Mocksgiving Prep: version 18

This is the 18th time I’ve prepared to host my friends for the Mocksgiving meal. I’m perilously close to having had as many years of life with Mocksgiving as without it. Adam and I were married in August of 2000, and moved into a cute little apartment in Roslindale, which I saw for the first time in the 5 hour layover between returning from our wedding in Washington and leaving for our honeymoon in Greece. I worked from home that first year of married life, and I got really bored. Bored enough, it turns out, to try to learn how to cook. Adam’s family had lately been going to restaurants for Thanksgiving. I decided to give them the treat of a “real homecooked meal” instead… just as soon as I learned how to cook.

I was young, but I was no fool. So two weeks before Thanksgiving, I decided to give it a trial run. So I did a “mock” Thanksgiving. But I knew that two people couldn’t eat a turkey (not and repeat the performance a scant few weeks later!) so I invited some of our best friends (and all of our wedding party). That year 13 of us sat around a table and shared a meal and it was FANTASTIC. Also, that year, it just didn’t work out with the inlaws and Thanksgiving. We had such a good time that I repeated the performance the next year. And the next. The Mocksgiving that was most likely to not happen was the one that happened a scant two and a half weeks after Thane was born. But that one happened too, although I barely remember it.

Just as a caveat, I always feel somewhat self-conscious about Mocksgiving. We have long since hit the physical limit of how many people it’s possible to invite. I can say with relative confidence that no more than 30 adults can be seated simultaneously. Even though my circle of friends and welcome faces has continued to grow, my dining room as not. So I cannot invite many people I would wish to invite. If you’re feeling a little wistful about not being able to come, I likely feel a little wistful about not being able to invite you. Please don’t use this as a litmus test of friendship!

Anyway, one of the things about this particular day in my year is that I always spend it talking to you in my head. I’m not sure why. I think there’s something about the continuity. On this day I practice skills and revive recipes that go back in time. My bread recipe, for example, is a simple one. But my mother used to make it as both a therapy for her aching carpal tunnel hands, and as our primary source of bread. My grandmother made it, and served it in neat slices at lunch. My great grandmother, sharp blue eyes and wry smile, made it before her. I can see generations of capable hands making the same mysterious, practiced gestures. As my hands gnarl out of their childish softness, long having left maiden behind and well into matron (on my way to crone), I see the hands of my maternal line. And these recipes are really throwbacks. Adam’s bread, which he makes year round and which is our “normal” bread, is a healthy, whole-wheat, no-knead recipe he’s improved over years. My bread bears all the hallmarks of the fifties – white flour, butter (or margarine, as the recipe calls for) and the Crisco which lays unused in every other recipe but my high holy day recipes.

So, with no further ado, here are the notes I’ve saved for you so far. I’ll likely continue to add as breaks in cooking allow!

Step 1: Get the kids out of the house

There’s pretty much never school on my prep day, due to Veteran’s Day. Mocksgiving and Veteran’s day almost always line up. I probably could do this with them home. It actually would probably be great if I taught them in this long line of heritage. But man, that sounds exhausting. I find it very relaxing and centering to just do this one thing – readying everything – on Mocksgiving day. This year I found out a few days too late that their regular afterschool and vacation program, the Boys and Girls Club, actually had an offering. Oh well, enjoy your LARP lads!

One of the great quests of Mocksgiving is the procurement of the turkey. It falls *right around* the time that stores start getting their fresh turkeys, or rather usually a day or two before. That’s what makes it exciting. I’ve noticed even the fresh turkeys tend to be rather frozenish for Mocksgiving. I went to Wegman’s first (figuring that any place that has an open bin of oyster mushrooms would have, you know, turkey). I was wrong, so then I went to Stop and Shop which had just gotten their shipment. I selected the largest turkey I could find, clocking in at 24 pounds. I once got an artesenal farm-raised, locally grown and ethically sourced turkey. It was terrible. It turns out that places like Butterball inject brine into the birds. I’m here to tell you that’s what makes them DELICIOUS. So I cheerfully buy Butterball turkeys and they always turn out amazing. Unfortunately this year, the Butterballs were all still frozen, so I went with an organic turkey that was marked as fresh. (Although is still rather suspiciously rock-like.) I trust that brine is organic, and I won’t miss out on any deliciousness due to upgrading.

