As I was going to put the turkey breast in the oven this past Thursday, I turned to John and said “One of the lessons I learned last year was to leave time to take a shower before we eat. I didn’t do that last Thanksgiving and I regretted it. So this year, I’m making time for that.”
And as I slathering the compound butter I’d made earlier that morning directly on the turkey, I began wondering how many other things I’d meant to remind myself about our Thanksgiving last year but had forgotten. And trust me, there was at least one big repeat. Rather than forget any good lessons, I decided to write about it.
Thus was born a new series here on this little personal blog of mine: Note to Self.
This past week, I had a strategy session with a dear friend and fellow writer. One of the things we discussed was how much we missed our “old” blogging days. See, back in the dinosaur ages of blogging (for me 2000 to 2005) we used our blogs as a way to share the every day. And by doing so, it allowed us to connect to people on such a human level of So much of my writing is focused on consumable content that serves a purpose.
I miss that connection. And I also miss that freedom. To share the pieces of how I am managing real life. Not from the lens of an expert with articles like “10 Ways to Have a Better Thanksgiving This Year” (which would be a great article to write for my coaching blog). But at the human level of trying to thrive in this modern day life.
So here goes my first “Note to Self”.
How We Celebrated Thanksgiving 2020
If John’s mother had been at home in Chicago, we were going to travel there for Thanksgiving. At almost 91, I want us to make the effort to see her at every holiday we are able. However, she traveled to Florida along with two of John’s three sisters. And though we talked about it, we decided that driving to Florida for Thanksgiving AND New Year’s would be a bit much for us.
We did a family Zoom call with everyone in his family on Wednesday. All the nieces and nephews as well as some of the kiddos joined in which was wonderful. The kiddos – almost 2 to 13 – have all grown SO much and missing out on attending birthday parties this year has meant that we’ve missed so much.
So, like last year, it was just the two of us.
The main course: Turkey Breast (Win)
The turkey breast was the real winner. It was the juiciest and most flavorful breast I’d made. Turkey breast based loosely on Ina Garten’s Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast recipe. Though I did the olive oil-lemon-herb mixture she recommends and brushed it all over the turkey breast, I changed two things. First, I added a teaspoon or so of basil pesto (since it was right there in the fridge). Two, I made garlic-herb compound butter and put it under the skin (this photo ==>).
The compound butter really helped add to tenderness and flavor. I let an 8-ounce package of Kerrygold Butter soften overnight. And while the pie was baking, I spread it out on a piece of waxed paper and added generous amounts of garlic powder, poultry seasonings, and extras sage. Then, I let that meld together for several hours before spreading a layer of butter directly on the breast and under the skin.
Next year, I’ll definitely buy another fresh turkey breast from Dorothy Lane Market. And though a 5 1/2 pounds it was just right for enough leftover turkey that we didn’t tire of it (more on that later), I think we could have been happy with a bit more.
So, note to self, buy a 6 to 7 pound turkey breast next year.
The Thanksgiving Sides: All Wins (An * for Slight Improvements)
We had pretty basic sides, starting with green salads which are a standard at our house.
The mashed potatoes were good. I cheated and used the Ore Ida Steam and Mash as the base. I also cooked them before I prepped the turkey and put them in a small crock pot on low to keep warm. This was a huge sanity saver. On prep, rather than following the package instructions, I used buttermilk and a whole stick of good butter when I mashed them. I was happy to use my handheld mother’s potato masher.
*Note: put the mashed potatoes in the crock pot again next year to stay warm. However, they need to be made about an hour after I get the turkey in the oven. Because although they stayed warm, they were in the crockpot a bit too long and had some overly browned spots. Oh. And don’t forget they’ll need more buttermilk and/or butter.
Because even a halved recipe for cornbread dressing makes too much for two, I purchased a small container of Cornbread Dressing thanks to the DLM’s “Aunt Dorothy”. This was a good choice. About fifteen minutes before taking the turkey out of the oven, I warmed it up. To ensure it was moist, I melted a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan along with a couple of tablespoons of turkey broth. I spread it out in the pan to evenly warm it up and added additional poultry seasoning to give it a bit more flavor. This went into a Crock Pot Little Dipper to keep warm until it was time to eat.
*Note: you can put fully cooked food in a “little dipper” but never put uncooked food in there.
Rounding out the meal: Cranberry-Walnut Relish – also thanks to DLM which was good. And Sister Shuburt’s Parker House Style Yeast Rolls which is a repeat as well.
*Note: don’t leave the rolls in the oven after they brown or they’ll be dry….
Don’t forget the gravy. I grew up with gravy at almost every meal. If my mom cooked something in a pan (other than bacon) that pan drippings were put to good use for some sort of gravy to put on the meat and/or potatoes. So a good gravy is a must. I made gravy with homemade stock after making a roux with flour and butter. It was really good.
*Note: don’t discard the rendered fat from making the turkey stock (more on that below). And maybe make twice as much gravy next year.
