The first time I cooked a full Thanksgiving meal by myself, I was nine years old. My mom and dad were divorced when I was six, and my mom worked in a hospital. She had to work that day, and I made Rock Cornish game hens with a wild rice stuffing, brussels sprouts, and a spice cake for dessert. It was a decent start! The next time I made Thanksgiving I was 20, and I've been doing it ever since, minus a year or two when I had the holiday with family. In 1994, I lived in the Chi Phi fraternity (an apartment complex to be honest) and actually used my neighbors' ovens as well as my own. Never had any major disasters like raw turkey or whatever, thank goodness. Anyway-
I started writing down my "party plan" in minute-by-minute detail a couple years ago when the number of guests and dishes exceeded my IQ x the number of ovens at my disposal. The holiday has become a fairly smooth-running process for me, adjusting a little every year according to the potluck offerings. It's a good thing too, because this year I got sick.
The day before Thanksgiving is usually prep day for me-- chopping, sauteeing, making the start of the gravy, etc. I thought the light over the chopped celery was beautiful-
I made cranberry sauce with jalapenos:
but still, no one eats more than a spoonful or so. It's silly that I keep making the stuff, I don't even like it! But it seems like less of a Thanksgiving without it.
This year, I helped a good friend make some homemade desserts for his family's shindig.. my first ever cheesecake (a pumpkin one) with caramel sauce and a spice cake with cream cheese frosting. I had a really good time cooking for him, though I admit, the thought of making my first ever cheesecake, for an unknown audience, and not being able to taste it or check it and make sure it was okay before I sent it off to be consumed, at a big event like a family Thanksgiving-- that's pretty bold. So I was mighty nervous! Especially considering the leak...
Yeah, the leak. So, to bake a cheesecake without it cracking, you have to cook it in a hot water bath. It helps equalize the temperature all around the cake. You wrap the springform cake pan in aluminum foil, then set the pan in a bigger roasting pan full of simmering water and put the whole thing in the oven. Because water transmits heat differently than air, it helps the baking cheesecake heat more evenly and then no cracks. Well, when I took the (admittedly gorgeous looking) cheesecake out of the hot water bath, and unwrapped the cake pan, there was water on the inside of the foil. If the springform pan is really tight, there's a chance no water got inside to spoil the crust.. but if water gets in, then who knows, it might be a soggy mess. I was really concerned, but by then, it was too late, so I chalked it up to experience. But if I can figure out how to get the pictures he sent me from my phone into this blog, you will see it came out great :)
Then I went to jiu jitsu, where in rolling with a 230 lb monster blue belt, I got my shoulder cranked good (he kind of laid down on me, when both my arms were on one side of my body. This is something one should never do in jiu jitsu, obviously.) And then I went home and did all the chopping, prepping, and so on I would have done during the day. I was all happy about the coming holiday until about 11pm, when I suddenly had a very unsettling and unhappy feeling in my tum.
1am: Deathly sick. Sitting on the toilet, with a trashcan in my lap, throwing up with a velocity and violence heretofore unseen. By the way-- I've always been told, and had experienced, that if you don't look down when throwing up, it won't go up your nose. Well, when you throw up THIS hard, no matter where you look it's going to wash out your sinuses like a firehose. It sucked. I broke out into a cold sweat, showered, and went back to bed.
Repeated the process at 3am and 4am and 5am. Woke up with my alarm at 6am (for jiu jitsu of course) and said screw it, I can't even move! Dragged out of bed at 8 and got Thanksgiving going. I tell you, if I wasn't so practiced at doing the whole turkey and such, I would have ordered pizzas. But I had a plan all written out, for example:
9:10- oven to 425 and sweet potatoes into cold oven 30 min
9:30- turkey in oven 45 min 425
9:40- Take foil off sw potatoes, put back in another 15-25 min
10:00- make dressing; check sw potatoes- brush with glaze, flip, glaze again
10:20- take sw pot out of oven, flip turkey; oven to 325- turkey in 1-1.5hrs
10:45- put stuffing in crock pot on high 60 min
11:00- assemble green bean casserole
11:30- check turkey doneness; when turkey is done, deglaze pan, finish gravy
11:45- turn dressing in crockpot on low for 4 hours and stir
12:00- set table
so I was pretty much on autopilot. In between everything I laid on the couch and tried to sleep. I drank a quart of apple juice throughout the morning and managed to have everything clean and tidy and beautiful when my first guests showed up an hour early at 2pm.
The flowers came out really nicely-- some kind of exotic thing, plus snapdragons and seeded eucalyptus.
The turkey took an extra hour (WHY? HOW? especially when last year's was an hour FAST! I don't get it... like how my body doesn't do math when it comes to calories and losing/gaining weight... I just don't get it.)
Every year we get less formal. I've gone from the wedding china, family silver and crystal, and handmade lace tablecloths to serving buffet-style in the kitchen and normal plates and flatware. What really counts is having my family of choice around me (and yes, ease of cleanup.)
I have so much to be grateful for-- first, my husband for totally picking up the slack for me yesterday-- friends who've been around forever, and new friends... good food and (today) the appetite to eat it-- jiu jitsu....
Thanks for reading my blog, too. I'm glad you're here with me!
So today is a busy one-- Black Friday means $1 poinsettias at Home Despot, and jiu jitsu twice today.. putting up the Christmas tree. Hopefully this weekend I watch all the Gracie Bullyproof DVDs and I am planning a series on "Gifts for the BJJ Lover in Your Life."
Hope you are enjoying your post-turkey lull!