more thanksgiving prep: laying it all out

Thanksgiving in our house is going to be smaller and much simpler than years past. I didn’t get to all the little ceramic turkeys to put on the table this year so the table just has the simple candlesticks and some greens in a vase. I still think it’ll look pretty.

My order arrived today from Harman’s Cheese in New Hampshire. I love my imported cheese, but for Thanksgiving especially it’s American made cheeses. Tomorrow for nibbles before our little feast, I will put out Harman’s cheddar with crackers with a Balsamic Onion Jam. The rest of the cheese will take us through the holiday season and well into the winter.

The table is mostly vintage. Pewter napkin rings I got years ago. No one likes pewter much anymore so I literally picked these up super inexpensively.

The napkins came from The Smithfield Barn. They are of a newer vintage from Ralph Lauren.

The plates are Steubenville Adam Antique from the 1930s. I bought them for our first Thanksgiving in this house. They came from Frazer Antiques. I remember they were on sale. I have looked for years since at these plates here and there, and never been able to even come close to the deal I got that day.

The placemats are vintage Pimpernal. They belonged to one of my dearest friend’s mothers.

We are having a simple menu. Yams, green salad with a simple vinaigrette, stuffing done outside the bird, homemade cranberry sauce, and the turkey. The turkey is from Loag’s Corner Turkey Farm in Elverson and was delivered by Doorstep Dairy. Doorstep Dairy is our milk delivery service and more. We have been a customer for a few years. They are terrific!

If you are local, Loag’s turkeys can also be purchased through local butcher shops like Worrell’s Butcher Shop in Malvern Borough. We also are big fans of Worrell’s!

I didn’t mention dessert. That I am actually not baking. Someone gave us a cheesecake. Not our normal Thanksgiving dessert, but my husband loves cheesecake!

My last piece of the puzzle is a vintage turkey platter. Also from the Smithfield Barn a few years ago. American made, true vintage, and I love it.

Holidays are about traditions. Thanksgiving is about the classics: turkey, friends, family.

Here is a poem from Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

Thanksgiving

We walk on starry fields of white
   And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
   We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
   To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
   Of pleasures sweet and tender.

Our cares are bold and push their way
   Upon our thought and feeling.
They hand about us all the day,
   Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
   We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives,
   And conquers if we let it.

There’s not a day in all the year
   But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
   To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold,
   Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
   While living hearts can hear us.

Full many a blessing wears the guise
   Of worry or of trouble;
Far-seeing is the soul, and wise,
   Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
   To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
   To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
   Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
   Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
   As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
   A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

I don’t know if I will write again between now and Thursday, so Happy Thanksgiving!

thanksgiving prep: cranberry sauce

First of all a shout out to Great Jones cookware! I am a really happy customer and bought three of their pots/pans. The one above is called “Saucy“. this is the pot I chose to make my cranberry sauce in this year. I will also note that I am not a compensated blogger, I am just telling you about certain things because I use them, buy them, like them.

Thanksgiving is going to be a little more simple for us because I am waiting on another knee surgery so I am limited in what I can do and should do. So today I made the cranberry sauce and Wednesday I will make the stuffing and the sweet potatoes and then all we will have to do is heat those up. (Yes,I am not doing the stuffing in the bird for the first time ever.)

Cranberry sauce is not hard to make. And basically it’s one bag of fresh cranberries, one cup of sugar, 2 cups of liquid. Today I used orange juice, and I forgot to add the orange zest although I had an orange waiting in the refrigerator. I also added cinnamon and ground mace to taste.

I brought the mixture to a gentle boil on low heat with a lid on the pot. If you don’t have a lid on your pot or a splatter screen your cranberry sauce will end up all over your stove!  I will note that I did have a little lift to the edge of the pot so steam was able to escape. I have these little silicone things called lid rests which are made for this.

I did stir occasionally as the berries were cooking so nothing stuck to the pan.