Let’s Talk About Dessert (Not a Win)
I made a Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon based on David Lebovitz’s recipe though I used a ready to bake pie crust. On the surface this should have been a perfect choice as I cut my teeth on pecan pie and it – even more than pumpkin – says Thanksgiving to me yet I haven’t made a pecan pie since 2005.
In part that’s because I became better educated on food and don’t like using corn syrup since much of the corn in the US uses a genetically modified corn. And pecan pies demand some sort of stable sugar (very well explained in this article). This recipe, however, gave a choice of corn syrup, rice syrup, or golden syrup. I chose the Golden Syrup since it’s sugar based and doesn’t use genetically-modified sugar. Beyond that choice, I followed the recipe exactly choosing bittersweet chocolate rather than semi-sweet as well as that healthy splash of bourbon to also help cut the sweetness.
Those choices weren’t enough: this pie was just way too sweet for either of us to enjoy even a few bites. Any bites with just pecan and filling would have made the pie good for me personally, but those chocolate chips held their shape and didn’t get a bit melty which means they didn’t blend into the filling or melt into the pecans.
In retrospect, we eat so little sweets that we’ve both lost our “sweet tooth”. Sure I still like a chocolate covered caramel, the occasional bowl of ice cream, or a pastry with come coffee. And upon reflection, we didn’t enjoy last year’s pie – my grandmother’s chocolate pie – beyond a small slice. Something we’ve eaten completely in years past.
Note to Self for 2021’s Thanksgiving: don’t make a super sweet dessert. Rather choose something that’s also a bit savory, too.
On the Importance Turkey Stock as Prep
Turkey stock for the win. Because I know that good gravy as well as good soup depends upon the broth, I make a batch of turkey stock the day before Thanksgiving. And approach it much like I do making chicken stock. So, I start with turkey parts that have a lot of connective tissue: wings and drumsticks and for extra flavor, I got a turkey thigh as well. I seasoned with poultry seasoning and garlic. And roasted these along with an entire head of garlic and some olive oil. After it cooled, I scraped the entire pan of roasted goodness into a stock pot along with herbs, carrots, celery, and onions. Then added lots of filtered water. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and allow it to simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
I’ve done this in the crock pot as well as my instant pot but on the stove gives the best flavor in my experience. And because I use a “Pasta Pot” with built in strainer, cleanup is easier.
Discard the solids and pour stock through a fine-mesh filter to catch any small debris. Package it into containers (I prefer the FreezerWare by Gladware). Leave the containers uncovered on the counter to cool. Then place in fridge overnight.
If you’ve used enough wings and legs, the stock will be the consistency of soft Jello (all that beautiful collagen for your joints and skin) after being in the fridge overnight. You want to keep out what you’ll use within the next couple of days and freeze the rest. I kept out one large container of stock as well as two small containers.
Usually I would tell you to skim off the fat that had risen to the top before freezing or using. However, this was a mistake for me this year. Because if I’d skimmed the fat and then set it aside (putting it on waxed paper usually works) the gravy would have started with turkey fat rather than the need for butter.
Note to Self: Don’t Discard the FAT! And maybe consider making a double batch next year…
Utilizing Those Thanksgiving Leftovers
Though John loves a good turkey sandwich, there are only so many sandwiches you can eat. So while doing my Thanksgiving shopping, I also pick up a can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce so that I can make a variation of The Kitchn’s Turkey Tortilla Soup. This is what we had for dinner on Friday evening. And John asked for it again Saturday evening, too.
Begin with those peppers. Because you only need a small amount, grab some waxed paper and zip lock bags. I get out a cutting board and begin slicing the peppers apart to discard those seeds (the super hot part). After setting aside enough for the recipe, I divide the rest of the can onto pieces of waxed paper that’s then folded and put in zip lock bags that then can be frozen. One can makes enough little packets of peppers for about four to six used based on how spicy you like it.
I also make this in the crock pot. First I put the large container of turkey stock along with the garlic and chipotle pepper paste for about an hour. Then I come back in and add about 2 cups of diced turkey along with a can of drained diced tomatoes. I prefer to put about half a bag of frozen corn in with this but forgot to pick that up. Then about a half hour before serving, add a can of drained and well-rinsed black beans.
I served this with wedges of fresh limes, diced avocado, and freshly grated cheddar cheese. Though I’ve used tortilla chips in the past, this time I served it with cornbread muffins (to use up the rest of the buttermilk I used in the mashed potatoes).
Note to self: this is a must do for post-Thanksgiving 2021. And maybe make a double batch so that I can freeze some for later. Thus the need for a bit larger turkey breast.
Additional Reminders for Thanksgiving 2021
The new digital meat thermometer was a great purchase.
Timing overall was good this year. Not only did I time things to be done in a way that everything was still hot and on the table at the same time. AND not only that, I had time to take a shower and put on a dress for dinner. I did forgo make-up, but made time for lipstick.
Next year, shoot to get the turkey breast in the oven around 11:45 or Noon rather than 1 PM like this year. Make the mashed potatoes after the turkey is in the oven rather than before. And choose a dessert that is delicious yet is also not too sweet.
And remember that a shower and fresh clothes are very good.