Tuesday, November 15, 2011

don't cook (much) on thanksgiving

Sacrilege, I know, but hear me out.

I love Thanksgiving, and I always, always, always insist on hosting our family's Thanksgiving dinner. I've been doing this since my now adult children were tiny. I've always loved the planning and the shopping and the days of preparation. But by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was tired and cranky and pretty hard to take.

There are just over 20 of us for dinner these days, and somehow over time, we seem to have taken a holiday known for its excess and skyrocketed it to new dimensions. Seriously, we have a roast turkey or two, a faux turkey for the vegetarians, two or three kinds of stuffing or dressing (one of which will be vegetarian), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkey gravy, vegetarian mushroom gravy, fruit salad, tabbouleh, Brussels sprouts, creamed onions, corn, a few additional vegetables, fresh cranberry sauce, jelled cranberry sauce, several varieties of dinner rolls. Then if someone wants to try something new like mashed cauliflower, it is added to the list. We don't replace; we don't substitute; we add. I didn't even mention pies here, as that would be another full page, and usually, I don't make any of the desserts on Thanksgiving. I should be clear here, very clear. I do not do all the cooking, not by a long shot. Many, many other people work for days, as well.

I mentioned recently to my daughter, Kristen, how much I enjoyed entertaining, having parties. Her response startled me at first, then I realized she was right on the money. She said, "No you don't, you hate it. You like the idea of having parties." What an awful thought, worse because it was true. I love the preparation and planning, but by the time a party has materialized, I am so damned tired and irritable, I just want to find a quiet corner and curl up for a week or two.

Working our way through this has not been quick, nor has it been very easy. One recent year, after we raced to get the 1500 dishes on the table, get everyone seated, trip over those who wanted to hang out in the kitchen to visit, and finally sat down to cold food that should have been hot and warm food that should have been cold, it hit us. If it's going to be cold anyway, why worry about cooking the gravy just before you serve it? Why boil, drain, and mash the potatoes in a kitchen already filled with pots and pans and people running in all directions? If it's going to be cold anyway, why try to time the turkey so that it has precisely 30 minutes to rest? Phooey, let's make it ahead and serve it dry and cold and tasteless. Yeah, that won't work, but something has got to. And something certainly does.

 I have, at long last, found a way to enjoy it all. After all, restaurants don't cook everything last minute. They couldn't. Good ones know what holds for a few days or a few hours, what can be frozen even weeks in advance, and what really needs that last few minutes of your time.

Today, 9 days ahead of Thanksgiving, I plan to make creamed onions and freeze them in an oven-safe serving dish that will make it all the way to the table. I love making creamed onions, though I don't eat them anymore. I love to take my time and enjoy making them. I can do that today; I cannot do it next Wednesday or Thursday. Other dishes that can be made a week ahead and frozen include many vegetables, sweet potatoes or squash, even gravy. Mashed potatoes can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator. They are incredibly easy to reheat in a crock pot (at our house we sometimes use two.) 

Tonight I'll also start turkey stock, continue really, I started it yesterday. I'll cook a turkey breast and hind quarters separately the day before Thanksgiving to be sure we have enough to slice and serve without my brother, Bob, having to stand and carve the turkey I'll roast on the big day, all through dinner.

turkey hind quarters, browned under the oven broiler and ready to simmer with aromatics for stock

I will make vegetarian foods one day and those with meat on a different day. This not only keeps the vegetarian dishes meat-safe, it keeps them from contaminating the gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo-friendly dishes I look forward to eating.

I'll add some more details in the next few days, including my suggestion for exceptionally good, though not dairy-free, mashed potatoes.

For some really good ideas of what to serve and suggestions for even more sources, check any of these recent posts. They're all good and mostly all Paleo. Some are even Whole30 approved.

Whole9 Thanksgiving
Ginger Lemon Girl Thanksgiving
Food Lovers Primal Palate Paleo Thanksgiving Recipes

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