Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Looking Ahead: The November Edition

Thanks, all, for your kind words on the October look ahead! I want to make sure you all know that I try to get my act together. I try very hard. But don't think of me as an over-organized Martha! (Do you ever notice her little calendar in the front of the magazine? It's packed with good ideas but anyone who pulls that off is way out of my league.)

So, this month a look at November's activities. And basically, it's a pretty easy month with only one major holiday on my calendar, Thanksgiving.

I love Thanksgiving. It's a food, friends and family holiday. No worries about presents (unless perhaps you are bringing a hostess gift to someone who kindly invited you to dinner). Of course, it's what happens after that can make some of us insane!

I don't have a boatload of tips for this month, but here's the best I can offer to make your Thanksgiving time a little easier.

The Dinner

Ah, yes. That's what it's all about, isn't it? And for most of us, it will be the traditional turkey. You probably all know that a turkey does not thaw overnight. I learned that one the hard way. So, start it out early! Or fresh is best!

Thanksgiving is one time when you can shop for most of the food far ahead of time and get better buys on most of it, too. Canned pumpkin for those pies, pumpkin rolls and soups (did you have leftovers from October?), certain produce items and cranberries. My suggestion? Buy extra cranberries to have for the holidays. You can not only eat them but decorate with them in a variety of ways. (For example, place a pillar candle in a tall, clear vase and surround it with cranberries to anchor the candle. This is pretty with nuts, too.) Or, put them in your water glasses for a festive look.

If you are lucky and having a crowd, someone will offer to bring something. This doesn't seem to have happened much in our family and Rick and I have done the heavy lifting on dinner. Maybe it'll change now that Kevin and Molly are married. (Maybe we'll even get an invitation!) But suggesting is always nice -- as in, "So glad you are coming to dinner! What would you like to bring?") I'll let you know if that works!

Try something new! Last year we made a savory sliced roasted sweet potato dish for the first time. It was so good we could hardly bear it! It's on the menu this year if we're cooking! (And if I can find the recipe!)

People usually pitch a fit when you change the Thanksgiving menu. But if you're dying to feature a new dessert or different veggie, go for it. Or better yet, have both. No one's offended and the leftovers will get you through the holiday weekend!


Best tip (after making sure the turkey is thawed): Do your chopping the day or night before. Chopping as in, "chopped celery and onions for the stuffing." It'll save time on TG morning and you'll have more time with guests. Prep pies or some desserts in advance as well and if nothing else, get produce washed and cleaned. If you don't already do this, you'll be surprised at much mess this can save on the day of the Big Cook.

Ina Garten (and Rick's aunt Carol) also seem to make mashed potatoes a few hours in advance of dinner and have them taste wonderful and hot when served. (Well, Carol's are; I've never tasted Ina's personal potatoes!). Reheat in a double boiler on the stove or possibly the microwave. (And while I wouldn't dare pull this off on TG -- Rick does the potatoes -- I'm very big on Bob Evans pre-prepped mashed potatoes. I can't tell the difference.) And if you have a crock pot or warmer, you are in great shape!

My other tip is what is known in our family as Plan B and it refers to gravy. If no one in your gang is a good gravy maker, it is extremely important! Even if someone is, there's never enough gravy for the leftovers and a good Plan B will make dining after far more delectable! I like Trader Joe's turkey gravy but there are lots of options. (In our gang, Rick is the gravy maker and it's delicious. In my own private Idaho, it's Plan B!)

This photo is actually the raspberry version of the pumpkin trifle. The main difference is that the pumpkin trifle uses pumpkin or ginger bread and a pureed pumpkin/brown sugar layer as the "custard" (along with the whipped cream. And I crumble ginger snaps and candied ginger on top.
Try something new if you like! Not everyone is a pie fan -- a pumpkin trifle or apple cake might be a great seasonal alternative!


Depending on your living situation there are few reasons why you can't get the table ready to go the day before. (Personally, I would advocate eating pizza in front of the telly the night before versus eating at the table so you can get it set in advance). If there are only a couple of you and it's a pretty standard setting, no big deal about doing it that day. But if you are expecting a crowd, it's much easier to have that done ahead of time. (And if you are sort of anal about the table like I am, you won't have to figure out how to politely turn down help or sneak in and jiggle things around so they're how you want them!)

As for a centerpiece, think small and low unless you have a big table. There's a lot of extra food at the table on Thanksgiving, not to mention extra glassware if you are having both water and wine. Even if you serve the larger things from a buffet, you may still be passing cranberries, gravy, butter and rolls. Consider what you had left from your October decorating. A low basket with gourds and some candles might do the trick.

Use what you have. A basket of gourds left from October? Repurpose them. A collection of chickens or turkeys? Go for it!

