Mocksgiving preparation

Today is the day before Mocksgiving which is, while not a national holiday, a Brenda holiday. So I’m off work and in the midst of a marathon cooking session.

It’s quiet in the house on Mocksgiving prep day – which is a vast rarity. But it’s always noisy in my head. Mostly, while I cook, I talk to you. I observe, make jokes, give you updates and bask in your admiration. It always seems wrong that you and I should have such a nice conversation while you don’t get to take part, so I figured I’d clue you in.

Here are some of the things we talked about this morning, you and I.

You asked, “What’s Mocksgiving?” and I told you all about it. Basically, it’s Thanksgiving with friends. This one will be my 12th. I’ve been hosting this every year since I got married. Yes, I hosted it the year Grey was born, when he was barely a month old. Yes, I hosted it the year Thane was born, when he was a fortnight old. Yes, I hosted it last year, when I had massive knee surgery in September. (I actually don’t remember anything about my knee and the cooking last year.) I love it.

Every year, I panic that I will have more people attend than I can physically fit in my house. This year I was relieved when the count 25 adults and 10 kids (of whom six are old enough to, you know, sit). I thought my total count started at like 35 adults.

I always, always, always feel badly that I can’t simply invite the whole world and everyone I know and everyone I’ve ever met. If you and I have met and you thought, “But I thought she liked me! Why didn’t she invite me?!”, the answer is because we all actually sit down to eat. In my house. All 30+ of us. And so it must be a finite universe of people.

My day began at almost normal work time. I ran some errands this morning: dropped the kids off, went to the podiatrist (I know – so exciting!), got a flu shot, bought Mocksgiving specific groceries (the ‘fridge isn’t big enough – several things are staying slightly cooler on the porch) and gassed up the car. Then I started in on my list.

So far:
– Turkey has been in the ‘fridge since Tuesday, defrosting. Only 20 lbs this year. Hope it’s enough.
– Pie shell for lemon merangue pie is done
– Bread is on its first rise (need to punch it down in about five minutes)
– Pecan pie is beeping at me in the oven
– Pie starter is made and chilling in the fridge
– Pomegranate molasses is simmering in prep for the cranberry sauce

Next up:
– Run the first of about 4 dishwasher loads I’ll do today, including cans for the cranberry sauce. Because, of course, in my inexorable brilliance I’ve decided to make a quadruple batch and can it. Yes, it’s stupid. But, well, it’s my stupidity and optimism that make me so charming, right?
– Run a first clean of the house (many things need to be moved)
– Bring the spare dishes upstairs (2 & 3 dishwasher loads)
– Figure out how many chairs we’re short
– Peach pie
– Blueberry pie
– Lemon merangue pie

OK, I’ll keep you updated. Check back!


2:15 pm – Mocksgiving Eve

Mocksgiving Brenda is very grateful to summer Brenda for her hard work. I have complete blueberry pie and peach pie fillings put away in the freezer. The peach pie is especially precious, costing great labor. Peach pie is my second favorite pie, next to lemon merangue. Farm share, succulently perfectly ripe peaches caught at their height and put away for November is a great gift.


I was thinking how nice it was to have a day away from work. No project planning, no technical specifications, no time estimates, no deadlines.

Then I realized I had carefully mapped out the next two days practically by the hour. I had drawn up a detailed list of recipes, and figured out the optimal order to make sure they all got done on time and considering the dependencies between them (stove use, refridgeration, rising time, etc.). And for each of these, I had an excellent estimate on how long it would take me to prep, how long to cook, etc. Furthermore, I have deadlines almost every hour for most of the day to ensure some task gets done in order to meet the next task in line.

Ah well. At least I don’t have to get client signoff?


2:35 pm Mocksgiving Eve

Time to form the loaves and leave the bread for the third rising. Adam’s been using my loaf pans for his bread, which is cooked in parchment paper. Parchment paper leaves sticky residue, so I just spent 20 minutes scrubbing my loaf pans. Maybe I should ask for some new loaf pans for Christmas.

Speaking of gear, I have three awesome pie pans and a gazillion boring pie pans. I think I need to focus on procuring more awesome pie pans. I mean, if you’re going to make pie, shouldn’t it be in an awesome pie pan? And I make between 4 – 6 pies at one go more than once a year.

So loaf pans and pie pans. Yup.


2:45 Mocksgiving Eve

Second time through Mumford and Sons’ collected words. I’m convinced “Broken Crown” is from the point of view of Satan in the garden.

Forming loaves always reminds me of my mom. She made this same recipe of bread often growing up. When she had carpal tunnel, she made a lot of bread because she thought it helped. I remember hearing her “spank” the bread and thinking it was hilarious.


6:34 Mocksgiving Eve

90% there for the evening
90% there for the evening

Well, I made much progress since my last update. I got the bread baked, signed up for cable with a great deal (what can I say… I was home… I miss sports…), made the blueberry pie & the peach pie (thereby completing my pie crust complement), and did make and can the cranberry sauce. Also, I did a load of dishes and made it so you could see the floor.

Gee officer, I have no idea how these cans got here!
Gee officer, I have no idea how these cans got here!

Also, I have a lot of canned goods. This is not all of them. And I had enough empty jars in the drawer where I stick empty jars to can a batch of cranberry sauce. As usual, I should have prepared more jars, but I figure two big dishes of cranberry sauce is enough for tomorrow. It’s “take a tablespoon” cranberry sauce, not “fill up a bowl” cranberry sauce.


All I have left to do tonight is help the kids clean their rooms, give them baths and make lemon merangue pie. Just thinking about that pie is making me tired.


