LiveBlog: Thanksgiving 2012

The American Table LiveBlogging Thanksgiving 2012

Check-in with me as I live blog my way through Thanksgiving preparations, brunch and dinner! Don’t miss a beat – follow the American Table on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 27

10:00am CST – Recovered, Roosevelt and ‘Franksgiving’

A long delayed update/wrap-up to the Thanksgiving live-blog. Thanks so much to everyone who followed along.

Once again the Martha Stewart brine was a success. It gives the turkey a juicy, flavorful texture that really highlights the juniper berries and wine. Delicious. The spin off the James Beard roast was also a success, particularly the bacon, which kept the breasts moist without overcooking. Taking off the bacon in the last half hour allowed for the most evenly browned turkey imaginable.

As you saw, the food was timed perfectly. The addition of trying to get the Christmas decorations up at the same time was insane. You would think that by now I would know better, but alas. Now I’ve written it down here to remind myself – Eric, next year, just deal with the food. Wait to put the decorations up on Friday.

Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday. Several of my Canadian friends lament that even though they also have a Thanksgiving, it isn’t quite the event that it is here in the U.S.

It has become one of this country’s most recognized, most widely observed holidays, and yet it has only been celebrated nationally for the past 70 years. As I mentioned earlier, George Washington was the first to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving. Other Presidents from Madison to Lincoln made similar proclamations. But it wasn’t until the Franklin Roosevelt Administration that the annual holiday was instituted.

Legend has it that Fred Lazarus, president of Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s), grew concerned in 1939 that the last Thursday in November was actually the last day of that month.

At the time – believe it or not – it was a major faux pas to begin holiday sales before Thanksgiving (now of course they begin right after Halloween). This meant that 1939 was going to have the shortest possible holiday shopping season.

The Roosevelts Celebrating Thanksgiving, 1935 (Photo: FDR Library)Worried about the health of the economy, Roosevelt was convinced the extra week of holiday shopping would benefit the nation and changed the date of Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday in November.

The backlash was incredible. Letters poured in from across the country, shaming Roosevelt for breaking with tradition and lamenting the ruin of their holiday plans. Many insisted they would hold Thanksgiving on the traditional last Thursday of November. Roosevelt’s earlier holiday became known as “Democratic Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving.”

It was October, 1941 when the first Thanksgiving bill was submitted to both houses of Congress. The world was at war, and the United States was delaying it’s entrance into the fray. The nation was still recovering from the Great Depression, and many were concerned about what such a war would cost – though many were also concerned what would happen if America delayed any longer.

The first draft of the resolution prepared by the U.S. House proposed Thanksgiving would be held the last Thursday in November – as many Presidents dating back to Washington had done – starting in 1942. Then Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941. Later that month, the Senate – pressured to federally recognize a day of thanks-giving particularly now the nation was at war – passed an amendment changing the date to the second-to-last Thursday in November. The House approved, and Roosevelt signed the bill into law.

One rarely hears about the connection of Thanksgiving to Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the United States into WWII. You can imagine the need to take time to reflect, to give thanks, and to be with family was never more important than it was just then.

It is my sincerest hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Of the many things I am thankful for this year – family and friends, a good job, a roof over my head – I’m especially thankful for this blog and for the readers who follow it. In the past month alone, readership has grown with over 500 new followers. Keep posting your feedback and stay tuned for more articles and recipes as we continue through the holiday season.

 

Thursday, November 22

8:00pm CST – Dinner Time

Dinner is on. Everything worked out well beyond the timing of Christmas. Instead of clearing off the table full of ornaments, we’re eating in front of the tv at the coffee table. Adaptability… it all works out in the end.

Dinner is Served

6:53pm CST – Thanksgiving Timing Meets Christmas Timing

The holidays have exploded over my dining room table. The turkey is done, but the dining room table is covered in ornaments. So… things are resting gently while I get the ornaments quickly up on the tree. The living room is covered in nativity pieces, boxes, and packing paper. Deep breaths… I will return shortly.

Turkey Beauty
Ornaments on Dining Table

 

5:51pm CST – Time Slips Away a Bit

The evening has come and time has slipped away a bit. Everything food-wise is moving along swimmingly. The turkey looks beautiful, the bacon that crisped on top was delicious, cranberry sauce is setting in the fridge, and the green bean casserole is a can or two away from preparation. Now with an hour to go till meal time, however, the tree is up but the ornaments and boxes are all strewn about the dining room and living room. Fortunately, my friend Steve came back this afternoon and has been giving me a hand setting things up and taking pictures.

3:00pm CST – Turkey in the Oven

I’ve rubbed the inside of the turkey with half a lemon, stuffed it, massaged the outside with butter, and worked in a mixture of ground mustard, sage, salt and four-color peppercorns. Then, to top it off, I’ve covered the breasts with strips of streaky bacon which helps keep them from overcooking and drying out – besides adding a bit of flavor to the bird.

