It's difficult, at this time of the year not to write about Thanksgiving. Last year I wrote about past Thanksgivings, actually a particular 20 year period.
This year I am reminiscing about our early years. When we were first married, we spent Thanksgiving with Jim’s family. Jim’s mother died 2 days before our May 1972 wedding so the first holidays were spent in Hibbing. The Russell Ryan’s (Jim’s family) and the Francis Ryan’s spent this holiday together, hosting every other year. 1972 was our year to host, and while the the Francis Ryan’s graciously offered to host, it was our turn and we were up to the challenge.
The night before we all sat around the kitchen table, chopping the dressing fixings, cleaning the turkey, cooking the giblets, peeling potatoes, and telling stories. It was beautiful, one of the BEST times I remember. The next morning, we all met again in the kitchen, everyone had a job and things got done. I was in charge of the pumpkin muffins—my first cooking assignment as a Ryan. Well, I failed. We did not check the temperature in the second oven, it was 15 degrees under, so the muffins never cooked through. Luckily, they still tasted great, but it took years before anyone, except Jim, knew I was actually a pretty good cook and baker (even though I had many successes). I did save the buffet when the chafing dish started the linen runner on fire—I put it out with the oven mitts—so I still managed to score a few points that year.
I few years later, Russ married Buddie, who was a great cook, and a new, while short lived, tradition was born. We would drive up north with the 3 girls, and learned after the the first year, to wear our summer dresses. Buddie and Russ loved the house to be warm, 80 degrees to be exact. Factor in the oven heat and the roaring fireplace, it was warm enough in that house to do Bikram yoga. So many wonderful memories from past Thanksgivings, all that I am thankful for, fires and all.
Life is ever changing, and this year it is going to be a small group 5 to 11, last year it was 28. No matter what the size, the menu and meal prep are the same. Turkey, dressing, gravy, squash, brussels sprouts, pumpkin and French silk pies; all to be served hot (except pies) and at the same time.
The trick is to be prepared, do what you can ahead of time. I set the table a day or two ahead, make the pies and potatoes a day before, and brine the turkey at least 24 hours ahead of time. I bake the turkey in a roasting bag and it always turns out perfect. The potatoes are in a crockpot as is the gravy, so they are on low for several hours with just a bit of stirring.
I just decide the dinner time and count backwards, and I do not lose focus (i.e. no wine or alcohol, until everything is in the oven!).
- Thanksgiving is very basic; it's not a gourmet meal, anyone can do it. I love cooking and having family and friends over. The mistakes always make the best stories in the future.
- Jim’s mom always made turkey dressing with chestnuts, sold in jars, (not water chestnuts) they are wonderful and give a mild sweetness to the dressing. It is the little things that make the food and memory wonderful.
- I keep the house at 68 degrees, so everyone is dressed for the appropriate season. I however wear light clothing as my internal temp is about 100 degrees.
- As my friend, Suzanne would say “gobble, gobble, gobble.”