9:15 pm Mocksgiving Eve

Things I don’t like about making lemon merangue pie:

– Zesting lemons. I swear my zester has developed a taste for human flesh.
– Four dirty pots
– My solo crust ALWAYS schlumps.
– I can never make peaks like mom does.

Things I like about making lemon merangue pie:

– Watching the corn starch mixture turn. So cool.
– Licking the pot after I’ve made the filling
– I always feel badass for being able to make merangue.

Fun fact: the lemony yellow color of the filling – for all that it contains the juice and zest of three to four lemons – gets its yellow color from egg yolks.


So bonus! I have a document that has most of my critical Mocksgiving recipes! In case YOU need ideas for your Thanksgiving feast, or want a Mocksgiving all your own, here’s what I make every year, including the stuff I don’t use recipes for. (See also, turkey and mashed potatoes.)

Mocksgiving Recipes

Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Stuffing
Butternut Squash
Bread
Pie Starter
Lemon Meringue Pie
Pecan Pie
Apple Crisp
Bread Pudding
Cranberry Sauce

Mocksgiving Shopping List:
Very large turkey
Onions
Celery
5 – 6 butternut squash halves
5 lbs yukon gold potatoes
*Cilantro
*1 package fresh cranberries
*4 cups pomegranate juice
3 – 4 lemons
**2 boxes butter
**Regular flour
**Sugar
**Pecans
**Corn syrup
**Corn starch
Home Pride Buttertop Wheat
**Bells Poultry Seasoning
Apple cider
Black cherry soda
Whipping cream
Vanilla ice cream

* for optional recipes
** check pantry

Turkey & Mashed Potatoes

Turkey
Ingredients:
Large turkey
1 cup olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
Tinfoil

Make about 6 hours before intended serving time
– Purchase largest available turkey
– Defrost in ‘fridge at least 3 – 4 days prior
– Add beverages to the ‘fridge when you take out the turkey
– Remove giblets & neck (so much easier when it is actually thawed) – discard
– Preheat oven to 325
– Massage turkey in ~1 cup olive oil added in increments
– Cover wings and drumsticks with tinfoil
– Stuff turkey (see stuffing recipe)
– Add 2 – 3 cups chicken broth
– Put turkey in oven, covered if possible
– After the first hour and a half, baste every 30 minutes or so
– After turkey hits done temperature (180), remove from oven and pot, and tent (put tinfoil over it) for 30 – 40 minutes
– Carve and serve

Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients:
5 lb bag of yukon gold potatoes
½ cup butter
1 – 2 cups milk
Dash paprika

Make about 1 hour before intended serving time
– In very large pot, add about 1 gallon water (1/2 full)
– Wash and quarter potatoes (I do not peel – it is optional if you are feeling bored)
– Put on stove and bring to boil – keep simmering for about ½ hour until potatoes begin to crumble at edges (Within reason you cannot overcook. You can also leave in hot water indefinitely on the same day without harm.)
– Drain potatoes & return to pot
– Add butter and milk
– Mash with either removable mixer or hand masher
– Once in serving bowl, top with a pat of butter in a divot and a dash of paprika

Stuffing & Butternut Squash

Turkey Stuffing
Ingredients
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 large chopped onions
5 stalks chopped celery
1 loaf wheat bread (traditionally “Home Pride Buttertop Wheat”)
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons Bell’s Poultry Seasoning

Make 7 hours before planned meal (first thing in the morning – while the turkey is defrosting on the counter)
– Chop onions and celery
– Melt butter in largest fry pan (the big steel one – not cast iron – this makes too much)
– Fry onions and celery in butter
– While they’re cooking, cube the bread and add to a very large bowl
– Pour seasonings over bread & mix
– Pour hot butter/onion mixture over bread & stir with spoon (it’s hot!)
– Stuff the turkey as soon as it’s possible to touch the stuffing without burning your hands. You should be able to get most of it in. If you want to make some as a side, or you can’t get it all in, you can use chicken broth and put it in as a side dish after you pull the turkey. I usually get it all into the turkey-pot.

Butternut Squash
Ingredients
– 5 or 6 prepeeled “half squashes” (NOTE: It is totally never worth it to peel and core your own butternut squash. Trust me.)
– 1 cup brown sugar (to taste)
– ¼ to ½ cup butter
– Dash of cinnamon or nutmeg if desired

Make right after you get the mashed potatoes on the stove.
– Using your second biggest pot, fill halfway with salted water.
– Cube the squash and add to pot
– Boil until edges begin to crumble – as with mashed potatoes. Like potatoes, these are hard to overcook and can remain in hot water.
– Drain and return to pot
– Add butter and brown sugar
– Hand mash
– If desired, top with dash of cinnamon or nutmeg once in serving dish

Bread and Pie Starter

Johnstone White Bread
5 loaves
Make 1 – 2 days in advance. Can be frozen once baked. Critical for hot turkey sandwiches afterwards.

Add to electric mixer mixing bowl:
5 cups hot water (110 degrees, or as hot as your tap goes)
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
2 tablespoons salt
– Let sit until action (bubbles), then add
½ cup (one stick) melted salted butter
– Gradually blend in “enough” regular flour (~10 to 11 cups) until dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl
– Knead on floured surface, adding flour as needed
– Let rise in large ceramic bowl greased with Crisco, covered with cloth, for 1 hour
– Punch down (cover hands in Crisco) and let rise for 45 minutes
– Preheat oven to 335
– Grease bread pans (4 big, 2 small) and form loaves, using Crisco on hands and pans. Place bread inside pans.
– Let rise 30 minutes
– Bake 30 – 40 minutes, until crust is golden brown
– Remove nearly immediately from pans and cool on wire racks. Wipe top of loaves with Crisco.

