Byeeeee November (hello, Nut-ville, er December)

I swear it was just yesterday that I was trashing 15 lbs of my kids’ Halloween candy. Where the H did November go? We survived Thanksgiving mostly intact, although a bug swept through our household and pushed us over like dominoes one-by-one. This led to an exorbitant amount of down time. Lazy time is not something I am really good at, but it did leave me restored and slightly ready to face Cyber Monday and the onslaught of December antics headed our way.

Before we’re hit full on with December, I thought I’d take a few minutes to re-cap what I did in November that worked and preview what I’m thinking I can wedge into my life for December. My goal is to make you feel like you can take things off of your list, change the paradigm for something in your family, or make your life more simple and joyful during this season of musts/shoulds!

What worked:

  • Cooking Thanksgiving in advance was a hit. We enjoyed the day with pigs-in-a-blanket and the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. Everyone who wanted one took a nap. There was a lot of champagne consumed. The day was very low stress (although significantly more work for my mom who cooked the turkey while I curled up in the fetal position with the stomach bug)
  • After dinner, I put the turkey carcass directly into the Slow Cooker covered with water and added the remainder of herbs and set it for 20 hours – it yielded 3 lbs of additional meat and an unctuous turkey stock which became the basis of meals for days.
  • We ziplocked all leftovers in gallon bags. This made it way easier to pitch them when we were sick of them and made stacking easy in the fridge
  • We resisted the urge to decorate for Christmas, and spent a few extra days enjoying our Fall decor. It made the weekend feel a little longer and more indulgent.
  • I made the following meals with our leftover turkey meat and bones: turkey pot pie (from Ina’s recipe – makes enough for two, so half the filling is frozen and will make a great December meal), turkey soup (filtered stock, all of the meat that came off of the turkey carcass, celery, carrots and egg noodles; plussed up the broth with a little better than bouillon); split pea soup with a smoked turkey leg was divine and perfect (from the new One and Done cookbook); and the remainder of the turkey is going in turkey tetrazzini (my grandmother’s recipe gets a fresh makeover).
  • I made potato cakes for breakfast using leftover mashed potatoes – added a cup of flour to two cups of mashed potatoes and one egg and some salt – fried up in olive oil and served topped with fried eggs
  • I ditched the corn pudding and stuffing – I’m not even sure I’ll make these sides next year- roasted veggies and mashed potatoes were perfect.
  • I sent an email to our families about gifts – posing the question – is the tradition of buying gifts important to you? I suggested a few things – pooling our money and donating to charity, setting a limit and picking a name, or focusing on a family experience together. I sent another email about experiences > things letting grandparents know that if gifts were important to them, we’d love museum memberships and gymnastics and swim lessons. I feel like every year I wait too long to send this message, and then it’s off to the races. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted just starting the conversation.
  • I solidified our “No Santa” plan with the husband — we need to be careful about the way we talk to the kids this year, and what we say and how we ensure that the kids are respectful to other kids. Even after telling our almost 4 year old that Santa doesn’t come to our house and that he’s a fictional character, she was still excited to see him at the Ice Rink Opening last week. The magic can still be there, folks, even if he’s a character. Food for thought.
  • I ordered gift cards for teachers using credit card rewards points. That is $500 I won’t have to shell out this holiday season and my points were sitting there doing nothing! Score.
  • We made our famous family bread – gruyere popovers – two days after Thanksgiving and served them with turkey soup. We have always made them with the Thanksgiving meal but they have to be served hot straight from the oven and they’re quite filling, so they kind of add stress – two days later they were bliss with soup.

Looking forward:

  • Look for an Advent post on Friday of a full list of experiences /ideas for your advent calendar. It’s not too late to celebrate advent and infuse the whole month with quality time with your family.
  • We’re planning to adopt a family and shop together for kids the same age as our kids
  • We’ll do a toy purge/donation before Christmas to emphasize the needs of others and make way for new things
  • We’re planning to stick to this rule of thumb for our kids: 4 things: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read
  • I’ll have a post on teacher gifts- I like to combine something tangible (gift cards) with something homemade
  • I’ll post about our family cookie recipe which uses an entire 5 lb bag of flour – scared?
  • I’ll share some of our favorite traditions around the holiday menu
  • I’m planning a post about what toys we are eyeing for our kids this year for Christmas with a focus on imaginative play and family/evening games
  • I’ll do a post on easy apps to have on hand for impromptu gatherings
  • I’ll share my thoughts on Bullet Journaling– I’m a month into the practice and finding it is helping me organize for the holidays in a really fantastic way

What else would you like to see? Let me know in the comments here or on the Facebook page!

Thanksgiving Game Plan

Thanksgiving is my Super Bowl. It’s how I define my success as a cook, entertainer, builder of traditions in my family. I can never compete at Christmas – I just don’t have it in my DNA, but oh Thanksgiving, oh, I can bring it and enjoy it and still look good doing it. Here are a few of my tried and true tricks for making it through the week with your sanity, your waistline and your relationships still in tact.

