Fifth of six, studying abroad, and no way could leave this one alone. Peanut and I hopped the pond to celebrate. Must say I was a little melancholy this morning missing the rest of the crew, booked some hot yoga early am to take the edge off. We’ve been on and off the tube, doing all things London, grateful.
Grateful for every single human in my orbit. Love my family to the end of all days.
You say you’ll cry at least three times; I get it. It’s a lot, cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You will use absolutely every single dish and flat surface in the kitchen and beyond, and when you serve it up you probably won’t even be hungry. While it’s tempting to drink while prepping, go easy on the Chardonnay or you’ll really have a mess on your hands, in more ways than one.
My first Thanksgiving dinner I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I never paid attention to what was going on in the kitchen while growing up. The only job I had and did was to empty the dishwasher, I was absolutely expert at that. Once married I wanted to do adulting, and that meant inviting Grandma Collins and MaryAnne and Ethel to that first dinner, yikes. I kid you not the turkey wasn’t cooked through, so whatever you do you are sure to do better than that.
It’s not only an all-day affair, it’s actually kind of an epic hot mess. And the funny thing is no one even really likes turkey, so you’re smart to have steaks. Uncle Jim’s turkey will be just fine. Steak and turkey, great leftovers for Friday, steak and eggs for breakfast (or pie, duh), turkey sandwiches for lunch.
The shopping starts a week or so ahead if you plan, it’s also something you can do on the fly if your kind of like the rush of tequila, tequila can make you do things quick without thinking too much. You need all kinds of things and if you’re serious you need to make stock. Stock for the gravy, gravy is the bananas.
Seriously, start by cutting up the four loaves of white bread into small squares excluding the crust the night or two before. Get up early, like the crack of dawn and bake off the pies. Peel all those potatoes and cook and mash and keep warm over a Bain de Marie after you’ve sautéed the celery and the butter and the onions for the stuffing. Oh, and the sweet potatoes should be baked on Wednesday and sit overnight. Green beans need an ice bath. Cranberry sauce you need fresh and cooked, do that all ahead of time, like Tuesday. Ask your kids to make the place cards and set the table and pray. Have store bought frozen gravy secretly stored in the freezer and fake packs of dried gravy mix secretly stored in the pantry, the kind you just mix with water in case the gravy goes bust, you can fake it with a little bit of the pan drippings and butter and wine and maybe some whole milk.
Back to the table, I’ll be in London, and you’re serving yourself and eight other guests, including your oldest brother and your dad, oh boy. I’ve been prowling the net to get you set up, and here are a few of my picks, being delivered now through Wednesday:
Ugh, and now I’m getting tired, so here are three recipes to get you started, even though I know you already make best mashed potatoes ever:
Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 butternut squashes, about 3 lb. total weight, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 yellow onions, quartered
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, quartered, and cored
5 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup half-and-half
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
4 teaspoons minced fresh sage
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together the honey and the oil. Line a shallow baking dish with aluminum foil and arrange the squashes, onions, and apple in it. Brush the cut sides of the squash halves and the entire surface of the onions and apple with the honey mixture. Bake, turning all the pieces once or twice, until tender and well browned, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, let cool, and then scoop the squash flesh out of the peel and chop coarsely. Chop the onions and apple.
In a medium soup pot over medium heat, combine the squash, onion, apple, stock, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Partially cover and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and place over medium heat. Stir in the half-and-half and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Divide the soup among warmed shallow serving bowls. Evenly sprinkle each portion with the pistachios and sage and serve immediately.
Classic Mashed Potatoes
5 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large uniform chunks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (you know I simply feel this and add more)
1 2/3 cups whole milk, heated to simmer
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Salt the water, bring to a boil over medium heat, cover partially, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are very tender, about 40 minutes. Drain.
Return the potatoes to the pan and place the pan over low heat. With a potato masher, mash the potatoes thoroughly. With a wooden spoon, fold the butter into the potatoes 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring briskly after each addition. Gradually stir in the hot milk. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Still using the wooden spoon, stir the potatoes until they are light and fluffy.
Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot. (I always make them ahead, like first thing in the morning, and hold them over a Bain de maire).
Bread Dressing with Celery
¾ cup unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
4 cups finely chopped yellow onion
2 cups finely chopped celery, including some leafy tops
5 teaspoons poultry seasoning (I use Old Bay Seasoning)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 lb. firm white sandwich bread slices, stale or slightly toasted (I use white Pepperidge Farm and cut the crusts off and lay the cubes on a zillion cookie sheets all over the kitchen and butler’s pantry on like Tuesday evening)
6 cups chicken stock (must be scratch!)
½ cup minced fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the ¾ cup butter. Add the onion, celery, poultry seasoning, and thyme. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (This is what makes the house smell like Thanksgiving!).