Pie Crust Starter
Enough for 4 – 5 pies
Make 1 day prior to making first pie. If you don’t have enough time, put in the freezer for as long as you can before using it. This starter must be used COLD.

Ingredients:
6 cups regular flour
1 tablespoon salt
Scant 3 cups Crisco
Keep refridgerated and use very cold

One crust = 1.5 cups of pie starter
Roll on well floured pastry cloth
Prick bottom of lone crust
If no other instructions, bake lone crust at 400 degrees
For most single crust pies, cook bottom ahead of time, but don’t for pumpkin.

Lemon Meringue Pie
Make pie crust ahead of time, preferably day before pie. Be sure to prick bottom and get sides tall enough to go over the top of the dish. Make day before. Can be saved on the counter for 1 or 2 days.
Ingredients
4 eggs, yolks and white separated. Keep only 3 yolks.
1 ½ cups sugar
⅓ + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ cup water
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
½ cups lemon juice

For merangue
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
½ cup cold water
Egg whites (above)
⅛ teaspoon salt

1) Mix ½ cup sugar & 4 teaspoons cornstarch in very small saucepan. Stir in water, and cook over medium heat stirring constantly. Once entire pot changes color and consistency to translucent, turn off heat and let cool.
2) Beat egg yolks & set aside. Mix 1.5 cups sugar and ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch in slightly larger saucepan ( 2 qt). Stir in water, cook over medium heat stirring constantly until translucent like the first set.
3) Add some of the hot 2 qt pot to the egg yolks & mix. Add back to the 2 qt pot and stir. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter, lemon peel & lemon juice. Once mixed, put saran wrap over top of contents to keep from forming a tough layer.
4) Beat egg whites and salt in large, very clean mixing bowl until soft peaks just begin to form. Very gradually mix in sugar mixture (1 qt pot) until stiff peaks form.
5) Add lemon filling to pie crust
6) Cover filling with meringue, making sure to “seal” the pie by bringing the meringue right to the crust.
7) Bake 15 minutes until peaks of meringue are brown.

Please note that this recipe does have some salmonella risk, since egg whites are incompletely cooked.

From Betty Crocker

Pecan Pie
Make day before party.

⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter melted
1 cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 generous cup pecan halves

1) Heat oven to 375. Roll out pastry.
2) Beat sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt & eggs until well blended. Stir in pecans. Pour into pastry lined pie plate.
3) Bake 40 to 50 minutes until center is set

From Betty Crocker

Apple Crisp
Stick into oven while dinner is being eaten.

5+ cups peeled, cored apple slices
Sprinkle these with
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup water

Rub together:
¾ cup flour
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup butter

Drop over apples. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Optionals: Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Bread Pudding
Bake during or after dinner

Ingredients
3 cup dry white bread cubes
½ cup semisweet chocolate pieces
⅔ cup sugar
½ cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash salt
2 cups milk

1) Preheat oven to 350
2) Grease a 2 qt baking dish. Place bread cubes in dish. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces.
3) Beat together sugar, peanut butter. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Pour over bread, pressing down to make sure all bread is moistened.
4) Bake 40 – 45 minutes.

From Better Homes and Garden Prizewinning Recipes

Cranberry Sauce
Pomegranate Molasses
4 cups pomegranate juice
½ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Heat mixture until dissolved. Simmer for about an hour, until syrupy. Consider canning in smallest canning jars.

Cranberry Sauce
1 ⅓ cup sugar
1 ⅓ cups red wine
1 12 oz package fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
¼ teaspoon dried basil
2 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Stir sugar and wine in heavy saucepan until liquid. Boil about 8 minutes. Add cranberries and boil until they pop. Stir in pomegranate molasses & basil. Cover and chill. Add cilantro before serving.

Great Thanksgiving Road Trip

I am a holiday traditionalist, I admit. My Christmas preparations involve a living tree, a medley of meaningful ornaments gathered over several decades and four straight weeks of non-strop Christmas music. I still think of myself as the kind of person who does Thanksgiving with the family and the pies and the sitting around telling stories about how Seattle used to be. There’s only one problem with this bit of identity… yeah. I have done that exactly once in the last, oh, sixteen years? (The year Grey was born I went home for Thanksgiving.)

You see, it’s like this. I don’t have any family in the area, nor does my husband. I don’t really want to travel on Thanksgiving. And I host 30+ people for Thanksgiving dinner a scant 10 days before Turkey Day itself, so I don’t want to make the meal and find people to come eat it because, well, I already did. The other day someone asked my son what we were doing for Thanksgiving and Grey responded, “We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.” Gah! We do! We just do so in a weird way! Now often I have gotten very gracious and lovely invitations to friends’ houses to celebrate. Heck, two years in a row I cadged invitations to one of my college friends’ parents’ houses. So we have suffered no lack of welcome or turkey. But the obligation of Thanksgiving, the feeling that there is a particular thing we have to do, that is entirely lacking.

And if you think about it for a moment, that is tremendously freeing. I have a four day period where there is no where we have be and nothing we have to do. Liberty!

A few weeks ago, one of my Scooby-addled children informed me that he wanted to see “a real live mummy”. This seemed like a reasonable request. At first I considered which museums in Boston might contain said Egyptian relic. Then I thought that the really good mummies were in New York. Except I hate New York. Then I thought that the really great museums are in Washington DC. And you know, I’ve been meaning to go to Washington DC for like five years now.

Then it dawned on me that I have four uncommitted days.

ROAD TRIP!

Sixty degrees on the Mall!
Sixty degrees on the Mall!