My trussing work needs some practice, but I generally only do it a couple of times a year. It’s one of those things I refuse to stress out about. Three hours from now, it’ll come out golden brown. Now that the big thing is scratched off my to-do list, and before I move on to the rest of the sides and the Christmas decorations, perhaps a few more words on the history of Thanksgiving are in order in the next update.

Stuffing the Turkey
Getting ready to truss the turkey
Buttered and Herbed
Baconed Turkey

 

2:20pm CST – Stuffing the Turkey

The turkey is out of the brine and has been getting to room temperature. The cornbread is crumbled with the sausage and mixed with onions and garlic, butter, herbs and stock. It’s around this point where physically I’m slowing down a bit, and yet I haven’t even pulled the tree or the ornaments out from my basement yet. Lots still left to do. What do you do to beat the mid-day turkey day fatigue when you can’t nap?

Turkey out of the Brine

Making the Cornbread Stuffing

 

1:26pm CST – Dinner Cooking Begins Properly

The cornbread is baking in the oven thanks to the good people at Jiffy. Like biscuits, I also seem to make poor cornbread, and Jiffy just tastes so good for the price – and no, that’s no paid sponsorship. That’s just fact. Also frying up some sausage from this morning that will be mixed in with the cornbread for the turkey’s stuffing. About time to take the turkey out of the brine and bring to room temperature. There is a mountain of dishes, but it feels good to already have brunch behind me and to start dinner with a clean slate. Fortunately, the dinner isn’t scheduled until 7pm, giving enough time for brunch to digest and for a less rushed cooking time.

Dishes drying in the Sink

Cornbread Pre-Oven

12:20pm CST – Cleanup

A bit of ABBA seems appropriate while cleaning up the dishes. My guests have all left for the time being – two of whom are heading up north for a family dinner. Because I’m something of a masochist, or because I like to get things done and out of the way, Thanksgiving is also the day when I put up my Christmas tree and my grandparent’s nativity set that I received several years ago. This is where planning and timing really do become critically important. The turkey has to come out by 1:30pm so that it can acclimate to room temperature before roasting. The stuffing has to be made before the roast, as does the cranberry sauce which needs some time to set in the fridge. The green bean casserole can wait awhile, thanks to the magic of Campbells and the simplicity of the original recipe.

I continue checking in here and on Facebook. Thanksgiving questions? Post them here or on Facebook and I’ll get back to you.

Dishes

 

Noon CST – Brunch

So the brunch was a great success – the food came out wonderfully and the company was even better. Pictures below…

Chris helping with the gravy

The Table

Me Plating the Eggs

The gang, courtesy of Maureen, below

 

 

9:30am CST – Brunch is nearly on!

Biscuits are golden brown, the gravy has come together beautifully the eggs are near perfection, and the spinach is sizzling away with garlic in the frying pan. Guests almost here.

Sausage Gravy

Steve making the sausage gravy

 

9:00am CST – Sausage Gravy

Towels in the dryer. Sausage browning on the stove and biscuits warming in the oven. I admit wholeheartedly to not being able to make biscuits from scratch. I welcome tips and recipes, and if someone wants to come over and demonstrate sometime, I won’t object! Till then, many thanks to Pillsbury for their frozen grand biscuits.

Sausage Browning

The sausage gravy is one of my favorites, and when I’m not worried about burning the sausage to the bottom of the pan, I’ll type up the recipe here. Super simple, super tasty.

My friend Steve has arrived and has graciously offered to help me today with cooking, photographing, and decorating. He snapped this picture of me checking in at my liveblogging station set up in my kitchen. Stay tuned for more! Half hour till brunch is served.

Updates to the Liveblog

 

8:00am CST – Morning

Up around 7am. The pipe leak above my sink seems to have slowed down for the time being, though not enough to remove the bucket. The bathroom sink will be out of order today. As I was reminded on Facebook, these are the times you look back and laugh at. Just adapt and move on. I managed to sneak the towels into the washing machine – my neighbor upstairs having been quite the early riser this morning and something down in the laundry room. Showered, and coffee is on. As I finish getting the kitchen ready and some last-minute tidying of the house, I’m listening to the Dinner Party Download podcast – one of my favorites – and recommended by my dear friend Meg after my Facebook inquiry last night.

I’m thankful for coffee this morning. Very thankful.

Coffee and Dinner Party Download

 

Wednesday, November 21

9:30pm CST – Leak #2

I really should have made that offering of caviar to my portrait of James Beard.

