Creating Thanksgiving Memories

It’s Saturday morning, a sunny, wintry chill in the air. One child is at a birthday sleepover, the other watching daddy play his new video game (insert giggles from downstairs and demands to, “ooh, get the moose, get the moose!”)  I am blissfully wrapped in a blanket pondering the upcoming Thanksgiving Day menu.

It’s pretty simple, really. And absolutely tear-free, unlike holiday baking forays of past. There was the year in Hawaii… Ah, cooking a holiday feast in a single-wall construction house in the heat of the day, window AC units blowing to capacity. I mistakenly used butter in my apple pie crust recipe. Rookie move. Long story short, I retreated with my tail between my legs to the bathroom and had a good “I suck at pie-making” cry, while my husband lovingly tried to resurrect an all but dead glob of dough.

More recently – the not-quite-done turkey disaster. The kids and I celebrated the day with neighbor friends. My husband, Kevin, then assigned to Offutt Air Force Base (Omaha, Neb.) had duty on Thanksgiving and wasn’t able to join us. My one job? Cook the turkey. (I also made green bean casserole, but that’s a no-brainer.) I cut into the turkey after hours of cooking and basting, and realized to my horror that it wasn’t fully cooked. Thankfully, my friend Beth had made a wonderful ham and Thanksgiving was saved, no thanks to my lack of holiday cooking prowess.

On any given day, I can pull off a pretty good meal. On holidays, I fall apart. I’d like to feign ignorance as to the explanation for that. But, I know full well why. It’s because a week before the big day, I put together this grand plan, complete with activities, main meal menu, snacks, drinks, etc. And somewhere between waking up and turning on the football game, my plan fizzles.

This year, Norman Rockwell’s not invited to our holiday scene, and I’m abiding by the KISS adage. Kevin will make the turkey (see above), I will pull together the green bean dish we all love (without cream of mushroom soup), heat up the Bob Evans mashed potatoes everyone enjoys (I’m a mashed potato snob, so this requires a shift in attitude – but good golly I LOVE this microwavable delicacy.) Instead of making Bobby Flay’s deliciously, but ridiculously complicated-looking pumpkin pie with cinnamon crunch topping and bourbon-maple whipped cream, the kids will help make Eagle Brand’s Perfect Pumpkin Pie. (It has “perfect” in the title – how can I go wrong?)

Oh, and who can forget the jellied cranberry? We’ll all stand in a circle, around the plate, watching in amazement as the gelatinous cylinder slowly descends from the can, making that sucking plop sound. As it successfully jiggles on the plate, we’ll throw up our hands in cheer! (It’s a crazy tradition, but it’s memorable, and it’s all ours.)

We’ll have cinnamon crunch bagels with hazelnut cream cheese for breakfast, thanks to Panera; watch the Green Bay Packers (our fave!) wallop the Detroit Lions; eat our fantastically simple yet amazing dinner at halftime; and draw straws for which movie we venture out to see – Hugo or Arthur Christmas. (My vote’s on Hugo. Paige and I have been reading the book…)

It’s an ultra low-key plan, but the kind upon which childhood memories are built. When I was a kid, our holiday dinners were a big event. Lots of aunts and uncles, cousins, football, and grandma’s famous pies. My favorite memory? The year grandma forgot to add sugar to the pumpkin pie. The adults were gathered around the dining room table, the kids at the kitchen breakfast bar – almost simultaneously after the first bite, we all looked at each other in confusion. Finally, a brave soul wondered aloud what was different about this year’s pie. We had a hearty chuckle over grandma’s realization that she forgot to add the sugar. The perfectionist in me cringes, but I can proudly say I carry on the occasional holiday cooking snafu tradition.

What are your Thanksgiving plans and memories? Extravagant or simple? Traditional or contemporary?

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