We left at about 11 am on Thanksgiving morning. I remember in college, when I had no where to go on Thanksgiving and all the placed to eat on campus were closed, I felt very very sorry for myself on Thanksgiving. However, I felt not a lick of remorse as we dined at McDonalds for lunch, or Denny’s for dinner. (What? I’m traveling with 3 and 6 year old boys on Thanksgiving. You think I’m going to stop anyplace that has cloth tablecloths?!?!) There was some nasty and tiring traffic on the Mass Pike, but after that we zooooomed! This was our first extended road trip – our previous adventures having topped out at two or three hours. The boys were complete troopers, and honestly did better than I expected. We came in late, lost and tired to DC at 10 pm that night.

Yesterday was a sublime day, weather wise, here in the District of Columbia. Although my intention had been to hie immediately to the Museum of Natural History (hellooo Mummies and Dinosaurs!) the lure of the Washington Monument was too strong and instead we hied ourselves the length of the Mall, explaining the various wars, conflicts and heroes in mostly age-appropriate ways as we wandered. Then we went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where Thane bounced like a pinball between mummy exhibits. By midafternoon, someone was in desperate need of a nap, and the kids seemed tired too, so we came back and had an all family snooze. Indeed, as I write I am surrounded on all sides by sleeping menfolk. We spent the evening dining with some friends in the area, our kids playing with theirs.

Today the morning was the Museum of Air and Space. It was pretty fun, but Thane is woefully underslept and it is starting to show. Also, he has no respect for barriers/fences/ribbons. Also, he plops down on the ground all the time and declares, “I’m not going to _____”. My cajoling muscles are weary beyond belief. But he was fascinated by the astronauts and costumes, and demanded that he be permitted to wear the moon gear. We all thoroughly enjoyed the planetarium before making good our escape.

Thane and the Astronaut Suit of Great Interest
Thane and the Astronaut Suit of Great Interest

By the way, since all of you are far more worldly and experienced than I am, you already know this. But were you aware that admission to all Smithsonian Museums is totally free? My Bostonian expectations included $20/head/museum. But with free… well heck. You can go in for 30 minutes and it’s awesome and you can leave and not worry about how much it cost! Parking, on the other hand, is $40 a day….

In half an hour I’ll wake everyone up, and we’ll go to the American Indian Museum. Thane is trying to figure out what his next obsession is. Mummies, astronauts and Native Americans are all strong candidates. Tonight, I think we’ll take the boys to see the Muppet Movie. Tomorrow, we do the 11 hour trip in reverse.

In my worse moments, I wonder what the heck I’m thinking and why didn’t I just stay at home and have the kids watch tv all weekend like a sane parent. But most of the time, I watch the wide-eyed wonder, insightful questions and bouncy kids and think that this was a fantastic idea.

Boys on pillars
Boys on pillars

Mocksgiving 2011

So. I’ll admit I find it flattering that one or two of you have commented that I am remiss in my updating. It’s true. One day this month is not up to even my appalling standards. So let me give you the quick answer to your many questions.

First, I was treated for pneumonia last Friday and sent home with an actual written doctor’s note saying not to go to work until Wednesday. I took the weekend “off” (no church, not much childcare), but had training that could not be repeated Monday and Tuesday. Also no sick leave left. I love antibiotics and am feeling mostly better, but still am tired and lack stamina.

This weekend was Mocksgiving 2011. My tally was two pies, two other desserts, one 22 pound turkey that took an hour and a half longer than it should have but was perfect, five pounds mashed potatoes, 4 large butternut squash halves, five loaves of bread, one canned batch of cranberry sauce (particularly good) and stuffing. 28 adults, 4 children and 2 babies partook of the feast. The furthest visitors came from California this year.

I was explaining Mocksgiving to someone this week, and they said, “Oh, it’s like a feast!” And I had an epiphany. It is a feast! That is why I do it, because to serve a feast to the ones you love is a great gift. It is an abundance and overabundance of good things, a cornucopia of friendship, an overflowing of plenty and dishes that include butter. It’s funny that I never thought of it quite that way, but it is an apt description of what I was doing, and of why I do it every year.

Also, the friends I always borrow plates and silverware from actually brought us eight brand new settings all our own this year. Heh. Yeah, I guess that does make sense. But it was TRADITIONAL, darn it!

I probably say this every year, but this was one of the loveliest Mocksgivings yet. Other than the stress of a tardy turkey, it seemed much mellower than than some have been. There were more board games than usual. The night ended in a fantastic series of Werewolf games. There were more new faces than usual, but also a delightful balanced of the familiar Mocksgiving faces. The weather cooperated. It was great.

So now I’m through the five parties in two months section of my year. Phew! Better yet, I’ve posted my photos of this weekend! The random black dog was an assignment for Grey’s classroom – Dudley visits the around the class and we journal his adventures with our Kindergartners.*

Anyway, happy Mocksgiving!

*No one warned me how much homework *I* would have once school started! Also, I would like to protest that it is unfair to go after my neighbor the graphic designer and her “Dudley at the MFA” spread.

A morning of thanks

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday for me. For 11 years now, I’ve done a huge “feeding lots of people turkey” holiday at Mocksgiving. The result of this is that, despite my feeding-people, epicurian bent, I’ve never hosted the Family Thanksgiving. And now, of course, my inlaws are all pretty much in Atlanta and my brother considers Thanksgiving a weekend sacred to video games…. so. I don’t cook on Thanksgiving.

We’ve done a bunch of different things over the years. Back when I was young and judgmental, my husband’s family went out to dinner in a restaurant for Thanksgiving. The year Grey was born, we went back home. The first, only time I’ve been home for Thanksgiving since I left for college at 17. A few years we’ve done nothing. But I’m surrounded by awesome people, so when folks get wind of the fact we’re doing nothing, invitations appear. Several years, I went to the family Thanksgiving of a college friend. His mom is a fantastic cook, so I was sad when he moved out to California and it seemed… weird to invite ourselves without him. Last year and this year, friends from church have invited us. They have boys similar in age to ours, and are FANTASTIC cooks.