James Beard Portrait

While walking around my apartment making sure everything was tidy, I went to get a towel from under the sink in my bathroom only to discover all the towels were heavy and wet. The bathroom sink had been draining a bit slower lately, but I didn’t realize that it was draining into my cabinet and onto my towels. First thing tomorrow morning – toss those suckers into the washer and dryer. With a semi-steady drip from the pipes above my kitchen sink, and a now unusable sink in my bathroom, it should make for an even more interesting day tomorrow. It seems the house has chosen Thanksgiving 2012 to fall apart after about 100 years standing. Another email to my landlord this evening.

I’m thankful to live in a house with such incredible charm and character. I’m also thankful that when things inevitably break, I can contact my landlord and – holidays aside – is pretty awesome about getting things fixed.

Dear James Beard. Hopefully I have not offended you by having green bean casserole on my menu tomorrow. Or for using frozen ready-made biscuits for the brunch, admitting whole-heartedly I’m seemingly incapable of making biscuits from scratch. I’m so terribly sorry. I’ve learned my lesson. You win.

 

9:00pm CST – The Table

With the turkey in the brine and the brine in the refrigerator, it was time to turn my attention to the brunch tomorrow morning at 9:30am. This past year, for my birthday, I received a set of very nice china that we had seen at a local thrift store from my dear friend Joe. It was a nearly complete set, but without platters and missing several matching coffee cups and saucers (these tend to break the easiest, thus making them harder to find). Shortly after, he found a nearly identical pattern at another thrift store that added a few serving platters and coffee cups to the set. Then, two other friends – Chris and Travis – remembered my pattern and spotted another serving platter at a thrift store in Wisconsin. Overjoyed, I use these sets now for all of my dinners for the blog, and this will be the first opportunity to use it for a holiday.

In the kitchen, I’ve set out the various cooking implements I’ll need for the morning: two cookie sheets for the biscuits, a large casserole dish to allow me to easily bake the bacon to crispness in batches, a muffin tin for the shirred eggs, a frying pan to wilt the spinach, and a heavy-bottomed pot to brown the sausage and make the gravy. It’s been a little while since I’ve hosted a brunch, and have regrettably forgotten two key rules for menu planning – you should include something light and fresh (ideally fresh fruit), and also something sweet (cinnamon rolls, a sweet bread, etc.), both to counter the heavyness of the savory. Fortunately, I have some yogurt and granola in my fridge, and will have to make do with some apple butter and jam to provide something sweet with the biscuits. All the more reason to plan earlier to catch such things, and proof positive that even seasoned cooks can forget things.

I’ve accomplished what I wanted to before heading to bed, but perhaps a bit more tidying before that. And many thanks to everyone on Facebook who is following along – particularly those who have offered suggestions for music while cooking.

Table Setting for Brunch

 

6:25pm CST – The Brine

Right, so the kitchen is now tidy enough to cook in, and first things first, I need the turkey in the brine ASAP so it can absorb as much as possible before tomorrow’s roasting. I’m a big fan of Martha Stewart’s basic turkey brine. It’s simple and tasty. The juniper berries and coriander offer incredible aromatics. It’s become my go-to brine for Thanksgiving.

Turkey Brine

I’ve also removed the Kadejan turkey from the packaging. These folks really do a nice job raising their turkeys. Humanely raised, no antibiotics, never frozen, and minimally processed. Unfortunately, minimally processed also means that there are usually a few remaining feathers on the bird that didn’t quite come off before. It’s a bit of extra work, but it’s quick, and if you’re that squeamish about it, perhaps best to eat something else (see my recent articles on butchering in America). Now washed and plucked, I’m taking a breather to update while the brine cools off enough to pour over the turkey without starting to cook it.

Turkey

I’m always amused by turkeys from the store and how they’re packaged. A good turkey will come with it’s giblets – the liver, heart, neck and gizzard. The neck is cut at it’s base, and because there is no room on top, it is stuffed in it’s rear for safe keeping. The rest is removed from the back, put in a little pouch, and stuffed in the neck cavity. Basically, the whole bird has been reversed. Poor, tasty dear.

Turkey Giblets

The ceiling actually seems to be leaking more than it was last night or this morning. My landlord thinks this will clear up in a day or two when it dries out. I’m expecting water drops to be coming down in front of my kitchen sink for at least the next 30 hours, so I’m starting to brace myself for a fun little water dance whenever I need to dodge that high-traffic spot in my kitchen.

 

5:15pm CST – Home

In many ways I fully prepared myself for Thanksgiving. I made grocery lists of items I bought over a three day period. I pre-ordered my fresh, free-range Kadejan turkey from the Wedge Co-Op last week. The menus were planned. The recipes selected. The order of preparation has been meticulously planned out to (hopefully) ensure the foods are finished when they need to be.