One of my favorites is the simple wheat I cherish from my blog friend, Diana. When her daughter, Nora, was married, they used wheat as part of the wedding flowers and decorations. After, there was an abundance of leftovers which she generously shared. Diana is no longer with us in body but her spirit lives on every day in my home through this simple arrangement of wheat that moves from space to space, never more prominent than in December.

And this probably goes without saying but "use the good stuff." If you have a kids' table, you may want to cut a bit of slack, but remember, it does no good just sitting in the china cabinet. Use it or lose it.


Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions, whether it is watching football before and after the pig out, saying a special grace or having a once-a-year favorite dish. For me, the tradition is using my mom's turkey dishes. When the kids are here and we have Thanksgiving dinner at Rick's house so I cart the dishes down the street, along with centerpiece fixings.


But sometimes we don't have the kids on "the day." My most memorable Thanksgiving was a totally impromptu event the fall of Rick's serious bicycle accident. A pulled-together group of friends gathered at my house to express our gratitude for many blessings.

The centerpiece was thrown together from things in the craft bin and I used Mom's crystal. Everyone brought something to the table but mostly they brought love.

What Do You Do?

If you have a favorite Thanksgiving or holiday hint, a special tradition you share each year or a favorite dish, please share it here!

And as our long ago pilgrims did, remember the gratitude. Really, that's what it's all about.


~*~Patty S said...

Our Thanksgiving changed drastically back in 2011 when my mother passed away making Mr M and I orphans.
Since then our new tradition is flying out to CO and spending time with our son.
There is so much to see and do.
We stay at a different spot each year making some special memories along the way.
Thanks for sharing your traditions and tips Jeanie.
It will be here before we know it!
Happy last week of October.

Anonymous said...

So many great tips for Thanksgiving!
Our feast will be very informal as I have a large family coming over. Potluck and paper plates for us.

My Grama's Soul said...

Like so many others.....Thanksgiving changes over the years....with people passing, kids moving and getting married.....and people coming in and out of your lives.
But one thing that does stay CONSTANT is the GIVING OF THANKS......which you have pointed out so beautifully in this wonderful post.



bj said...

Everything looks great...I start cooking, buying and freezing for Thanksgiving right after Halloween...every one in our family brings a dish...and we generally have so many sweet people, we use Thanksgiving paper plates and napkins...sometimes as many as 22...no dishes to wash and leaves more time for game playing. :)

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I share your love for Thanksgiving, Jeanie! And it looks so splendid as you celebrate it! That triple, especially, looks outstanding! Must try it this year!! Thanks for the inspiration!

Joyful said...

All good tips to making TG a lot less stressful. We celebrate a month earlier here. There is always a lot for 1 cook to do. I always prepare what I can in advance and keep it simple. I serve buffet style too. I got the buffet style from my mom who always had a huge feast at holiday dinners. Mine is much simpler but still partly traditional. Enjoy your November!

Bella Rum said...

What a beautiful post, Jeanie. You have a way with words and life. "Use the good dishes" is great advice. We keep saving things "for good" and before you know it, it's all over. May as well enjoy!

This is as good a list of tips for the holidays as any I've seen. Prepping ahead is essential.. I have less stamina these days and like to do things in stages. It makes it so much easier.

Thanks for the tip on TJ's gravy. I make pretty good gravy, but it's never enough. I could use that on the day after TG.

Thanks, Jeanie.

Nancy said...

Thank you for a wonderful and informational post. It's obvious you care a great deal for making things very nice and tasty for your family. They are blessed to have you....

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

These are all great tips! Thanksgiving has been on my mind as Phil and I just decided how we will split the holidays and we are celebrating on the actual day with mine. I always offer to bring something! This year I am doing the veggie tray which is easy to prep ahead of time and a Brussel sprout dish. Everyone in our family kind of has their usual side dishes that they bring. And no matter where we have thanksgiving my mom makes the pies as that is her forte! I will have to come up with things to suggest to bring to Phil's moms when we celebrate with her that weekend. I'm also hosting my family for dinner on Friday at my place and I will serve lasagnas which I will assemble ahead of time and freeze!

Cheryl said...

My Thanksgiving tradition is to decorate the Christmas tree that day. I figure it just gets a head start on Christmas and gives people something to do (decorate the tree) while waiting to eat!
big hugs,

The Artful Diva said...

I can't believe the holidays are coming - feels like I just put the Christmas tree away!

Marilyn Miller said...

Oh, Jeanie, I just love this post. It is from the heart. I recognize the dishes. I have already started using my teacup that matches. I looked today at decorations at the market and decided as you suggest, repurpose from October - pumpkins and gourds. Good idea. Just the past couple years I have also tried shaking it up a bit with one new recipe. Funny, but I just emailed my daughter yesterday to get her input on the holidays and she didn't offer anything. Guess I will be as usual around our table, which is fine. Hoping she offers to bring something like a salad or veggie. Well that's it from Portland, but look forward to your further adventures throughout the holidays.