So Thanksgiving is a mellow, happy, friendly day. The last few years I’ve started a tradition of watching the Macy’s parade with the boys. I sleep in. Drink coffee. Don’t get dressed until noon. I rest. Relax. It might actually be the most relaxing day of my entire year.


Gratitude is an important part of not losing site of what’s important to you. I don’t do as great a job of it, but I’ve tried to teach my children to give thanks. Every night, as part of their going-to-bed, we have a prayer of gratitude. Grey usually just says that he’s thankful for “Everything in the universe”, although when pushed he’ll tell you he’s thankful for screens (DS, computer & TV).

But Thane has started this tradition now too, of gratitude. His favorite books are the How Do Dinosaurs books. He demands to know the names of all the dinosaurs. And of course, with the plasticity of a youthful brain, he remembers them. One of my ambitions this week is to get video of this. But at night, his litany of gratitude goes like this, Thane is thankful for … “Mommy, Daddy, Grey, Thane, Neovenator, Pachycephalasaurus, Protoceratops, Tapejara, Neovenator, Mommy, Daddy…” He can go on. It’s awesome!


One of the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving morning is that I have this venue to write down memories. Sometimes I look back at what was, and I’ve written down things I otherwise wouldn’t have remembered. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t know you would read this. I know this, since I tried for years pre-blogging. So thank you for being you, and reading what I have to say.

Survival of the fittest

My long holiday weekend had a lot of ups and downs. There were definitely awesome points: watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in pjs as a family, having Thanksgiving dinner with good friends (who also happen to be great cooks!), the town tree-lighting, actually cleaning out some of the junk-traps that every home hosts (surprisingly therapeutic), hosting neighbors for pot-pie and commiseration on Sunday night.

Thane LOVED our friend's wagon.     Sadly, Adam hated it.
Thane LOVED our friend's wagon. Sadly, Adam hated it.

But oh. It was not restful. And the cause of my unrest and stress has a five digit name. Thane.

Good thing he has glorious curls.

But this phase is killing me. I think I’ve already complained about it once. But hey, my blog. I get to whine. I’ve taken him to the doctor twice in two weeks because anyone this whiny MUST have like a double ear infection, right? Twice in two weeks he’s been sent home. Patient, long-suffering abuela actually told me the other day that he “had a tough day” and that she was very glad she only had two kids that day because Thane was taking 100% of her attention. This is the woman who took care of about 12 kids through knee replacement surgery, gallbladder attacks and breast cancer with not a word of complaint. And my one year old actually got her to admit weariness. (This is entirely one-sided. Thane has lately taken to trying to shut the door in my face as I say goodbye at daycare. Today he was flinging himself from my arms in an attempt to get to abuela faster. Thanks, kid!)

Some days he just screamed and screamed and screamed. You’d pick him up. He’d scream and writhe. You put him down. His face turns blue with the world’s longest build up to ear-splitting shrieks. He’s momentarily distracted by a toy and you move (you know, get milk from the ‘fridge, open a door, anything). SHRIEK!!!!!!

Thane, screaming.
Thane, screaming.

I have little idea what’s wrong. I know two things. First, it gets better when he has Tylenol. This points to pain. And certainly he had a new tooth poke through this weekend. I have a hunch there are another one or two coming, as well. Now, my pediatrician claims that teething doesn’t hurt. I, for one, am going with anecdotal data on this one, thanks.

Second, he’s eating an amazing amount. For breakfast yesterday, my turkey-sized son (seriously) ate:
-1 cup Cheerios
-1 packet instant oatmeal
-1 cup applesauce
-1 cup yogurt mixed with one cup applesauce
-1 sippy cup milk (~1 cup)

He stopped eating because it was time to go to church, not because he slowed down in any way. He definitely seemed more cheerful after that.

Want some pizza, mom? I'm full after the donut you gave me.
Want some pizza, mom? I'm full after the donut you gave me.

So we have teething and starving.

The starving is actually harder than you think, because it’s REALLY HARD to feed a one year old. They throw food, even when they’re hungry and even when they like it. A distracting texture (hello clementines!) must be thoroughly experimented with. Does it go splat on the ground? Does it make daddy’s eyebrows turn red? How does it feel when I rub it in my eyes? This distracts the child from EATING the FOOD you are giving him even though he is STARVING TO DEATH!

Also, Thane believes it is his God-given right to have the spoon and that your facist ideas about which end goes in the mouth are impinging on his civil liberties.

So actually, knowing he might be hungry is less helpful than you might think.

There was this moment Saturday when Adam and I were looking at each other thinking…. just another day and a half. We just have to make it a day and a half…. This is not a typical reaction to a four day weekend.

I think the golden curls may be an evolutionary tactic. I’m trying to figure out how the recreational screaming was selected for. Maybe it scared off or annoyed to death predators? Oh well. We survived. He survived. And hey! Christmas time! Let’s see how much fun we’re going to have keeping him from eating the tree!

What are you talking about mom? I'm perfect!
What are you talking about mom? I'm perfect!

