Thanksgiving Preparations

As a military spouse I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners early on since we were often away from family for the holiday.  I love the idea of Friendsgiving – in fact military families may have invented the concept-because that is what our circumstances called us to do, create a feast with friends.  Those gatherings were pretty easy since everyone brought a dish or two and they were usually fairly casual, no fine china required.  But then the time came when we wanted to host a more traditional dinner when we were stationed near family or had family visiting us.

Even I, a relaxed kind of planner, knew I needed a real plan to pull off a big holiday event like Thanksgiving.  So every year I would write down my tasks on the days I would accomplish them.  I am a back planner.  I start with the event deadline and work backwards to see where I need to start.  This method has worked pretty well over the years.  This year I created a printable  which I am sharing with you.  Maybe it will give you some ideas or a jumping off point for your own planning.  Plans are kind of individual and personal I think, so look at it as a blueprint.

This printable will get you up to Thanksgiving Day.  Then you are on your own.  Again I back plan, starting with the time I plan for us to sit down at the table.  That time dictates when the turkey goes in the oven, the vegetables get cooked, etc.  It’s like a military operation. Ha!

I’ve added some links which might inspire you as you set up your holiday table.

Thanksgiving 2016

 Serving Pieces to look for at Thrift Stores,

What’s your planning process for Thanksgiving?  Are you methodical and steady, or do you blitzkrieg the day of?

 

Displaying the Flag

Displaying the Flag

For years I have struggled with how to display the American flag on our home or in the garden.  Our house does not lend itself naturally to flag placement.  We live in a typical ranch style house with no distinguishing architectural characteristics, such as porch columns or railings.

I love this display of the flag on the charming Victorian home.   And they have displayed the flag properly to the left of the door, according to this article.

Mr. DB leaned toward the flag pole idea, but I didn’t think it seemed right for our yard.  In the picture below they planted the flowers around it but it is a little stark for my taste.

Finally, after hours online and batting around some ideas, we hit on a solution that met all of our criteria.

I wanted the flag and it’s support stanchion to be part of the landscape.  Mr. DB wanted it to be central and to stand out. We found the perfect spot as the centerpiece of the landscape on the left  side of the house.  It looks intentional and purposeful there.

We purchased a 4×4 post from Home Depot and set it in concrete (using quickrete and their online directions).   It was a pretty simple project, after all the deliberation.

We are still looking for the right light so that the flag can be up at night.  Those lights in the picture provide a weak beam and aren’t really adequate.  Please let me know if you have suggestions!

I love to display the flag all of the time but particularly on the patriotic holidays, those times when we remember and reflect on  all the values that made us the nation we are.

Nowadays it seems as if we all have opinions on who is the most patriotic.   However, I would like to take this opportunity to dispel any notion that military families are more patriotic than others.  As a family member of a retired Marine, I can say that we chose that life, we loved it and felt honored by it, but we are no more patriotic than others who love and revere our great country.  And we all have our experience with the country; each is individual and unique.  That must be respected and acknowledged as well.

Do you have a traditional Fourth of July celebration or does it vary every year?  Ours certainly varies.

No firm plans yet, but I know we will take a few minutes to reflect on how very lucky we are to be Americans.

 

 

Memorial Day and Shrimp Etouffee

 

We had a somewhat soggy Memorial Day but that did not dim our fun any.

Luckily I had planned a meal that did not require the grill. Growing up in southern Mississippi, on the Louisiana border,  my tastes tend toward the spicy and flavorful blend of seasonings that defines the region.   It has been awhile since I have done some Cajun cooking and I had a yen for etouffee.

Etouffee is a kind of gravy combining spices with celery, bell peppers and onions.  This gravy adds so much flavor to the shrimp.  It is really good served over rice with some scallions on top.  I used this recipe and it was outstanding.   Serve it with a tossed salad, maybe a little fruit salad as well and to me, it is the taste of home.

 

Chef John (creator of the recipe) says he used frozen shrimp and it was very tasty.  I used previously frozen shrimp from Whole Foods.  They were really delicious, and also came peeled and de-veined which was a bonus.

