Thanksgiving 2014 Recap

 

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We held our first Thanksgiving feast in our new home this year and, I have to say, it was my favorite Turkey Day holiday in recent memory. We had my immediate family, my in-laws, and my brother’s girlfriend’s family over and it was so much fun. I tried to do as much dinner prep ahead of time as I could and it made for a virtually stress-free and incredibly enjoyable day.

I read an article about hosting dinner parties a few months ago that really made an impression on me, The author made the statement that the most important part of having guests over for dinner isn’t about having fancy china or serving perfectly put-together food. It’s about the people you are with, especially in the case of Thanksgiving. It’s a day set aside to reflect on the good things in life and to share that reflection with the ones you love most. This year, in particular, I have so much for which I am thankful: family, friends, health, and my baby boy (aka little rump roast).  I have been the stressed and frazzled hostess in the past and I always regretted it afterword. This year, I tried to keep things in perspective and it made all the difference. There was a moment during the dinner, when everyone was eating and enjoying each others’ company, that I looked down the dinner table and my cheeks flushed and my chest tightened because my heart was so full of joy. “Thank you, God,” I thought. Those feelings may have been the wine talking; but, whatever, I’m chalking it up to joy.

As for the feast- I think I accidentally deleted the few food photos I took before we ate in an attempt to clear up storage on my memory card (woops!), but the menu was as follows:

  • Roast Turkey
  • Baked Ham
  • Bert’s Mashed Potatoes
  • Connie’s Amish Dressing
  • Corn Casserole
  • Roasted Yams
  • Selby’s Salad
  • Anna’s Dinner Rolls
    • Cinnamon Honey Butter
    • Herb Garlic Butter
  • Apple Pie
  • Dutch Apple Pie
  • Pecan Pie
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Kelly’s Lemon Bundt Cake

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The ceremonious turkey carving. We may or may not have watched a you tube video to make sure we were doing it right. Isn’t the internet great?

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Bert makes some mean mashed potatoes. The trick to perfectly smooth and lump-less potes? Don’t add in any butter, sour cream, milk, etc until you have adequately whipped the potatoes into submission and gotten rid of any chunks. A little fun fact for you from Robert’s side of the family.

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My mom was the gravy master and she also manned the ham and whipped up some delicious homemade salad dressings for the feast.

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My dad was kind of a jack of all trades. He provided the wine, played with Smith, and even washed a window for us. Thanks, Dad!

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My brother-in-law, Kenny, and his lovely girlfriend, Kelly (side note- how cute is that: Kelly and Kenny!?), brought a lemon bundt cake and so dutifully filled water glasses and then helped do the dishes after the feast.

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My sister Selby made two delicious salads and we managed to get a few “J. Crew” poses in as we assembled them.

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Robert’s mother brought her world-famous Amish dressing that was adored by all. Grandpa (on the left) provided Smith with lots of entertainment.

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My brother’s girlfriend’s family. Such kind and sweet people, and they brought scrumptious homemade dinner rolls and strawberry jam.

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My brother-in-law, Kevin, and my sweet niece, Nora.

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My brother, also known as Uncle Seaweed, loves playing with his nephews.

I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving weekend. It’s officially holiday season! Have a great week, everyone.

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Baked Pumpkin French Toast

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Here we are on the brink of the holiday season and I am feeling peculiarly calm. In past years, I often end up frazzled and overwhelmed with the thoughts of the china that needs cleaned, gifts that need purchased, cards to be mailed, cookies to bake, and negotiating work and vacation time. So much so that I would basically breathe a sigh of relief when January rolled around. I really don’t like that trait about myself; the fact that I am always thinking ahead to the next step and I forget to enjoy the present. There is a quote I really love, “Wherever you are, be all there.” My goal this holiday season is to be all there. To soak it up and to actually savor the Thanksgiving turkey we’ve worked so hard to prepare, to sing along with the Christmas tunes blaring through the speakers, and to put my phone away when we’re curled up on the couch watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

One of the ways I’ve improved my ability to be more relaxed during this hectic time of year is to make dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (superb timing for a cookbook release, Ina Garten!). This baked pumpkin french toast is a perfect example and would be great for Thanksgiving weekend if you have guests staying over or it would make a fabulous addition to a Christmas morning brunch. It’s warm and comforting and really lovely served with a little drizzle of maple syrup and a tall glass of cold milk.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Here’s to focusing on the now and enjoying today.

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Baked Pumpkin French Toast

Yield: Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf stale French Bread (stale bread soaks up the liquid better than fresh)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk when I made it)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces

Directions

1. Grease a 9×13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Cut the french bread into 1 inch cubes and place in the dish in an even layer. Set aside.

2. Make the streusel: stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and use your (clean) hands to combine until it looks like oatmeal flakes. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

3. Assemble the french toast: Place the milk, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and whisk together until well-combined. Carefully pour this mixture over the bread. If the bread pieces aren’t fully submerged or they start to float, you can gently press them down with your fingertips. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. When you are ready to make the french toast, remove the casserole dish from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven preheats, sprinkle the streusel topping on top of the bread chunks. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the french toast is puffed up and golden brown. Remove from oven and serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Homestead Living: Making Apple Butter

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My mother-in-law’s family has a rich tradition of making homemade apple butter in a big copper kettle. As it was our first year back in the country, we thought it would be fun to have our city friends up for a weekend with a little cultural experience, if you will.

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The whole process starts very early on a Saturday morning when someone (not me!)  fires up the heat source and begins cooking down several gallons of fresh apple cider.

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Once the cider has been reduced to about half of the volume, things start to get a little cray cray.  A large stockpot of homemade applesauce (made with local golden delicious apples and cider) is added, followed by several cups of granulated sugar. Then, according to the lore of the apple butter masters, one must keep stirring the mixture AT ALL TIMES until the desired consistency is achieved. This way, the sauce doesn’t burn and everyone’s day isn’t ruined. The stirring is done with this long, wooden apparatus, pictured below, and the passing off between stirrers can be compared to an intense relay. Or maybe it just feels like that to me.

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When the optimal apple butter thickness has been achieved, the kettle is removed from heat and a sprinkle (not more than a teaspoon) of ground cinnamon is mixed in. An assembly line is formed and the piping hot delicious goodness is ladled into clean jars, topped with lids, and allowed to seal.

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When it was all said and done, it had taken us about 5 hours from start to finish to create this tasty topping. I made a brunch for everyone to enjoy and there was plenty of hot coffee and donuts to fuel us through the rest of the day. A fun time was had by all and I am hoping we can extend this lovely tradition into the future and continue to include both our families and our friends.

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