next few posts will be less meaningful, more trivial, more me. I promise I’ll finish 31 Days of Sabbath. (Eleven posts to go on that front. I’m actually excited to share a few more thoughts over the next few weeks – and this time, to really think about it, instead of rushing to get it written by an outside time frame.) (Whoops! There goes serious, organized Kelly again.)

In the meantime, I’m going to open up the floodgates and share some stories as they come to me.

You’re OK hearing about the latest interview on NPR, right?