My first task of tomorrow morning is almost always chiseling out the gizzards & neck of the frozen bird, while swearing that next year I’m going to find a turkey that is ACTUALLY not frozen, not one that just claims to not be frozen.

If June Cleaver played D&D

Aprons are most critical when you’re doing stuff that involves a lot of flour. Both making the bread and rolling out pies have this unfortunate tendency to enflour your midriff if you don’t wear an apron. So I wear an apron. I also have learned to seriously sequester my hair while baking.

Checking to see if the yeast is alive

The first step of my ancestral bread recipe is to make sure the yeast is alive. You add the sugar, salt, hot water and yeast and then go clean up the kitchen a bit. If you see this bubbling, your yeast is fine. If you don’t, you might as well stop now or you’ll get unleavened bread. This yeast was particularly vibrant.

Molten dough-flow

I actually really don’t like my KitchenAid mixer, which I know makes me weird. I miss my Sunbeam mixer, but I got one of the “after bankruptcy” models that was poorly manufactured. I find it hard to add ingredients with the KitchenAid, and I can never mix in enough flour. I have to finish off getting the flour in by hand on the kneading table. The dough is warm, and moves like a slow lava-flow. I think the kneading is one of the spots where you need to know what it “should” be like, and where practice makes a big difference. I added almost 3 cups of flour more than the recipe called for to get the bread to the right consistency.

The bread goes through three rises. It doubles in the bowl twice, and then it rises in the loaf pans. While the bread is rising, I clean up the kitchen and get started on the pie starter. I should’ve made it last night, but I was lazy.

Vegetarian pie starter

Once upon a time, I had a perfect pie starter made out of Crisco. Then Crisco took the trans fats out of their shortening. I’ve been complaining about this for like 5 years, and I may complain about it for the rest of my life. Anyway, they’ve improved the recipe, but I still find that the all Crisco recipe doesn’t taste as good as it used to. I really like working with a lard crust. It’s super forgiving. But it’s not vegetarian (which many of my guests are), and the taste also isn’t perfect. The mixed butter-Crisco crust is pretty hard to work (I use a vodka-water mix to help compensate), but has the best taste/flakiness quotient.

It’s possible I have strong pie crust opinions. By my reckoning, I’ve made about 200 pies in my life.

Big crumbs – increases the chance I’ll have to roll out the crust twice which makes it less flaky

I still hate cutting in shortening. I often make Adam do this, but he’s working and I didn’t delegate early enough. The crumb on this isn’t quite small enough (eg the shortening bits should be smaller), but I’m a little lazy and this is good enough for me to work with. Its in the freezer now, getting super cold so I can work it.

Second rise

As I mentioned, my yeast this time was super active. I think it cut nearly an hour off the regular rise time on the bread. (I’ve also learned on particularly cold days – like today – to prewarm my ceramic bowl by filling it with hot water.) This is the second rise on my dough.

Formed and ready for their last rise

My mom does a set of loaf-shaping activities I’ve never quite mastered. I suspect that if you plan on entering your bread in the State Fair they’re an important step. But so far no one at Mocksgiving has complained. I really like forming the loaves – you get to slap the bread with a satisfying “thwack!” that brings me back to being a little girl. I suspect there’s about a half cup of Crisco that ends up in the recipe, from how much I slather my hands with to make the forming possible.

Single crust for lemon meringue

Here’s another task I should’ve done last night – the lone crust for my favorite pie, lemon meringue. Fun fact: I can’t spell meringue. I’m now at the point in the day where I’m watching the clock about when I need to pick up the kids. I still have three pies + the most difficult pie filling to go before I can rest. Maybe four. I saved some rhubarb this summer and I’m pondering whether I can make a pie of it. (I always think about the “extra pie”. I never make the “extra pie”.)