When my mixture was brought to a boil I used my potato masher to mush the cranberries. I then added two little packets of Knox unflavored gelatin, and stirred and stirred until dissolved and incorporated into the sauce. I like my cranberry sauce to be a little bit jellied so that’s why I do this. However, I am not a fan of canned cranberry sauce.

I put my cranberry sauce into three jars, and when it cools I will tighten the lids and refrigerate. I do not do a canning water bath on these– I just cook and jar and refrigerate.

These three jars will take me through the holiday season. Thanks for stopping by!



the holidays aren’t a hallmark movie, and that is o.k.

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The holidays are hard for people even when you aren’t a holidays-are-hard-person. You always want them to be perfect, yet they rarely are at all.  It’s human nature and accepting we don’t live in a Hallmark movie set.

Thanksgiving is the seasonal kick-off to weeks of we want familial perfection. Only have you met a perfect family? I haven’t.

The holidays are romanticized and commercialized to such an extent that we think we have to be perfect every year or the world might end as we know it. I am no exception.

Last Thanksgiving was the year of the turkey that would not cook.  My husband wanted to put it in the oven at one time, and me another. In the end he had his time choice and then it was like a comedy of errors courtesy of the turkey gods.  We ate late, and had turkey consternation.

Please note that according to Sunset Magazine:

For a 10-13 lb. turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 350° oven for 1 1/2-2 1/4 hr.

For a 14-23 lb. turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 325° oven for 2-3 hr.

For a 24-27 lb. turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 325° oven for 3-3 3/4 hr.

For a 28-30 lb turkey (weight with giblets): Bake in a 325° oven for 3 1/2-4 1/2 hr.

Times are for unstuffed birds. A stuffed bird may cook at the same rate as an unstuffed one; however, be prepared to allow 30 to 50 minutes longer. While turkeys take about the same time to roast in regular and convection heat, a convection oven does a better job of browning the bird all over.

 

This year we are starting the turkey earlier and I think I am doing the dressing outside of the turkey.  This year, I also need help since I have managed to tear the meniscus in my other knee.  When I tore my meniscus in the other knee a couple of years ago, my meniscus waited until well after the holidays.

Translation?  I will also need more help at Christmas and I won’t be cooking dinner for around 14 people.  Maybe having that break is a good thing, but I actually like doing Christmas dinner. Cooking for people at Christmas is one of my favorite presents to give.

This also means I will be decorating differently. And more simply. It might kill me. No not really, but my inner Christmas elf might revolt. Sigh…and fewer kinds of Christmas cookies will be baked too.

Asking for help and knowing you need help is not the easiest realization.  Again, I am definitely no exception. But I guess when you need it, it’s a lesson in working together and trust. Admitting I will need some help this time around for the holidays is maddening. Trust me. There is so much to do.

The other thing about the holidays is giving back.  How do you give back? Do you volunteer at a shelter? Cook meals for the less fortunate? Donate to a toy drive? I don’t think it matters what or how much you do as long as you pay it forward in some small way. And it doesn’t have to be publicized for thousands of atta’ boys or atta’ girls, just do it to pay the magic in this season forward.

And back to the Hallmark movie versions of the holidays.  I love my Hallmark Christmas movies, don’t misunderstand me.  But it’s a little unrealistic. From the apartments and homes that 20-something characters  have (in places like New York City and Chicago no less!), to the always perfect hair, perfect coupling up and don’t forget Hallmark movie characters don’t have sex ever, or show too much boob in their Christmas party dresses…it’s like life in a snow globe.

A delightful time warp bubble that transports us for a while from everyday life. But hey now, everyday life is not so bad, flaws and all.  And we all have to acknowledge and accept as nice as those saccharine sweet made for TV holiday moments are, do we really want to trade that for our own realities? I mean sure it would be especially nice if the kitchen cleaned up itself magically after holiday meals, but as for the rest of it? Maybe let it inspire a tablescape or other decorations, but don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself.  I know because somehow I do it every year.  Holiday Perfectionists Anonymous come on down!

