Thanksgiving Reflections

A couple weeks ago my husband and I went for a walk in one of our favorite spots. It had just snowed a couple inches and the world had that wonderful stillness and quiet that can only be after a new snow.

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I think the best part about walks like this are that we take our time, looking at all the minutia of the natural world while our ears are listening for the tell-tale sounds of life.

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We see frost on tassels of the tall grasses…

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And we see spent milkweed pods, silk knotted in ice. And eventually, like this day, we hear and then spot a flock of American Tree Sparrows, a Snipe, and an American Pipit all under the watchful eye of two Bald Eagles. We hear coyotes in the distance and even though we weren’t far off the road, nary a car passed. These are the moments that ground me, that get my out of my own head, and that bring me a peace that I don’t know any other way to find. These are the moments that allow me to be brave enough to take on the world. They give me the strength to take on huge things, important things. Things so far beyond my comfort zone that I can’t even see my comfort zone. Things like cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Some of you will laugh. I mean, I am — as my dear husband would say — “nearly four decades old” (he thinks rounding up from 37 to 40 is endearing) and really it is ridiculous that I’ve never cooked properly for Thanksgiving. I’ve helped Mr Knitting Sarah cook big meals, I’ve helped my mom, and I’ve ordered and heated pre-made heat & eat Thanksgiving meals from the grocery store with a mastery that is rarely surpassed, but I’ve never been the one behind the plan for cooking. Even though it shouldn’t have been, it was a big deal to me, especially because I’m not generally super confidant in my cooking skills. Baking, sure, I can follow any recipe, but cooking… that’s another story.

It was a challenge I wanted to take on though because I’ve been working on expanding my cooking repertoire and — let’s be real — it was time. Nervously, compulsively, I made my plans. First I made a list of dishes I wanted to make. Then I made two columns — one for Wednesday and one for Thursday — in order make sure that I had enough space in the oven and various cooking devices to get everything prepared on time. Then I set not one, but two alarms on my phone reminding me to pull the turkey out so it would thaw on time.

And then Wednesday rolled around. Game on.

It started with a crack of dawn trip to the grocery store. At this point, I’d already been grocery shopping for this meal for a solid week and a half at least and I’d been to the store no fewer than 6 times, but I had a list of last minute additions that Mr Knitting Sarah requested and other odds and ends. I was also grabbing baking items that happened to be on sale in preparation for upcoming holiday cookie baking because, really, why not just add that on top of everything else?

When we got home, I started by setting the kids up to wash and cut fresh veggies and then I started mixing up my first cheesecake, a classic plain one to be served with a choice of cherries or blueberries. It’s an item that is easily in my wheelhouse, so it was a good place for me to start. I whipped it up and popped it in the oven and then got to prepping and boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes. Potatoes rolling, I moved on to cheesecake #2, because let’s be real, how can one cheesecake be enough for 6 adults and two kids? We don’t need to discuss the fact that I also had bought a pumpkin pie.

It was somewhere around the start of cheesecake #2 that my mister texted to say he’d like to invite 2-3 of his co-workers to come to our meal. “Of course,” I said as I worked very hard to not panic. The more the merrier. In the back of my mind, I was hyperventilating at the idea of cooking that turkey while at the same time thinking how thankful I was I’d just thrown an extra load of potatoes in to boil for mashing and mentally upped the ante on the green bean casserole from one batch, to a double.

Even with the additions, I managed my Wednesday list with ease and even got a home-cooked meal for our family and my parents that evening. Sure, the dishwasher was working overtime…

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And there was that moment cooking dinner when there was a lot of smoke and then — as it turned out — a fire engulfing the bottom of the oven, but I got the fire out and everything (and everyone) survived. I even had enough energy to work a bit on my latest spinning project…

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Nothing, just nothing relaxes me like spinning.

Thursday morning we awoke early and the kids, my mom, and I did a 2mile walk to benefit the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club. I was anxious about getting home to get the bird in the roaster, so I walked like I have rarely walked before. I am by nature more of a stroller than a walker, but I hoofed it to that finish line for the sake of that turkey. And then, we went back to the grocery store. I just went in for paper plates and disposable flatware, but wound up with a full cart. I think that’s what happens when you have 4 people “helping” you shop. But I digress.

Thanks to the obsessive planning and work ahead, Thursday was a breeze. The turkey was in in plenty of time and even though I was the only one interested in the squash, it was done just the way I like it. There was plenty of room to heat everything up and it all came together right on time. We shared a good meal, a lot of laughs and all in all, it was one of the most memorable, feast-like Thanksgivings we’ve had. I made way too much food…

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So we will be eating iterations of it for the next week or two, but I don’t mind. It was pretty good and it’s a meal I’m pretty proud to enjoy… even if I’m enjoying it multiple times!

The downside of making too much food, of course, is that few had room for cheesecake…

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They weren’t super pretty, but turns out cheesecakes don’t have to be pretty to taste good. Yum.

I fell asleep Thursday night too exhausted to really consider that I’d actually survived and had fun doing it, but I did go to sleep happy.