Back when my mother used to make etouffee we used crawfish, which were plentiful in that area.  Crawfish are the poor relation of shrimp; they are a little chewier, but they do hold onto the sauce more tenaciously.  Shrimp works just as well.

No one seemed to miss the burgers.

Naturally, the red, white and blue decor had to come out.   Have you noticed how useful red napkins are?  I plan to go out this week and buy some more.  Between the patriotic holidays, Christmas and Valentine’s Day they are on a steady rotation.  The blue tablecloth is from Ikea and it is so easy to care for.  It comes out of the dryer wrinkle free.

I bought those funny little patriotic characters over 15 years ago at an antique mall.  They add their own kind of spice to the table.

And now summer is officially underway!  Unfortunately we have another week of rain to look forward to.

Easter Table Ideas

I have been trying out various centerpiece ideas for my Easter table this year and nothing has really said yes, this is it.

I started off using my Christmas garland as grass with eggs and bunnies peeping out.  But it seemed a little tired and too cute.

Some years you just want simplicity.

But maybe not that much simplicity.  I think this is a happy medium.

I have saved eggs from past years.  We blew the eggs out of little holes poked into the end of the eggs.  A baby nose syringe is helpful for getting the egg out if you want to try it.  I just added some grass to my square vases and put a few eggs in each one.

I wanted small bunches of flowers along the table but didn’t have enough containers of the same size.  Somehow I had a few spice jars that had just emptied and a capers jar that had been in the refrigerator too long.  I added a little blue dye to the water so it didn’t look quite so humble.

We are having our extended family this year which will be fun.  There is a newly engaged couple, a baby, a college freshman, a lot of news to catch up on.

How do you decorate for Easter?

PS:  Check out my easy recipe for deviled eggs!

Christmas Decorating So Far

I thought I would share a little of my decorating so far.  I noticed as I was decorating this year that doing less might require more effort than doing more.  It certainly requires more thought and discernment.

I mentioned earlier that my mantel looked unfinished.  To fix that I brought out some mercury glass containers and filled them with greenery from my yard.  That seemed to do it.  What do you think?

I experimented with various options but many seemed just too much.

And now, on to the tree, which is kind of the centerpiece of the whole shebang.  This is the view from our front entry hall.

It took me a few years to decide that I didn’t have to put up all of the homemade Christmas decorations from back in the day.

And here is the view from the kitchen.

I like to set up little vignettes to display some of my quirky finds, like this caroling Santa.  I’m sure he must have been part of a set, but he was all by himself when I found him.

He’s just singing his heart out.  Kosher salt makes good snow, in case you are wondering.

On this table which is the second part of our front hallway that leads into the family room I added a few more reindeer. Those spikey looking items are my dried artichokes which I spray painted gold.  Have you ever noticed you can spray paint just about anything gold and it becomes a Christmas decoration.  Cheap decor you can throw away!

I am still working on my dining room.  I hope I will see you back here for the rest of the tour  next week!

 

Christmas Decorating

It’s early December  and I already feel like I am  behind on everything Christmas.  Partly, well mostly, it’s because I am comparing myself to other more organized types whose house is decorated and shopping is finished.  Well, my house is partly decorated, but the shopping has not started.

However, I was excited to start decorating in the living room because I purchased this new reindeer.  Something new  is often a motivator for me.   He adds a slight modern vibe to my traditional decor and I wanted to see how he would fit in.  Just fine I think.

I’ve never been one of those people who go overboard on Christmas.  With a small house, it would be overpowering.  But I do like a festive atmosphere so each year I try to find that balance.  It seems to always come down to balance doesn’t it?  Not only in decorating but other areas of life also.

The plant is called a “frosty fern” and I found it at the grocery store.  I like to tuck moss around the top of houseplants so that you aren’t looking at dirt.

Then across the room on my console table I added a few more natural elements.  This area needed a little more something so I added some dried berries in a julep cup.

I also collected some magnolia leaves.  They are so plentiful here in Virginia, neighbors and friends willingly share their bounty.

I place them in water to prolong that rich glossiness.  As you probably know magnolia leaves dry well and are still beautiful in arrangements.