Image result for norman rockwell holiday angelThis year I aim to be a little different.  It might kill me, but I will try. Meanwhile, I will be sure to look for all the perfect holiday tableaux as seen on social media, knowing full well reality might be a lot different.

Don’t Botox your holiday social media.  It’s actually o.k. to be less than perfect, look less than perfect. And I have to laugh because any time I personally express a less than perfect social media persona it starts.

“Are you ok?”

“Did you see what she posted?”

Lord love a duck, it’s quite all right to be human.  Have a bad day occasionally. My plastic surgeon and professional stylists tribe are on vacay, ok? Sometimes I do not have a village, and it’s just me not wearing make-up…. (a cardinal sin in the eyes of my mother who told us never to go to the grocery store without lipstick years ago.)

And the holiday race for more social media “friends”? Oh resist. The real ones are so much better. Truth.  I have started turning people down and culling the herd. I don’t need neighbors of people I barely know as friends and if I did not like you in high school and you didn’t like me, well not to be mean but why do I need to be part of your people collection?

And that is what I always find fascinating about social media.   The fakeness of it. Especially when you know it’s so far removed from the truth.  And that fakeness factor increases around the holidays because so many people have a hard time for a multitude of reasons.

So I guess I am saying slow down and appreciate what we have in this world. You don’t have to fake it until you make it. You can admit you love the holidays knowing it might have a couple of flaws.

Love the holidays for what they are. Don’t resent them for what they aren’t.

And pay it forward.

Enjoy the magic of the season.  It’s totally there when you stop stressing over perfection. Have you seen my lipstick? I need to go to the grocery store…..

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thanksgiving 2018

Thanksgiving. The ultimate all-American holiday. I will note however, “Thanksgivings” are also throughout history a common thing in many cultures after bringing in the harvest.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to the colonies of New England. Several Thanksgivings were held in early New England history that have been identified as being the first feasts including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631.

However, there was a regional battle forever as to where the first Thanksgiving was held. Was it New England or in Virginia? You see, in 1619 the arrival of English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter. A Thanksgiving.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder

Thanksgiving and as to what it meant carried on into the Revolutionary War Era. A lot of it involved proclamations and political wrangling which is well, an American tradition, correct? As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.”

Thanksgiving was observed on various dates throughout our history. Truthfully if you research it, the actual date Thanksgiving was observed varied from state to state. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century, and Halloween in 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation changing the holiday to the next to last Thursday in November, for business and commerce reasons.

Then along came President John F. Kennedy and his Proclamation 3560 on November 5, 1963, which said in part: “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.” He wanted to bridge the gap between the North and South rivalries over who Thanksgivinged first.

There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American. ~O. Henry

So now to our family and other Thanksgivings. By “our” I mean everyone out there. Are they ever the perfect holiday we envision from Currier and Ives prints? Or Norman Rockwell? Or the Hallmark Channel movies and reruns of The Waltons?

I know mine haven’t been but I still love the holiday. Some of my favorite Thanksgivings spent as a child were all of the ones we spent with family friends who moved from Pennsylvania to Bethesda, Maryland and then to Summit, New Jersey. The celebrations were large (lots of kids), loud (lots of kids and lots of adults laughing), and happy. The food was amazing and no one was expected to be perfect.

I think the best Thanksgivings are spent with those you choose to be with. Not those you feel obligated to be with.

Childhood Thanksgivings I found less fun growing up were the early childhood ones spent with my parents’ respective siblings. Suffice it to say, the adults really didn’t get along, really didn’t even know each other as adults, but felt free to judge each other. So the end result was stiff, and slightly uncomfortable Thanksgivings. The Waltons we weren’t.

As my sister and I grew into adulthood we also had Thanksgivings we spent with our cousin Suzy and her family. I loved those because Suzy made it fun. Then my sister married first so Thanksgivings were split between our family and her in-laws. I also had the Thanksgiving many years prior to when my sister married where my parents decided they were bringing Thanksgiving to my sister and a then boyfriend in New York City and I was adopted by a friend’s family for dinner. That was one of my favorite years and we did not even have turkey. We had a huge capon. If memory serves that was because my friend’s dad did not like turkey. And my friend’s growing up home was made for holidays. It was old and cheerful and warm.

Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often. ~Johnny Carson

For me there was an 8 plus year period of Thanksgivings I have mostly erased or have tried to erase from my memory. I call those the purgatory Thanksgiving years. The person I was in a relationship with had family outside Mechanicsburg and Allentown.

I loved the Mechanicsburg Thanksgivings because his sister in law and her mom were awesome. They loved holidays and celebrating holidays and it showed. Everything was festive and bright.

The Allentown Thanksgivings were somewhat awful as we were crammed into a skinny townhouse in a development on a public golf course with dark painted walls. The paint made already small rooms seem more close, and the sister who hosted had this trick every time like clockwork to let photos of his ex-wife fall out of a sideboard. Half of the Thanksgiving dishes and turkey were served in aluminum foil pans and the dinner plates were dirt brown Pfaltzgraff. These Thanksgivings were depressing and uncomfortable. The people were all basically unhappy and not particularly nice and you could feel it. You weren’t one of them and they got that feeling across.

After those years, and sprinkled occasionally throughout my life there were other kinds of Thanksgivings. These were the holidays spent in restaurants or clubs like The Merion Cricket Club. Those were fun holidays too, but part of the “thing” of Thanksgiving to me is how your whole house smells while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, combined with the smell of a fire in the fireplace or wood stove.

I will note one Thanksgiving decades ago when my mother had invited SO many we couldn’t handle the crowd my parents made reservations at a restaurant in Radnor called the Greenhouse. Now you know I am dating myself to the late 1970s because that was when we did Thanksgiving there. When you did Thanksgiving at The Greenhouse you could order your own turkey for your group if your reservation group was large enough. And it was a really cool place literally in old greenhouses and a converted stable portion dating back to the 1760s which some historians still say once housed George Washington’s horse. Not George, just the horse. Today the location is known as 333 Belrose and is owned by a high school friend.

Now as the years have past and life and time have moved forward, Thanksgiving has changed again. It’s like an ever evolving holiday in our lives. I truthfully love cooking Thanksgiving. It’s also a time for me to play with my vintage linens and dishes and is the one time of year that vintage ceramic turkey sees the light of day as a centerpiece.

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow, which may mean every day, or once in seven days, at least. ~Edward Sandford Martin

Some Thanksgivings now are just our little family and sometimes expanded with other family and friends. This year it’s a smaller gathering so there will be lots of leftovers!

Right now the turkey gizzards, neck, and vegetables are burbling away on the stove as I make the broth I will use later. The cranberry sauce is made, and so are the sweet potatoes and butternut squash. The potato and squash purée will go into the oven to warm up after the turkey comes out to rest. There will be a pumpkin pecan pie but I am unhappy with the pie crust.

“When you love what you have, you have everything you need. ” ~ Unknown

I am grateful for my life and my family so I love the true celebration of Thanksgiving. A lot of our family and friends are farther flung this year celebrating all over, but celebrating the day wherever they are.

So I hope all of you out there have a terrific Thanksgiving. I will leave you with something to think about. I was thinking about the world we live in today, and specifically the tone of many politicians in this country and rhetoric that is nothing short of anti-immigrant. Think about those first Thanksgivings in this country when the Native Americans served feasts to what were then illegal immigrants from Europe.

“We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” ~Albert C Barnes

what’s on your thanksgiving menu?

What is everyone cooking for Thanksgiving?