I awoke to this view from my window…

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Another beautiful, still, quiet moment before the family and the trees and the world woke up. It was just me and the waking sky and a bit of time to reflect on this lovely event that I was fortunate enough to host. And while it’s true that I am mindful of and thankful for this charmed life I lead every single day, this Thanksgiving was a wonderful reminder that even the challenges that feel insurmountable are a gift for which to be thankful. These opportunities change us, reminding us that we are capable of more than we realize. Even at nearly four decades old, you can indeed learn to cook a turkey, make a multi-day meal prep plan, hoof it 2miles in record (for you) time, find time to spin a little yarn out of wool, and make not one, but two delicious cheesecakes – to look ahead and see the little minutia in big (at least to me!) event. Indeed, it’s never too late to quiet your mind and see all those details and remind yourself that you are more capable of putting it all together than you may think. Along with everything else, I’m thankful for that, too.

15 responses to “Thanksgiving Reflections

  1. I am so proud of you for challenging yourself and living up to it. I grew up with a mom and grandmother who were wonderful cooks, so a Thanksgiving meal has never daunted me – but I once MADE myself take a road trip alone – THAT was daunting. ~giggle~ See, we all have our challenges and it’s making ourselves do them that builds us. AND you managed to spin and walk in record time! GOOD JOB!

    I also love the snow pictures. They look so very calm and serene, and remind us that Thanksgiving dinner is no big deal up against that great creation. You GO, Girl!

  2. Congratulations on cooking/surviving your first Thanksgiving meal. Personally, I would have made sure I left room for cheesecake. I can eat vegetables any day but homemade cheesecake? That certainly takes priority! Beautiful pictures of your nature walk. My first thought on seeing the milkweed pods was “where’s the fiber?” and “I wonder if I could spin it?”

  3. I knew that you could do this , Sarah. I laughed at the six trips to the grocery store, I made at least that many! It takes planning and organization, which is exactly what you do with your knitting and spinning. It was wonderful that you included people that would have been alone and a great example of inclusion for your kids. My 12 yr old granddaughter helped me too, actually she really wasn’t into it but we soldiered on. Now what’s up for Christmas?

    • I teased my husband that everyone at the store would miss seeing me once or twice a day. LOL! The key with my kids was finding jobs they were happy to do — like my daughter was not really into chopping veggies, but my son was. And my daughter was SUPER into mashing potatoes. So when they showed interest, I just went with it! LOL!

      Oh, Christmas! I will think about that in a week or so…

  4. So glad that you were able to pull this off–not everyone has this opportunity. So many people have to spend it all alone and I bet they would give anything to have to try to cook a dinner all by themselves. My husband and I have reached an age where we do NOT need leftovers and all our family lives far away so we get to choose from several restaurants with great menus. We do not bring doggie bags home!

    • I was happy I was able to do it, especially because we invited a couple of my husband’s co-workers to join us.

      I’m in the thick of those years with a full house, so I’m intrigued to know what those years will look like for us. After this year, I’m very much tempted to host a meal for anyone without family nearby. I think it could be fun and a nice thing to do!

  5. Sarah, you are amazing! So glad you were able to prove to yourself that you can do it! It sounds like it was a wonderful meal, and also that you weren’t so consumed by it that you forgot to enjoy the peaceful quiet moments! We started hosting Thanksgiving the first year we lived in this house, so ten years ago now. The first one had 24 people! I nearly died! But over the years I have come to learn to take people up on their “what can I bring?” question so that all I do is the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and potatoes! It helps that our usual crowd has dwindled to 7, too! But I have NEVER attempted cheesecake! You are a Thanksgiving rock star!

    • You know, we spent so much time in our tiny house that it’s still just amazing to e that we have room for extra people at our house! Looking back, I’m really thankful to have done it and very much interested in continuing the tradition!

      And for the record, cheesecake is pretty easy — no harder than any other baking. I think gettitng the bake “just right” is a science I haven’t mastered quite yet, but I don’t think it has to be perfect to still be really, really good.

  6. Sounds like a great Thanksgiving. And if you have a good fitting lid on your pot for roasting your turkey, then it’s a snap. Sounds like you did a very good job! 🙂 Plus you could delegate part of food prepping to others and get help if you needed it. You rock!!

    For Thankgiving, I did a brine and soaked a duck and a turkey breast. I named them Donald the Duck and Slim Shady the Turkey!
    😀

    I made my brine using warm water, about 2-3 cups of McCormick Rum, a cup of Cabernet Savignon, some Bay leaves, Sage leaves, 1 teaspoon of pink Real Salt, a few handfuls of dried juniper berries, a teaspoon of Grains of Paradise, 6 whole cinnamon sticks, some fresh large garlic cloves cut in half, and an onion cut into quarters. I also added 1 large lemon and 2 small limes cut into half slices squeezed and flung into the brine mix.

    When I put in the birds, I had already poked them with a meat fork all over to help them absorb the brine flavors. I made sure to press in some of the spices, herbs and citrus slices into, under the skins and wedged in the cavities. I put the whole pot in a very chilly bathroom in the tub away from the kitties all night before Thanksgiving morning.

    Just after draining out the brine water the next morning, I left some of the solid bits of citrus, spices and herbs in and under the skins, coated them both in Olive oil, and sprinkled them with some poultry seasoning.

    I had to cook them separately since the Donald the Duck was smaller than Slim Shady the Turkey. I was concerned if I cooked both together in my larger roasting pan, I would have either underdone turkey meat or or a dry nearly burned duck.

    They both turned out delicious and very flavorful after being roasted Thanksgiving morning, one after the other. They both went with me to my friend’s house who also had no family to be with for the holiday. We had ourselves a very fine time! She made some broccoli cheese potato soup, a cabbage casserole and a pot of egg noodles. I brought along some pies for dessert. We both ate too much and were just way too full! But it was all sooooo very good!

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