This year, we took an early Thanksgiving meal down to Pinehurst. My mom made some of the food, and I made some of the food, and we all ate in Uncle Ray’s room at the nursing home. One of the many wonderful staff people there brought in a card table from the activities room so we wouldn’t have to serve from the bed, and we all enjoyed a rather festive and tasty time.
Norman Rockwell never painted a Thanksgiving scene like that. And none of us balancing a plate on our knees as we perched on the foam mattress or one of the walkers or wheelchairs would’ve believed that image if someone had mentioned it to us just three years ago. Time does Things to people and to families. It flows through us and around us and changes us. It smooths out rough edges through erosion. Erosion which seems to happen more quickly the older one gets. It leaves us breathless. It makes us more accepting. It requires that we cherish every moment. Because time doesn’t stop, even as we, one by one, fall out of its stream.
Our family meals—the Holiday ones anyway—were always rather formal affairs. There was plenty of laughter and conversation and gravy boats dropped in centerpieces, but there was also candlelight and fine china and polished silver and white tablecloths. There were forgotten bags of giblets left in 26-pound turkeys and stories where everyone broke something one year, but there was also prayer and ritual and nice clothes. There was always room for one more at the table, but nobody ever ate until the hostess was seated.*
So, since we had enjoyed A Very Happy Nursing Home Thanksgiving on Saturday, the name of the game for our meal on Thursday was “relaxed.” I didn’t want a bajillion serving bowls. I didn’t want to have to count out serving spoons. What I wanted was comfort. And having just made the pot pie a couple of weeks ago, I figured that Something Similar would definitely fit the bill for Thanksgiving.
Here’s what I like to eat at Thanksgiving: beige stuff. Potatoes. Stuffing. Gravy. Turkey. In that order. But, to keep dinner from looking too monochromatic and institutional, I also tossed in some sweet peas, diced sweet potatoes and a big old handful of Craisins. The beige parts played the part of the bottom crust (stuffing), top crust (mashed potatoes), and the rest of the filling (turkey chunks and gravy). Although we used chicken. But you can use turkey.
- About 2½-3 cups of stuffing/dressing made from the recipe of your choice (leftover is just fine)
- About ½ cup turkey or chicken broth/stock
- 2 each medium Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes (you can use all of one or the other, I’m just letting you know what I did).
- salt and pepper, to taste
- about 2 ounces butter
- about 1 cup warmed milk (maybe a bit more. I just put it in a pan over medium heat until it was hot but not scalding)
- 3 Tablespoons fat (you can use oil, butter, coconut oil, chicken fat–whatever you like here)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 large rib celery, finely diced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 1-1½ cups chicken or turkey stock
- sweet potatoes in ½” dice. (I used about ½ cup or so, I guess)
- 2-3 cups diced chicken or turkey (leftover is fine. If you’re making “new,” the meat doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through since it’ll bake up in the pie)
- 1 cup frozen peas
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- If you’re using cold, leftover stuffing, cut it into kind of manageable 1″ chunks.
- Put in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add ¼ cup of stock and pulse until it still has some texture but isn’t too chunky.
- Test to see if it is still crumbly. If it is, add the other ¼ cup of stock and pulse again.This stuff will be sticky, so look out.
- Spray a deep-dish pie pan lightly with pan spray.
- Dump the stuffing into the pan and roughly press it out with the back of a spatula. Lightly spray this with pan spray so you can work with it, then press the stuffing in the pan and up the sides trying to make it look as nice as possible. It should be about ¼” thick.
- Bake in a 350F oven for about 30 minutes, until the crust is dry on top and has taken on some color. If any of it has slumped, you may have to futz around with it a bit once it comes out of the oven. Just press it back in place with a spatula or something. It will be fine. Set aside.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into 1″ dice (more or less) and place them in a pan of cold water.
- Add a healthy sprinkle of salt and several grinds of black pepper to the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let the potatoes simmer about 12 minutes until tender. Check by stabbing them with a knife. They should offer no resistance. Resistance if futile.
- Drain off all the water, put the lid on the pan and let the potatoes dry over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.
- Mash the potatoes with your favorite masher.
- Add a bit of salt and pepper and the butter and mash well to combine.
- Taste for seasoning and add the milk, a bit at a time, until you like the consistency. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Cover and set aside to stay warm.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium heat until hot.
- Add the fat. When it is melted and shimmering, add the onions, carrots and celery (mirepoix) to the pan along with a heavy pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the poultry seasoning.
- Stir and saute for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are softened and somewhat translucent.
- Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes or so. The mixture will seem very dry. If you want to add a bit more fat, you can. It’s your call.
- Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. The mixture will be quite thick. You can add a bit more stock if you want, if you want your final pie to have a bit more gravy in it. Personally, I think thicker is better.
- Add in the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring, for about 5-7 minutes, just to give them a head start since they’re kinda hard.
- Stir in the peas and cranberries and stir everyone around for a minute.
- Spread the filling evenly in your stuffing crust.
- Top with the mashed potatoes, making it swirly if you want.
- Tent the pie with foil and bake at 400F for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and bake for 30 minutes more at 375F.
- Take the pie out of the oven, tent with some foil, and let set up about 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.
My stuffing, if you’re interested, contained cubed stale Italian bread, onion/celery/carrot (cut up itty bitty in the food processor and sauteed in a boatload of butter), mild pork sausage, dried cranberries, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, stock and an egg.
Anyway, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving in whatever form it took this year.
How have your holiday traditions changed over the years?
Thank you for reading, and have a lovely day.
*I like that rule, by the way. So if you eat here, please follow It.