Why a pastry cloth is a must

All the pie crust recipes I use are high-shortening and hard to work. There’s a few things I keep in mind: all ingredients must be COLD. Handle the dough as little as possible (an opposite from the lovingly worked bread dough). But I don’t know how you’d be able to get the crust in the pan if you used a board instead of a cloth. I fold it with the cloth. Sometimes with a particularly difficult roll, I’ll even drag it over on the cloth. Then I can gently unfold it. I still end up having to reroll after this step half the time.

No reroll this time – possibly because it got stuck and I already had to reroll. That makes it tougher but easier to work.

I usually make lemon meringue, blueberry from farmshare blueberries set aside over the summer, peach ditto, and two pecan pies (which are SO EASY compared to all the rest). I didn’t make peach pie this year because, um, I’m lazy. I was really busy when the peaches were in season. It’s a pity because peach pie is my favorite. My mom can make the dough actually round when she rolls it out. I can’t. Also, my edge-crinkling skills have improved, but they’re not up to her standards.

Lone pie crust

This pie crust gives me fits every year. It always schlumps on me, regardless of crust recipe. I’ve tried different pie pans. My mom pricks the bottom like three times. As you can see, no inch goes unpricked. There’s actually specific gadgets you can get for this, although I’ve never tried it. So I take that as validation my schlumping issue isn’t incompetence. This year it came out ok. My mom’s looks way better. It’ll taste great with lemon meringue in it though!

Meanwhile, the bread’s out of the oven just in time to put the crust in.

Baked bread – the sheen comes from the last use of Crisco in my Mocksgiving prep
First offering on the porch

I like how the bread and the wood of the porch are the same color. I keep all my baking on the porch because my cats are jerks. Ask me about the year that some feline stepped right in the middle of my pie and I had to eat it all by myself. Tragic. The lone crust goes in right after the bread comes out.

The schlump. This one is within acceptable tolerances, so I won’t try again.

It’s amazing how interrupting it is picking up the boys. An hour gone, with nothing in the oven! Dark is falling, and I’m not nearly done! I came back and got started on the two pecan pies. The kitchen is a major disaster area – once I get the blueberry prepped I’ll need to clean it again. Then the last pie of the day is my lemon meringue. I should probably make that before I clean up, but I’ll need the mixer bowl cleaned.

I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff I should be doing too, but I’m momentarily forgetting it.

Pecan pie – sometimes I just dump the pecans in. Sometimes I carefully arrange them. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.
Two pecan pies

I should really make just over 3 pecan pies in Pi plates for perfect geekery. I tried to trace a pie in pecans on one of them, but I think you’d have to be staring pretty hard to make it out.

I’m starting to flag, energy wise. Now’s the hard part.

5:30 pm –
It occurs to me I should’ve been time stamping this all along. Sorry.

Luscious farm share blueberries

I’m in the home stretch now. The blueberry pie is in the oven. The pecan pies are cooling. I still need to make the lemon meringue filler before I collapse, but that’s not so bad. It could also THEORETICALLY happen tomorrow, but that’s not a good idea. I also made a sad discovery with regard to one of my favorite pie plates. It was a gift from a friend, oh, ten years ago. It’s my “go to” for blueberry pies. Lately it’s been a little porous and leaky. But it has now developed a fatal crack. Farewell favorite pie plate. Sniff sniff.

The crack doesn’t look that bad until you look closely

On the plus side, the pecan pies are looking excellent.

You can see the bubbling

8:51 pm –
It’s done. The last pie has come out of the oven. The meringue came out very nicely this time! I could eat that filling by the spoonful. I’m a little nervous about putting on the porch. The temperature out there is currently 34 degrees, and I don’t think the meringue should freeze. There’s no room in the fridge (I moved the turkey from the front porch to the fridge, because the front porch was too cold to help thaw it). So that leaves the oven. (It doesn’t need to be chilled.) But the real question is … will I remember to remove the pie before I preheat the oven for the turkey?

Tomorrow morning – turkey, stuffing, potatoes & butternut squash! And table settings, cleaning house, and other preparing.

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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?