The Unexpected for Thanksgiving

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my mom fell down the stairs and broke her hip. She's been in a rehab hospital for a little over a week.

My brother and his wife drove in immediately from their home in Colorado and they were able to take care of some things for my parents while I continued to teach my classes. Canceling classes wasn't an option for me, so I couldn't be off work. Fortunately, we did not have classes on November 26 so I was able to get up (very early), take care of things at my house, and get on the road to the Shoals to meet with the case manager to discuss Mom's recovery and what she needed to return home upon discharge.

Since I love to cook, I assumed the role of family “chef” to prepare the Thanksgiving meal. Mom got a 4-hour pass to come home for some family time on Thanksgiving Day and Chip drove over to pick her up shortly after 11 a.m.

Despite the tumult that comes with a life-altering event, we had a great family Thanksgiving.

Although I'm always optimistic, I also knew that we have no assurance that most of our family could or would be together again for a future Thanksgiving and I wanted to make the meal special.

I wrote the rest of this post on the evening of November 27, from the kitchen in my parents' home. The house was quiet. My brother and nephew had taken mom back to the rehab hospital and were doing a bit of Christmas shopping. My sister-in-law and niece had gone to Tuscaloosa to visit other family. My dad was watching TV in the bedroom.

When I was writing in my journal, it was just me and a quiet house. Although the past two days had been long and busy, I had a sense of calmness I hadn't felt in a while.

I wanted to add my thoughts here, and decided to back-date the post to the time I wrote the handwritten journal entry just to keep things in the right sequence.

The Preparations

For health reasons, I prepare most meals from scratch and I buy the highest quality ingredients I can find and afford. I had hoped to get a local, pastured heritage turkey but the only supplier I could identify had already sold out.

I spent some time the Sunday and Monday before Thanksgiving checking out turkey and ham options at various grocery stories. On Tuesday, I stopped by Whole Foods on the way home from work and bought a fresh (not frozen) USDA certified organic turkey breast (the kind with bone-in, including back and wings) and a local Level 5+ wood-smoked ham. I was thrilled to get these two healthier options for meat because I won't eat meat or poultry from animals treated with antibiotics. My preference is very much for grass-fed, free-range, etc. These two choices were as close to that as I could find, under all the circumstances. I also picked up the remaining fresh produce I needed for the various dishes I would prepare.

I was exceptionally tired Tuesday night, so after making sure I had a few bags of groceries packed with the staples and non-refrigerated ingredients, I went to bed early.

I got up at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning. I woke up shortly after 2 and really never went to sleep. So at 4 I got up and baked the corn bread I needed to make the chicken and dressing.  I used organic cornmeal from McEwen & Son.

In addition to baking, I washed some clothes, finished loading my car and took care of several matters I needed to deal with before leaving my house for a few days.

I left Birmingham at 11 a.m. to make it to the rehab hospital in time  for a 2 p.m. meeting with Mom's case manager. I stopped by my parents' house to drop off the refrigerated items I had in a cooler and made it to the hospital just before 2. The meeting went well.

My drivers license was due to expire the next day, so I drove from the hospital to the Colbert County Health Department to pick up a certified copy of my birth certificate so I could get the Star ID. From there, I drove to the Alabama State Trooper's office in Sheffield and took care of the renewal just before they closed at 4 p.m. and returned to mom's hospital room to pick up some items she wanted me to take home.

When I left the hospital, I stopped by Aldi to pick a few more items we needed, then to Long Lewis Ford to have my tires rotated. Last stop was a local grocery store for a few more items I couldn't get at Aldi.

I made it back to my parents' house a little after 6 p.m. I was tired and extremely hungry because I hadn't eaten since 10 a.m. My “breakfast/lunch” had been a piece of baked fish and leftover roasted vegetables from the night before. Fortunately, that meal and a banana had kept me fueled pretty well.

My brother helped me unload my car and then I sautéed some Italian sausage for my nephew and me, which we ate with the Tromboncino squash relish I'd canned in September. Davis loved it so much, I made a second sausage for him after we'd eaten the first two.

Around 7, feeling properly nourished, I set about baking a pie pumpkin I'd bought from a local farmer at Pepper Place Market. I planned to use the pumpkin to make two pies and a batch of Down East Maine Pumpkin Bread.

Once the pumpkin was finished, I toasted the pumpkin seeds for us to enjoy as a snack.

By 9:30 p.m., I was pretty exhausted and ready to call it a night. I opted to sleep on the couch in the living room so I could get up early Thursday morning and start cooking without disturbing anyone.

As I fell asleep, I mentally created my plan of action for the next morning. We had arranged for mom to be home during midday, so we needed to eat around 12:30 to 1 p.m. and that meant I needed to have everything cooking in the right order.

  • Start with baking the pumpkin bread and muffins, to provide a light breakfast snack for anyone who wanted something early.
  • Then make the pumpkin pies, which could cook at the same temperature as I would need to properly reheat the ham (which was already cooked).
  • Add the ham to the oven while the pies were baking.
  • While the hame and pies were baking, make and knead the dough for herbed whole wheat rolls that I always make for Thanksgiving, so those could rise.
  • Put in the turkey breast around 9 a.m. to be finished by noon.
  • Make the dressing.
  • Prepare the various vegetable dishes.

I woke up just before dawn and lay on the sofa, thinking through my plan. I got up at 5:50 a.m., put on the coffee, and started implementing the plan.

The Menu

  • Organic Turkey Breast
  • Southern Smoked Ham
  • Cornbread Dressing (with a bit of chicken)
  • Roasted Parsnips, Delicata Squash, Sweet Potatoes and Acorn Squash
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Broccoli Salad
  • Stewed Apples
  • Whole Wheat Herb Rolls
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Pumpkin Pie

My preparations went like clock-work. Everything worked out perfectly. I worked alone in the kitchen from 6 until 9-ish, when my dad and brother drifted in and others started to wake up. It helped that no one was in the kitchen to disturb me during those early hours. I was very focused and in-the-moment. And thoroughly enjoying myself.

I love to cook and I love strategic planning so the logistics of making sure everything was finished on time in the right sequence was actually fun for me.

I had great help from my sister-in-law who washed and peeled the apples (grown in their yard in Colorado) and then washed and peeled the sweet potatoes and other vegetables for roasting. And my niece took care of washing and cutting the broccoli for the salad.

As scheduled, I had the turkey in the oven at 9 a.m. and the dressing in the crockpot by 10 a.m. At that point, I left the kitchen to shower and dress while my sister-in-law and niece took over to take care of getting the vegetables ready.

Chip left around 11 to pick up mom at the hospital and they returned shortly before noon. It took a bit of planning to get her up the back stairs in the wheel chair and into the house. But they were inside just before noon.

The Meal

I took the turkey out at 12:15 p.m. It appeared to be cooked perfectly. At that point, we were just waiting on the roasted vegetables to finish up. I put the rolls in around 12:25 and we were ready to eat within 10 minutes.

We enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast in the dining room. That gave us plenty of room and made it special.

Mom raved about all the great food and we all enjoyed good conversation and fellowship.

I think it might have been our best Thanksgiving in years, notwithstanding the uncertainty we face with mom's hip and the long recovery ahead.

I am grateful that the injury brought us all together. It was certainly unexpected and it breaks my heart that mom has to deal with the injury, but we are truly blessed to have each other and the chance to be together as a family.

I'll add some pictures later.

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