My mother-in-law needlepointed this Santa picture for us.  Sometimes I put it by my front door, but this year I thought this corner needed some extra color.

 

I am still working on my mantel.  I was going for simplicity, but this seems a tad sparse.

 It’s good to get started.  I hope to have a full house tour later in the week.

Great Ideas for Leftover Turkey

There have been years where I had little to no leftover turkey, and that was very disappointing because I look forward to the leftovers almost as much as the actual feast.  When I am faced with no leftovers I resolve to buy an extra turkey next year.  Here are a couple of reasons I love my leftover turkey.

One of my favorite recipes is for Turkey Gumbo.  I have tried several variations over the years, but  my favorite is one that I have adapted from America’s Test Kitchens.  I love their roux and the flavor baseit gives the gumbo.  In my turkey version I use turkey (or chicken) stock and turkey instead of shrimp.  Additionally, I use a little less stock, more like a quart which is half what the recipe calls for.  Otherwise it is too much liquid for me.  Also, add 1/2 teaspoon of thyme.  Find the recipe here.

Another favorite meal for my leftovers is  Turkey Pot Pie, which remains a favorite for my family.  I use this recipe, although I don’t usually add potatoes.  What a bonus that you can make two pies and freeze one (or send one home with your adult son).

If you don’t want to make the usual turkey sandwich (using dressing, cranberry sauce, etc.) you can perk it up with other additions.  I love adding avocado slices to ours for that extra creaminess and flavor.  Bacon is an obvious go-to.  And for the spread try a remoulade like this one.

Do you have some favorite recipes for leftover turkey?  I’d love to see some new ideas.

A Relaxing Thanksgiving

This year will be the first in awhile that I have not hosted Thanksgiving.  Is it okay to say I am thankful for not hosting?  Don’t get me wrong.  I have usually enjoyed putting on a big celebration and having family and friends around the table.  There is a lot of satisfaction to planning and pulling off an event like Thanksgiving.

But it’s also nice to have a year off.

Because I did not have to have my dining room in Thanksgiving mode I was able to bring in just a little Christmas.  Just a little.

Just adding a few gold leafed magnolia leaves and my red wine goblets there is a touch of the season awaiting  around the corner.

But I am keeping the wheat and the pumpkins  a little bit longer.  I worry that if I get the Christmas decor out too early I will be tired of it long before Christmas Day.

With a few colorful branches on my table, I haven’t jumped ahead too quickly.

 

Do you sneak a few Christmas decor items in before Thanksgiving?  It kind of helps if you can get an early start on things, doesn’t it?

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

Thanksgiving Links: From Roasting the Turkey to Decorating the Table

When you have hosted as many Thanksgiving dinners as I have, it is easy to get stuck in a rut and do the same things you always do.  However, I have found that  a little creative boost helps me get more enthused about the process, the work that is involved in making a memorable day for everyone.   That’s when I sit down at my computer to find inspiration and ideas that spice up my usual dinner.

These two links were so thorough that I didn’t need to go any further.  I hope they help you too!

The New York Times has an entire section of helpful tips for the novice and the experienced cook  here.  From How to Roast a Turkey to How to Plan the Menu, you will find a comprehensive guide for your Thanksgiving meal.  Even though I have hosted Thanksgiving more times than I can count, I  am always interested in new ideas for recipes and tips for making the preparations  go more smoothly.

This article had so many ideas for making your table festive.  From simple to elaborate you will find something you like.

Happy Planning!

Holiday Preparations

For some reason (am I forgetting something??) I have a little free time these days. But I know the pace will pick up so I decided to get some things done to make my holidays more stress-free.

I hate to admit it, but I am terrible about cleaning out my freezer on a regular schedule.   It has become somewhat of a mess with Mr. DB’s peppers taking up a lot of room, along with some random odds and ends I didn’t want to “waste”.  But I have gotten better at putting a date on the items I freeze which makes it easier to identify and toss old food.  I will probably make a vegetable soup this coming week to get rid of the little bits of frozen vegetables lurking around in the corners.  A good wipe down once it is cleaned out and I am ready to do some cooking and freezing!

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