Thanks be

I’ve been reading a lot about happiness lately, and one theme that emerges is that stopping to take stock of what you are thankful for makes you happier. It makes sense — when you take the good things in your life for granted, you stop noticing them and their impact on your life. My own life is rich with blessing, and I try to stop regularly and notice it, appreciate it, and rejoice in my good fortune. So, without further ado, here are some of the things I’m grateful for in this season of reflection:

*My husband Adam, who is just getting better (and even better-looking — so unfair!) with age. He thinks of me with generosity and love. He’s funny and patient. He is active and engaged, and is always glad to be home with us. He is the love of my life, my solid partner in life’s serious challenges, and my goofy partner is life’s less-serious moments.
*My sons, who bring me not only joy and delight but a new vision into the world. I think perhaps the greatest reason to have children is to see the world anew and delightful through unjaded eyes. Grey is full of fun, affection, and terrible knock-knock jokes. He catches my breath with his perception of the life we share. Thane is my happy little curly-haired bopper. He wanders through life at knee-height talking to himself and shaking a toy. When he sees me, he comes running and lays his head against my shoulder in a gesture of trust and joy.
*The older I get, the more I realize that one family that doesn’t drive you nuts and whose company you enjoy is a blessing. TWO families (my own family and the one I married into) that do that is lightening in a bottle. I try never to take either one for granted.
*Some days it is hard to see and remember the grace of God. Happily, it remains present whether we engage with the almighty or not.
*I am profoundly aware that the things I take for granted are not givens — a home to live in, food to eat, a car to drive, my health. Even things like clean water and medical care are unavailable to far too many. I’m also so grateful for all those who are working to bring these most basic things to all God’s children, such as Path International.

Thus for the big serious underpinnings of my life. Now for the smaller things I’m grateful for.
*Coffee. Without coffee, my life would be a sadder, sleepier place. Mmmmm coffeee…..
*This blog. I really enjoy writing, but I would never do it so regularly if it weren’t for the feedback loop of having readers. On a weekday, I average between 50 – 100 readers. I suspect I personally know many of you, but I’m grateful you give me the opportunity to engage with you. (And hey, lurkers, feel free to comment! I don’t bite!)
*The view out the back windows of our house. It fills me with joy Every. Single. Time.
*A church where I feel needed and loved, whose halls I have come to walk as familiarly as my own home.
*Incredibly generous friends who invite us and our two small, destructive children to Thanksgiving dinner. (And who it’s just been so much fun to get to know better this year!)
*NPR “vacation” weeks, when there’s 50% less doom, gloom, destruction and health-care overhauls, and significantly more stories about ants wearing stilts.
*Audiobooks.
*Christmas. I love Christmas. I love it more every year.
*Those Carl Sagan remixes: http://symphonyofscience.com/. They make me tear up.

There are, I’m sure, a bajillion more blessings in my life. But those are some.

What about you? What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving eve?

The turkey mocks back

On November 6th, I made this wise statement: After years of panicking about cooking, I’m now confident that a) there will be enough food b) I know how to cook a turkey.

Ah, hubris!

Also, this might be a good time to mention that I try very hard not to be superstitious because I do not believe in superstition. It’s totally a load of crock, in my humble opinion. Also, I TOTALLY JINXED MYSELF WITH THIS STATEMENT. That was nearly as bad as talking about a no-hitter, people.

I changed two things about how I cooked my turkey this year.

1) I bought a new pan. My old pan always stuck to the top of the turkey, and pulled flesh off when I went to baste it, and was really too small for the behemoth birds that occupy my oven on Mocksgiving day. So I saw a new, bigger pan that didn’t have a lid but did have a cool little rack thingy and I went for it.
2) I read Cook’s Illustrated. Their November edition had some neat ideas on roasting turkeys. I didn’t do the pork one only because I couldn’t find the pork. I didn’t do the brining because I’m really lazy. I didn’t do the baking powder crispy skin bit because I have a hunch that the extra oil I add is needed to make the amount of gravy I produce.

But I did try the temperature thingy. I cooked the bird at 325.

And here are the results. Glorious, no?

Quite possibly the finest-looking bird I've ever cooked
Quite possibly the finest-looking bird I've ever cooked

And completely underdone. The breast was done, mind. The popper thingy popped out. The temperature was right for that breast meat. But the bottom of the bird — the dark meat and thighs, etc? Totally undone. Completely.

I hadn’t flipped the bird. I’d cooked it right side up. And since the skin looked so amazing, I didn’t crank the heat up (note: I actually think that was the right call).

We had let the bird set for half an hour, as recommended, and everything was on the table when my husband started carving and we realized that we had a turkey-disaster on our hands. Thinking fast, we pulled out cookie sheets and put turkey parts on the sheets to cook that way. It actually worked out ok. And frankly, I’m not sure that anyone would’ve even noticed if I just failed to put the turkey on the table period. There were so many fantastic options that the turkey was, well, gravy. Mocksgiving was by no means ruined by the total turkey FAIL.

Additionally my gravy was also a fail. I’m good at gravy. I make gravy all the time. But the open-topped pan allowed for much greater evaporation of delicious turkey-juices, so I kept adding water to the drippings. I added too much, and it came out as weak sauce. I actually usually (shhhh) add chicken boiullion (however you spell it) to my turkey drippings when they start to percolate to increase the volume of gravy. Since it cooks with the turkey for several hours, it ends up tasting like turkey gravy. But this time, it just tasted weird. If I want to use the open pot, I’m going to need to come up with a better plan for gravy. Of course, the fact that the turkey wasn’t COOKED might also have led to a diminution in drippings and subsequence chickenosity of the gravy.

Lessons learned:
1) It’s probably a good idea to start the turkey wrong-side up and flip it halfway through
2) Wrap the entire pot in tinfoil before cooking, not just turkey, to prevent evaporation
3) Maybe cook a larger turkey at 350 instead of 325.

