Living far away from extended family is my normal. My childhood mainly consisted of seeing grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins only once or maybe twice a year because we lived in Arizona and they lived in Michigan. We never traveled on Thanksgiving or Christmas and with the exception of the few years that my dad’s parents lived in northern Arizona, the majority of our holidays were spent with my immediate family of six. Growing up this way has lent itself well to having a husband in the military and raising nomadic children. My sister and her family planned to be our first visitors in Chicagoland for the holiday but we all quickly decided it was best not to travel. However, we’re hopeful we can host them in the spring and show them around our new stomping ground (for 1.5 more years). So it was just the four of us for Thanksgiving this year. And you know what? It just may have been my favorite Thanksgiving yet.
On Wednesday we made a cherry pie and a pumpkin pie and when I say we, I pretty much referring to me. I attempted to show the kids the secret to a delicate and flaky pie crust (grated frozen butter and ice cold water) and explained the importance of not overworking the dough but the force of LEGO was too powerful to ignore. My homemade pumpkin pie recipe is pretty simple and a variation of the Sally’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. And yes, a pinch of black pepper makes the pie. I had to use frozen cherries for the other pie but since they were flash frozen from Michigan, the taste wasn’t too different from fresh. As long as cherry pie isn’t made with canned filling (or any pie for that matter), I’m happy.
We kicked off Thanksgiving morning with a pumpkin coffee cake topped with a maple vanilla glaze.
We sat down to enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade but grew bored after 45 minutes or so – it’s our Thanksgiving tradition to have grand plans to watch it and then quickly abandon the TV. We opted for a family walk along the lake instead. Spending a couple of hours outdoors was exactly what we needed and since we much prefer to eat our holiday meals in the evening, it didn’t impact our schedule – not that it mattered because pandemic Thanksgiving!
I rubbed copious amounts of butter underneath our 13-pound antibiotic-free young turkey and stuffed the cavity with roughly-chopped carrots, celery, and onions and seasoned it with lots of salt and pepper. I basted it a few times but for the most part, I left the turkey alone while it cooked. Like most things in life, I think roasting a turkey is best when kept simple.
I am team no-stuffing in the bird and I have yet to master a homemade stuffing so this year, I doctored up two boxes of Stove Top. I sautéed an onion and a bunch of celery stalks in butter and then added four cups of chicken stock and brought to a boil. I poured the contents of the Stove Top boxes into the pot and let it sit off of the heat for an hour. I then warmed in the oven until serving. I find that my stuffing tastes are pretty pedestrian so this is an area of my Thanksgiving meal that doesn’t really shine. Maybe next year!
Our mashed potatoes were made with heavy cream, butter, and salt.
(I wish this was a better picture – it doesn’t do them justice!).
I also made a sweet potato casserole by steaming the potatoes in the instant pot with a handful of brown sugar and mashing them with with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. It was then topped with marshmallows (of course) and popped into the oven. The Brussels sprouts were pan roasted with sliced white and red onion, olive oil, salt, pepper, grated lemon zest.
I made cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries, a splash of orange juice, a pour from an open bottle of red wine, and sugar. I also made yeast rolls that were the womp womp of the meal. They tasted great but were much too dense. I messed up by letting the dough proof once, refrigerating it overnight, and then having it proof again on Thanksgiving morning. It didn’t work. But that is all part of the adventure of cooking.
It was dark when we sat down to eat. The kids sipped sparkling cider and Clay and I enjoyed a rose because we forgot to buy white wine (our wine tastes overly skew red). We were in active wear and pajamas, Christmas music played on the Echo, and the fireplace provided a nice glow to the room. It was a wonderful and simple Thanksgiving and exactly what our little family needed to kick off the 2020 holiday season. I know for many, Thanksgiving didn’t look how they wanted it to this year. Ours certainly didn’t end up looking like what we were planning on earlier this year. But we were able to sit down together and share a meal – that alone made it a pretty great Thanksgiving.