Mae Travels said...

You are in fact a terrifically organized party person!!! All I ever think about in advance is the menu -- not the dishes, not the centerpiece, not any of the remarkable loose ends you already have pulled together!

Mary@mydogsmygardenandmary said...

Oh yum, everything looks so good. What time is dinner? LOL
I love Thanksgiving, getting together with family and friends. I used to cook a big dinner with anywhere from 10 to 20 people. But, not anymore. It's time for the younger generation to pick up baton and carry on. My son does a terrific job.
Happy Halloween.

Carmen said...

Thanks for your wonderful post. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Mostly, it's about sharing a nice meal with family and friends. We have so much to be thankful for. I love to cook and, if I had the time, I'd make the whole meal. Since I work, I chip in any way I can. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Jemma@athomewithjemma said...

Love these practical and useful tips, and my oh my you have gotten me in the season too!
Love the cranberries in the drink-ever so pretty!

Joanne Huffman said...

It is my favorite holiday!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning sweet jeanie! It seems as if summer wad just here now we are enjoying thoughts of thanksgiving!!!

Victoria Zigler said...

I've never had a proper Thanksgiving.

Yes, I'm being serious.

There are a few Fall/Autumn things that happen around her, but nothing like Thanksgiving. I was in Canada during Thanksgiving one year, but we didn't do anything because we were so busy arranging for our trip back to the UK (their Thanksgiving is in early October, and we were flying back a few days before Halloween).

shoreacres said...

Last year, I was with friends at the cabin up on the Frio River. This year, I'll be with a friend, tucked into a 17th century fort. It's possible to stay, but there's only one suite, so once the caretakers leave in the evening, it's going to be just us and the ghosts of Fannin and his men. I don't think they'll eat much, so we'll make it easy, and see what happens!

Shelia said...

HI Jeanie! I love all your tips and snaps of Thanksgiving! I agree that with time, sometimes our traditions fade and change. We always went to my parents for Thanksgiving when our children were little and she insisted on making everything. I look back and think I shouldn't have let her do that. But she loved doing it. Then my Daddy died and we moved my Mother where we lived. Then I became the one to cook the dinner and she would bring pie. Now that she's in heaven, we have my daughter's family and I'm becoming my mother! ;) I just told her last year just to come and I'd do all the cooking! LOL I guess what goes around comes around! :) Be a sweetie and Happy Halloween!
Be a sweetie,

Tracy said...

Hi, Jeanie! Well, I don't do Martha... I want to have a life while still doing a modest to-do list. ;o) But I like YOUR lists! I LOVE Thanksgiving too. It's my fave holiday, really. Since it will be just us two, this year I'm doing a turkey meat & stuffing casserole--a kind of all-in-one thing. We like leftovers, but with limited freezer space I'm saving room for pre-Christmas treats. ;o) Would love to try that sweet potato recipe, if you can track down the recipe. Nice to have a new sweet tater recipe! I'm not good with gravy. I've never been good at doing gravy. I try... *sigh*... Ooo... I like the idea of a pumpkin trifle--YUM! Such pretty table decorations... *swoon*... Living overseas, I miss my family extra much at Thanksgiving, and the festivity. We try to get over some years for Thanksgiving, and that's always a blessing! Counting the blessings--that's the big gift... along with the pumpkin pie. ;o) Thank you for this celebration, Jeanie!! ((HUGS))

Arti said...

What wonderful tips and ideas. Thanksgiving is BIG in the U.S. Here in Canada, we don't take it so seriously. And for myself, I'm not an event planner and we don't celebrate much of anything (quite low key I'd say). But I love to see what others do in their festivities, esp. your posts. Wow those are beautiful settings and centrepiece. And I love the first pic of that card with the beautiful corn. I was instantly attracted to it when I got to your post.

Barb said...

Jeanie - you are going to be so proud of me: I made 3 loaves of pumpkin bread last week (2 with nuts) and froze 2. Now we are down to 1 frozen (without nuts) that I was going to give to the grandkids. I may have to make 3 more because that remaining loaf is whispering to us from the freezer! Also, the cranberries came into our market last week so I made cranberry relish (I use apples, oranges, cranberries and pineapple - some whirled in food processor and some cut in chunks. We ate it all so today I'm making another batch. I might have to stockpile cranberries this year - I hate when I can't get them anymore. The week of Thanksgiving, one of our son comes with his family and we ski every day with the children even on Thanksgiving morning. So, for the last few years, we've gone to a restaurant buffet for T-giving dinner. Not the same as when I cooked all the old recipes, but a lot less work and stress! My other son and his family stay home and cook all the old recipes, so that makes me feel good. I must stop - I love your photos!

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