I’m actually half-tempted to make a turkey on Thanksgiving just to tinker and figure out what I did wrong. (I can hear you saying “WHAT? Thanksgiving IS turkey day!” Not for me. If I can’t cadge an invite to a Thanksgiving dinner someone else cooked, Thanksgiving is likely to be a pizza night.) Also, the turkey and gravy didn’t come out well. This means NO HOT TURKEY SANDWICHES FOR ME. This, friends, is completely unacceptable.

As an additional Mocksgiving note, I made this Cranberry sauce ahead of time. More than 50% of my motivation was that I’d previously made pomegranate molasses for a recipe I didn’t end up making and it was lurking in the ‘fridge making me feel guilty. This was a fantastic make-ahead dish. It tasted excellent and looked amazing. If you need to bring a dish to a Thanksgiving, I’d heartily recommend this one. I doubled this recipe, and really. Don’t double it. All 28 of us having a serving barely made a dent in it.

Commence panicking

This is the week before Mocksgiving. Unusually for me, I got the invitations out pretty early this year… Septembrish. I was proud of myself for not procrastinating.

Now, a week away, I’m ready to start my annual, pre-Mocksgiving panicking. Mostly, this has to do with physics. After years of panicking about cooking, I’m now confident that a) there will be enough food b) I know how to cook a turkey. Of course, this hubris means that we’ll get a half-scorched/half-raw Thomas this year, but hey. Once every ten years is totally forgivable.

But there are a few things that make Mocksgiving what it is, to me. First, I invite people to my house. I host them. We do not go to a hall or a restaurant. I welcome people into my home. Somehow, this is important. Second, we all sit down together and eat a meal together. It’s not a buffet. There are tablecloths and silverware.

Um, actually that’s pretty much it. The rest happens by magic — the conversations and pot luck dishes and hot beef injections (love ya Ben). The friends and walks and board games. It’s a pretty awesome thing.

But. Right now my RSVPs for Mocksgiving have us somewhere between, oh, 27 and 35 people. I have enough plates and cups and silverware. There will be a gracious plenty of food (although I always end up buying the very largest turkey I can lay my hands on, which regardless of how long it’s been thawing in my ‘fridge and whether I bought it fresh or frozen WILL be frozen solid when I go to try to remove the giblets). But seating? How do you get 32 people to simultaneously sit down in your reasonably-sized house? Do I set the top of the piano? Do I lay a board on top of the couch? It’s a good thing the fire department doesn’t come to visit on Mocksgiving, letmetellyou.

And all this brings me to the only part of Mocksgiving I really actively dislike. I really hate excluding people. I would like to be able to invite everyone I know and like to come sit at table and dine with me. I used to be able to, back when I had fewer friends. But whew. Man. I can’t do more than 30. I just don’t think it’s possible, without renting a hall. I often turn down people’s requests to bring guests, many of whom are people I also know and like. So basically, if you’ve come before you get grandfathered. After two or so years of not making it, you may not get another invite. I may really like you and not invite you. I probably wish I could. One of these days, I might try renting a hall and seeing if I can pull off that collegial feeling. It just somehow doesn’t seem right.

So please? If you get an invitation, come and celebrate and be prepared dine on the piano. I want you to come very much. But if you DON’T get an invitation, don’t read it as a statement on our relationship or think it’s because I don’t like you. And if you really wish that you could do Mocksgiving? I hereby authorize you to do your OWN Mocksgiving (as though you need my permission). If you do, I’d love to get pictures of your celebration.

Ok, so I’ll need a 30 pound turkey, 5 loaves of bread, 5 pies, 15 pounds of potatoes….

I think last year we only had about 20, due to late invites
I think last year we only had about 20, due to late invites

Thanksgiving and my parenting schedule

Yesterday, as you might have noticed, was Thanksgiving.

In the morning we sat around in our pajamas and watched the Macy’s parade. This was an ideal way to spend some family time.

I don’t usually cook on Thanksgiving now. I am often still recovering from Mocksgiving. I don’t have any family in the area except my brother (who is usually at Mocksgiving), so I neither have an obvious place to be invited nor obvious people to invite should I choose to cook. And it’s one thing to invite two grownups. It’s an entirely different thing to invite two grownups, a three year old and an infant. (The three year old is the complicated part.) So I was extremely grateful that my friend H’s family invited us to their Thanksgiving celebration. We tried to pay them back by knowing all the words and the tune to “We Gather Together” and singing confidently before the repast. His mom is a fantastic cook. No, really fantastic. This year’s theme was healthy. Mostly, I noticed tasty. His nephews (recently 5 and 2.5) were both there, and the boys actually played extremely well together, so I don’t think Grey was much of a bother. Also, his mom had prepared noodles and meatballs for the youngsters, which meant that Grey actually ate and I didn’t have to fight with him over food.

My only real regret was I didn’t get sufficient opportunity to talk to my friend!


I had been justifiably worried that Thane slept all day yesterday (except for right at the moment I sat down to have dinner). Come about 8 pm his beautiful blue eyes sprang open. (Imagine a springy sound.) I finally coaxed him to bed at about 10:45.

Somewhere in the night I realized we had hit another milestone: baby’s first cold. Actually, 4 weeks old is an entirely reasonable age at which to contract one’s first cold, and it seems relatively mild. But here’s my schedule for last night:

10:45 – Thane asleep
11 – me asleep
2 am – 2:30 am – Thane dirty diaper and nurses
4 am – 5:15 am – Thane eats and fusses
6:15 am – 6:30 am – A. gets Thane from his room, changes his diaper and brings him in to me. Thane fusses, but fails to nurse and gets put in the bouncy seat next to the bed where he wheezes loudly.
6:45 – 7:15 am – Grey wakes up and comes to snuggle me (read: squirm in proximity to me). A. starts snoring. Thane is still wheezing.
7:45 am – I declare that by gum I need at least two hours straight sleep without anyone snoring at me and direct poor husband to obtain the same or suffer the consequences (he is working from home)
10:45 am — I finally get up and nurse Thane and begin my day

No wonder my days seem short. I spend 12 hours in night time mode, but with only a normal (or slightly less than normal) amount of sleep, and that extremely interrupted. I have to admit that the scenario would be much improved if Grey would sleep in until, like, 8.