Using a serrated knife, trim the crusts from the stale bread and cut into slices into ½-inch cubes. In a very large bowl, combine the bread and the onion mixture.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Whisk in the stock. Stir the stock mixture into the bread mixture. Add the parsley, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper. Stir well, breaking down the bread cubes to form a soft mass.
Bake the dressing alongside a turkey in a 325-degree F oven: generously grease a 4-qt baking dish. Spoon the dressing into the prepared dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the dressing is steaming hot, lightly browned on top, and well browned on the sides and bottom until moist, 30-35 minutes longer. Serve hot.
(I used to stuff the bird with dressing, now I prefer baking it separately or making two batches and two turkeys and stuffing one bird).
To bake the dressing in a turkey, loosely stuff the turkey’s cavities with dressing and truss the larger opening. Increase the roasting time of the turkey by 35-45 minutes. Any dressing that doesn’t fit gets baked as above.
Most of all, have fun with it, you’ll be surrounded by love, gratitude, and warm appreciation, and you’ll have steaks.
Last week I put up five trees, moved in all my geraniums at the country house while moving out all the furniture to Boston MA, and hosted a small working lunch for nine women. Sure, I had anxiety, we’re coming up on holiday season where expectations run high.
Oldest daughter, the one living in Boston and on the receiving end of all of the furniture, says the goal this year is for me not to end up sick and in the fetal position on Christmas eve or any other day leading up to January 1st, as has been my move. I’ve been pacing myself, doing things early.
One of my dear friends tells me the Christmas season is a man’s holiday, women invariably do a lot of the hustle. I’m telling myself to trust the process, it will go, it always does.
The thing is I love doing this kind of stuff, decorating, cooking, making things nice for those around me, all the while creating good memories and bringing people together.
So, one thing at a time: trees are up, no skirts and no ornaments. These five trees here are brilliant, we used to do the fresh thing where husband and the kids would go out and get the biggest fresh thing they could find and then I would spend DAYS and NIGHTS wrestling with the lights, solo, of course. No more, last year on advice from my sister, she who designs events for hundreds of thousands in San Francisco, ordered in from Balsam Hill: I bought three of their revolutionary flip trees, and the two slender ones in the dining room go up in minutes, all lit! It’s genius.
The carrot bread recipe comes from one of my other inspirations, Martha of course. She’s an entirely different story, last night I was reading her blog, The Official Martha Blog, about her most recent dinner party in her brown room, she brought in chef’s, (plural!), and they had individual tangines. Her gardening escapades involve an entire staff, and they dig up and propagate and store Dahlia tubers and things, wow, #gardendreams. We can all aspire to entertain with ease; I think the key is to slow down and trust the process. Bite off what we can chew, do things slow and with intention, and for me, do things early. At fifty-four I’m finally learning that flying by the seat of my pants is not a good look, wink wink.
I’ve been squirreled away at home in Buffalo in total nesting mode cleaning and organizing every surface and cavity in site. After a summer of non-stop travel, or was it six months of travel, it’s divine to be in one space.
The pause won’t be long, I’m off to London soon to celebrate Thanksgiving in an Airbnb with third and fourth daughters, the third finishing up her semester abroad, the fourth simply wanting to be with her sister after not seeing her for way too long. We might roast a bird, we might not, perhaps we’ll simply treat ourselves and go out for Indian food.
The cleaning binge is fueled by both need and desire. Need because it just has to be done and desire because I’m always a better human when my space feels good. Also, once December hits it will be non-stop shenanigans, so November is my month to get prepped.
The original parcel of land where the hotel sits was purchased in 1617 by Samuel Coster. Coster was interested in plays, dramas, and poetry, and he built a wooden theatre which was later replaced by the first stone theatre in Amsterdam, and in The Netherlands. In 1772 there was a horrific fire, destroying many lives and the theatre itself, leaving only the doorway that still stands and serves as the main entrance gate today.
Everything about the place could serve as my inspiration board, and it’s visiting places like this that make me want to clean, refine, and constantly edit the home spaces I inhabit.
It’s also never ending, the keeping of a house, six days, twelve days, six months, thirty-two years, whatever. For now, I’m just tucking in, knowing I’ll resurface. We have things to do, places to go, people to host.
Nothing fancy here, and nothing makes me happier than dinner with my family. With good ingredients and a few sheet pans I can put out a weeknight meal that soothes the soul. This was one of those impromptu weeknights when both sons stopped over post-squash for a sit-down with us, the newly empty nesters. It was simple, and divine. Showing you the real life, messy kitchen counters and all.
No recipes, hot oven. Chicken thighs with butter, thyme, lemon juice. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with sea salt and olive oil. Baked sweet potatoes slathered with more good butter. Arugula tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and shaved parmesan. I have these sheet pans in multiple sizes and use them all the time. Here you see the quarter-size version, perfect for a party of four.