And yet my kitchen is something of a mess, to say nothing of my book and mail-laden dining room table. And while I haven’t always felt I inherited my grandmothers’ senses of orderliness, I have inherited their inability to cook in an unclean kitchen (and also their ease of distraction when others are also in the kitchen, leading to meals which are sometimes missing one or two key ingredients, or sometimes even entire side dishes).

So as the sun sets early here in Minnesota, I look over to the portrait of James Beard I keep above my stove to help watch over my pots. I wish I had an offering for him – a small tin of caviar, perhaps – that might ensure as smooth of a Thanksgiving as possible.

When it comes down to it though – and I say this particularly to the folks out there who are preparing to host their own Thanksgiving meals – when it comes down to it, if you do your best, smile, and spend time with friends and family, and perhaps have a glass or three of wine along the way, everyone will have a lovely time and it will be a success.

Because let’s face it – let’s be really and truly honest with ourselves here – when was the last time you sat down to a turkey and said “that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten.” Never. Because it tastes like cardboard. Even when it’s juicy, then it just tastes like broth-soaked cardboard. Yes, some turkey does taste good. Others taste terrible. But no amount of fussing, flipping, basting, larding, seasoning, frying, roasting, or brining is going to make your turkey perfect. It isn’t perfect. So give yourself some latitude to let go of your holiday anxieties and just enjoy your time in the kitchen.

With that, I need to wash some dishes before launching into this brine. But before I do, a quick shout-out to my friends at the Institute for Advanced Study, who posted about my liveblogging on their Facebook page. Ever since I was a fellow there a couple of years back, they have become enormous supporters of me and my work – in whatever form it manifests itself. I continue to be thankful for them.

Kitchen with James Beard

 

4:15pm CST – Dinner Tonight

Thank goodness for leftovers. The mere thought of trying to throw something together this evening would likely make my head explode. My poor kitchen wouldn’t be able to handle it. Fortunately, I had a meatball, garlic, and ricotta Black Sheep coal-fired pizza for lunch and managed to not eat the whole thing – special treats for a special occasion, right? – so the rest will be eaten cold for dinner. Heading home now to get a belated start on the turkey brine and get my kitchen ready to do battle. Note to self –  next year, take the day before Thanksgiving off from work.

Leftovers the Night Before Thanksgiving

 

4:00pm CST – Crisis Averted, Hopefully…

I’ve received word from my landlord that he looked at the pipes upstairs, tightened them, and said that should hopefully stop the leaking. The issue has happened before – the pipes leading to the upstairs radiators knock a bit loose, and water comes down through my ceiling. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past. The current slow drips just above my kitchen sink should stop within the next few hours. Fingers crossed, otherwise it’s going to be a bit of a challenging maneuvering through the kitchen tonight and tomorrow…

 

3:40pm CST – Early Days of Thanks-Giving

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914), Jennie A. Brownscombe. DetailThanksgiving is historically linked to an account of the Pilgrims, who having arrived in the New World ill-prepared for the winter, were given food and supplies by a local tribe of Native Americans. The story is largely legend. Setting aside time to give thanks is a custom of many indigenous cultures in the Americas. Last year, Tim Giago of the Native American Journalists Organization penned an article for the Huffington Post likening the contemporary holiday with the wopila tradition of the Plains Indians. The Spanish were likely the first Europeans to have days of thanks-giving in the new territories, well before the Pilgrims landed.

The first national day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed by George Washington, in a proclamation penned by Samuel Adams (of beer and revolutionary fame), and approved by the Continental Congress. The date was for November 26, 1789, and the proclamation itself gives an incredible sense of the hopes and anticipated glories of a fledgling nation.

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

 

3:00pm CST – T’was the day before Thanksgiving, and all through my house… there was a great mess.

Indeed, my kitchen is a bit of a shambles as I enter into the Thanksgiving cooking marathon. Dishes from dinners from the last couple of evenings cover the counters, groceries for the fight fill in all remaining surfaces, and last night the pipes above my kitchen sink decided to start leaking.

And so I find myself at work the day before the holiday – one of the few who didn’t have the day off in the office – planning through the next 32 hours in my down time.

Thanksgiving is a time I use to reflect on the many blessings we encounter throughout the year, to spend time with loved ones, and to eat lots of food. My family is all over the country, and so I’m spending the day with some of my ‘adopted family’ here in Minneapolis. The morning will begin with a group of friends coming over for a brunch before they need to head out to their respective family gatherings. The afternoon will be spent cooking and setting up my Christmas tree (a tradition for me on Thanksgiving), and then a late dinner.

The Menu

Brunch: Shirred eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy (an Appalachian recipe), cooked spinach, bacon, coffee, orange juice and Bloody Mary’s.

Dinner: Turkey (brine from Martha Stewart, roast from James Beard), cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing with sausage, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes

 

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