Anyway, Thane is doing pretty well, but he’s very wheezy and a bit mucousy. (That’s mostly showing up in the “spitting up” arena.) I think he’s also sleeping more, but less soundly and in smaller chunks because he’s having a bit of trouble nursing and breathing simultaneously. We will survive this.

It’s just hard to remember:
1) That I shouldn’t feel guilty for “sleeping in” when I can.
2) That when you are home with your infant and preschooler, you should not expect to do much more than take care of your infant and preschooler
3) That it is not actually child abuse to let your kid watch that much television.

Mocksgiving

Eight years ago, I was a newly wed in a grownup apartment with a grownup job and a grownup husband doing the grownup thing for the first time. I had just turned 22. And being a grownup, I volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family of inlaws. Having been raised in a Protestant-and-turkey family, I just could never quite get behind the idea of going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving. Still can’t, truth be told.

There was just one problem: I didn’t know how to cook. I’d never cooked a turkey before in my life. Thanksgiving day, with my new inlaws arriving, seemed like a bad time for a first turkey, especially since my mom (whom I had on speed dial) would also be busy that day. A second problem presented itself, however. Two people cannot eat a turkey by themselves and stay married. Since I was (am) fond of my husband, I invited a few friends over to help us eat it, and broke out my still-new wedding gifts to serve the turkey. I think there were 13 of us for that trial, or “mock” Thanksgiving. We had a fantastic time. We ate, drank, told stories, and celebrated together. By the time the evening was over, we decided we’d had so much fun, we had to do it again next year.

I ended up not hosting Thanksgiving for the family that year. I don’t remember why. But every year since, I’ve hosted Mocksgiving. It’s a huge annual event. People ask me about the dates months in advance. People fly in. (I have a friend from DC here now.) It even engendered a spinoff holiday — Piemas. (Which merits its own post in March at the appropriate time.)

Tonight is Mocksgiving Eve. Usually for Mocksgiving I make: 5 pies, a batch of bread, a turkey, 10 pounds of mashed potatoes, a significant amount of butternut squash, stuffing (in the turkey and outside) and gravy. (It seems like there’s usually something else too. I used to make salad, but no one eats it so I gave up.) It is potluck, so in addition to the vast amounts of food I provide, most folks bring something else too. There is a LOT of food. This year I trimmed down to one pie. I was going to make a lemon merangue too, but my crust collapsed (must remember not to use that pie pan for lemon merangue — this is the second time this has happened). On Mocksgiving Eve, I used to spend a lot of time panicking, cleaning, polishing silver (yes, I actually have silver), and er, panicking. Now that I’ve been doing this for NEARLY a decade, the panic is significantly diminished. I know what I’m doing.

As I sashayed around the kitchen, with a candle lit above the sink and my music in the background and the scent of yeast rising in the hot water, I felt very happy and where I belonged. I love Mocksgiving.

It occurred to me this year that this is one more way in which my children will grow up warped. Piemas is fine — it is a standalone. (Plus, there is no such thing as too much pie.) But after cooking for up to 30 people a week and a half before Thanksgiving, I’m in no mood to cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner. And since we have no family remaining in the area, we don’t usually end up doing, well, anything for Thanksgiving proper. I wonder how old my sons will be before they figure out that not everyone does Mocksgiving, and moreover, most people do more on Thanksgiving. They get the Thanksgiving experience, only a bit earlier and with a slightly less great-aunt-heavy crowd.

There is one thing I hate about Mocksgiving. It is a sit down meal. We all sit down at proper place settings at the same time and eat together at table. And it is inherently important to me that Mocksgiving be held in my HOME. Therefore, there is an upper limit to the number of people who can be invited. I think I topped out at 28. Twenty-eight people in your house is a LOT of people, in case you’re curious. But I have more friends than that. I invite more people than can fit because there are always people who can’t make it. But I hate hate hate sending out the invitations. I can never invite all the people I’d like to. I know there must be friends of mine who feel left out — maybe hurt — that everyone else is talking about this fantastic affair to which they have not been invited. I wish I could figure out some way that it wouldn’t happen that way, but I don’t know how to make that work. Ah well. Generally, I invite everyone I invited last year, minus people who haven’t been able to make it for a few years or whom I haven’t heard from in quite a while, plus a few new folks with whom I’ve become closer. The first few years I was able to throw it open to everyone who wanted to come. I miss that.

But the bread is made, the pie is cooling, the largest-possible-turkey is in the fridge. Tomorrow I will wrestle with it (cursing) in the morning. My friends will arrive with hugs and casseroles. There will be the hard half-hour after the turkey comes out when everything must be done simultaneously. My kitchen, immaculate at the moment, will look for all the world like a hurricane hit it. We will retell stories, contemplate our very full bellies, stay up too late, catch up on gossip and generally have a fantastic time. I can’t wait.

The attendees at last Mocksgiving

Table 1 - the Grownups table
Table 1 - the 'Grownups' table

The kids table -- I always ended up here. This year I think well be able to do one long table.
The kids table -- I always ended up here. This year I think we'll be able to do one long table.

We usually end up with one or two (or 13) desserts.
We usually end up with one or two (or 13) desserts.

What my kitchen looks like afterwards -- I believe this was the year the sink broke.
What my kitchen looks like afterwards -- I believe this was the year the sink broke.