  1. Stay home for Thanksgiving: In our little family, we have made it a tradition to stay in our own home for Thanksgiving every year that we’ve been together. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but we snatch up this little holiday as a 4 day staycation in [insert whatever town we are living in] and we fill it with a million of our own traditions. We prefer to travel to see family during times that aren’t so expensive/busy and we have found we enjoy those trips even more. We have filled our home over the years with friends and sometimes family who come through, but through it all we’ve stayed home, and kept it sacred. I love to cook, so I get to control the menu, and he who controls the meal controls the leftovers. Bonus.
  2. But, invite buffers: We host our dear friend Anna every year for Thanksgiving. Not only is she a master storyteller, epic kid-entertainer, ultimate go-with-the-flow girl and night owl (which gives Zac a late night movie watching companion when I turn into a pumpkin at 10 pm), but she gives us a reason to make the holiday special. In short, because Anna is here, we put on pants. We use the fancy silverware. We dress it up.
  3. Keep the rest of the day’s meals simple: Our traditions are eating pigs-in-a-blanket which we prep the night before and wake up and bake early and munch on throughout the day, and a huge veggie tray. Last year, Zac’s sister outdid her self with this veggie turkey tray that we fell in love with and will make every year. We keep it very simple, avoid cheeses and breads, and nibble throughout the day on these crowd pleasers.  We watch the Wizard of Oz sometime on Thanksgiving every year because it’s my mother-in-law’s favorite and it reminds us of her, and makes the perfect backdrop to the day (after all, there’s no place like home, right? Even when we don’t appreciate it?)
  4. Don’t cook on Thanksgiving (other than your turkey): We eat our meal at around 4 pm.  I cook everything in advance of the day, using a game plan that is as detailed as “thaw corn” and “peel potatoes” – I mix in the tasks throughout my week, doing a few things each day during naps and while I prep dinner, and other than the turkey, the gravy and the roasting veggies which take 5 minutes to prep (I cut them earlier in the week), I don’t cook on Thanksgiving. Weird, huh? The day flies by with checking on the turkey and making the gravy, watching toddlers and spending time with friends who have joined. The kitchen can be really lonely on a holiday unless you’re surrounded by your aunts and sisters, so I don’t want to spend the day in there alone and this is my answer.
  5. Cook a soup the night before: The night before Thanksgiving used to be for dive bars and hook-ups with exes. Oh, how times have changed. Now, I make a filling but healthy soup the night before, in the Instant Pot of course. It feeds a crowd and doesn’t mess up the kitchen the night before the big day. We roll the piggies for the next morning (great toddler activity) and get to bed early.
  6. Leftovers: Be strategic about leftovers. Over the years, I’ve found that I really only want the “second meal” once or twice, and then I want it all gone. What I want is leftover turkey. We make two turkeys (one is smoked) so we have plenty for Turkey Pho and Turkey tettrazzini, which is our family’s leftover jam (recipe to come), but we don’t make 20 million pounds of sides because they rarely get eaten. This year’s Cooking Light issue has great ideas for using leftover ingredients (instead of leftover cooked items) – check it out for genius uses for carrots, butter, apples, sweet potato, sourdough, shallots and half and half.  I will make plenty of turkey and roasted vegetables, but as for the rest, I don’t max out. Friday morning it’s back to the gym and onward through the holiday calorie season gauntlet.
  7. Get outside: Not being stuck in the kitchen all day on Thanskgiving means we can always make time to get outside and be active. Run a 5K Turkey Trot, throw a football, take a family walk, or hell, do all 3. Move your body, you will feel better. I know Americans make a sport of eating on Thanksgiving, but you can be active, eat an amazing meal and you’ll probably sleep better and feel a little more human the next day.
  8. Skip dessert: Coco Chanel said it best – “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one accessory off.” I say, take one accessory off. Thanksgiving just doesn’t need dessert – it’s a gluttonous meal and most people will eat dessert if it’s around, but do we really need it? I realize this is controversial, but in our family, we skip dessert. Dessert can shine on another day, and it cuts the work in half. Ice cream is always in the freezer if someone has a sweet tooth.
  9. Incorporate kids: Every year, the kids help me make the place card settings. It’s their way of putting their stamp on the table, is minimal and costs barely anything, and gives my table a homemade feeling. Two years ago, we used their handprints as turkeys and then embellished them with feathers. This year, my mom will do watercolors with Marilyn the day before as placecard holders. You could have your kids color on craft paper, make napkin rings, or collect leaves  – it’s a great and useful tradition.
  10. Finally, don’t forget to reflect: The tradition of giving thanks is ever-present at Thanksgiving tables. Don’t forget to reflect upon your year, count your blessings, and share them. Whether or not your Thanksgiving is spent in sunny Florida eating stone crab, or in snowy Ohio surrounded by relatives, and whether your year has been incredibly wonderful or incredibly tough, Thanksgiving is a time for renewed hope, and sincere gratitude for that which we do have.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to be intentional — reflect upon the aspects of the day that you love, try to disconnect from traditions that leave you feeling drained (I’m looking at you crazy holiday travel), and start traditions that will keep your kids coming home for years to come, bringing friends, and making memories that are seared on their brains forever.

Thanksgiving Crudite Platter Recipe

Assorted raw vegetables: bell peppers, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.

Ranch dressing

Sour cream

Peppercorns (for eyes)

Round Tray

Arrange cut crudites in a fan pattern as the “feathers” of the turkey, keeping colors together, and building from the outside to the ceter of the platter. Adjust platter size based on the amount of people you are serving, keeping in mind that you can always use up extra raw veggies in a day-after Thanksgiving chopped salad. Using one of the bell peppers, cut off the side so that the pepper becomes the waddle of the turkey.  Fill a small bowl with ranch dressing, plussed up with sour cream to make it extra thick and rich for Thanksgiving.  Cut two carrot feet and a nose and arrange with your red pepper waddle, and drop in two peppercorns as eyes. Voila!