Here is my menu:

Hors d’Oevres:

Smoked Trout with horseradish dill sauce on party rye bread

Fromager d’Affinois with garlic and herbs and crackers

Dinner:

Fresh turkey with homemade herb stuffing with shallots, onions, and sausage

Green salad (spring mix and butter lettuce and homemade vinaigrette)

Roasted sweet potato and squash purée

Homemade cranberry sauce

Dessert:

Pumpkin pie with pecan topping

I am setting a vintage table with my old school ceramic turkey as the centerpiece with candlesticks. I am using vintage plates including my super cool vintage ceramic turkey platter sourced from the Smithfield Barn at a Gas Works in Frazer pop-up shop (there is a pop-up coming up by the way!) and my chandelier is decorated with strung pine cones and wooden “cranberry” beads and these two primitive bird cut-outs sourced from Life’s Patina in Malvern and one of their pop-up sales!

And our son is home from college, so it doesn’t get better than that!

Happy almost Thanksgiving!

kitchen tip: start a “stuffing bag”

What is that old adage? Waste not,want not?

I have a kitchen tips for the holidays that I am going to share with you. And it’s very simple.

Everyone knows homemade stuffing tastes better. And the problem with using a pre-packaged stuffing mix is it’s loaded with sodium and preservatives.

So what I like to do is create a “staffing bag.”

Everyone always has bread that goes stale. Don’t waste it. Cut it up into little cubes put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in your freezer until you’re ready to make your stuffing.

When you are ready to make your stuffing pull the cubes out of the freezer and put them out on a sheet pan lined with parchment and let them thaw. Then pop them in to the oven (heated at 350°) for a few minutes to dry them out a little more. And by a few I literally me like five or six and keep an eye on them so they don’t burn if your oven runs hot.

This is an easy kitchen hack and it beats bread either getting so stale and going to waste OR turning moldy and going to waste.

the thanksgiving gift

These past few years my blog has been my journey through my now not so new home county, Chester County, Pennsylvania . It’s also been whatever I feel like writing about at the time – what moves me, inspires me, what I want to share.

I have been a blogger for years, but out here I don’t think there are many people like myself who blog just because they want to write. So I am an acquired taste to many. I am also not a monetized blog, which is a rare species sometimes these days. With the blogging sometimes over the past few years I have had some incredibly negative experiences even with all the amazing and heartwarming and positive experiences of writing. As a result it may take me a few days when someone writes to my blog and is truly complementary.

So what I’m about to tell you is basically my O. Henry story for Thanksgiving 2017. (And as a related aside, if you have never read O.Henry you should. His stories are timeless and endure through the ages.)

Recently, someone wrote to me via my blog to tell me how much he enjoyed what I wrote about. And this gentleman, Chris, has really read what I’ve written. It always leaves me slightly in awe when I realize this because I write for myself. I enjoy the act of writing and expressing myself, it’s my art so to speak. And sometimes (sadly) along with the pleasant commentary , I get really ugly comments about my blog; it’s not always happy thoughts. That is the sad reality of the world we live in.

And this nice man also offered me an amaryllis bulb. And for a gardener like myself, there’s nothing better this time of year than paper whites and Amaryllis. I happen to love Amaryllis and the weird spring and fall made mincemeat out of my remaining Amaryllis bulbs and I actually didn’t have one started for Christmas. Someone from DutchGrown, a bulb grower and supplier out of West Chester had given him a couple of bulbs, and he thought enough of me a total stranger and fellow gardener, to offer me one. (And now I know about another bulb grower which is Chester County local too!)

2017 has been a crazy year for me being a blogger, so I showed the note to my husband, and he said that there is enough good on this earth that we can still take people at their word, even strangers. So today I sent a note back and said I would love to have an Amaryllis bulb and say hello.

I have to tell you I really didn’t expect him to come by today because it is Thanksgiving and he has a family, but he did. Sadly, I had hopped into the shower to get ready for family coming here for Thanksgiving. So he and my husband met instead. And now we have a new friend, well met.

There is that phrase about the kindness of strangers, and it definitely proves itself true here in this situation. And once again my travels through Chester county and my blog have introduced us to get another person we normally would not have met.

Chris, Happy Thanksgiving. This post is for you. Thank you for the beautiful bulb and reminding us what is important in this life. It is a true O.Henry moment.

Happy Thanksgiving dear readers and pay it forward this holiday season. Believe.