Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, mostly because it has pretty much meant spending time with friends and family, and participating in one of my favorite social activities — feasting! Previous to this year, I have always been either lazy (going to a restaurant or show up at a dinner where I didn’t have to cook) or participated in a pot luck (brought a dish to a Thanksgiving dinner I was invited to or had friends come over to cook with me). This 2011 Thanksgiving marks a very special milestone for me in that it was the first time I cooked a whole Thanksgiving spread all by myself, and no babysitter. This was going to be a test of whether I was up to snuff as the mistress of the house! Luckily, it also was low pressure since we planned for a quiet Thanksgiving and had only one guest, my good friend since college, over for dinner. The 5-month old baby won’t be eating, just sitting at the table.

The Thanksgiving Menu this year included:

I made none of these dishes ahead, using all fresh (no boxed or mixes) ingredients. This whole menu was made from 8am to 2:30pm on Thanksgiving Day (that time would be less if I didn’t have the children to care for, plus I have one small apartment-styled oven to work with). I thawed and brined the turkey simultaneously the night before based on a Cook’s Illustrated article I had read years ago. I simply did not have time nor the space in my fridge to thaw out the turkey over the course of 3-4 days (it supposedly takes a day to thaw 4 pounds!) in the fridge. I managed to chop some celery and onions, took out the bread for the stuffing to let it air overnight before passing out to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I took a few deep breaths after feeding my toddler and infant and went to work.

I had planned my plan of attack by reading a few different references, including Cook’s Illustrated, Real Simple magazine and I knew that I was going to have to put my 5 month old down for naps and take care of my toddler in between the dish preparations. Yes, my husband is home to help but really he is mostly watching and playing with the toddler so I am still needed here and there. The order of operations had to allow for interruptions, so this is how it went:

  1. Fed the husband and children breakfast to make sure that they were happy. Ate some oatmeal for myself.
  2. Made sweet potato casserole and celery bread stuffing at the same time and cooked both in the oven at the same time. Took them out to cool once done.
  3. Prepped the turkey, then roasted the turkey after sweet potato casserole and celery bread stuffing were done. Played some Thomas & Friends videos for toddler boy via Netflix Streaming. Put baby girl down for morning nap.
  4. While turkey was roasting in the oven, made cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes. Baby girl wakes up, breastfeed.
  5. Prepared roasted Brussels sprouts and green bean casserole while still in the oven, once Turkey comes out to cool, put them in the oven. Feed kids and husband lunch (sandwiches)
  6. Take out the Brussels sprouts and green bean casserole. Put two kids down for naps.
  7. Make hard cider gravy using turkey drippings with husband’s help.
  8. Make pumpkin brownies. Take a shower while brownies are in the oven, then take care of the kids after they wake up from their naps.
The whole thing was a lot less overwhelming than I had thought that it might be. In addition to the advanced planning, I had made the dishes at least once separately before preparing for this Thanksgiving meal. In addition to choosing simple recipes, I also had practice. I knew what I needed, how long each dish would take to prepare, and which I could combine in the oven and bake together, which I can cook on the stove top while the oven was occupied. Thanks to my wonderful guest, I didn’t have to clean up all by myself either!
All in all a successful Thanksgiving — yummy, quiet, and peaceful. We stayed away from the Black Friday craziness and ate our leftovers in relaxation and peace.