30 Before 30: Cook an Entire Thanksgiving Day Meal

#22 from my 30 Before 30 list: Cook an entire Thanksgiving Day meal

First course: Butternut squash soup
Main course: Dry-brined turkey with classic herb butter
Side dishes: Mashed potatoes, stuffing, whipped sweet potatoes and bananas with honey, sauteed carrots, green beans, crescent rolls, whole berry cranberry sauce, gravy
Dessert: Caramel apple walnut pie, pumpkin roll

Preparation work began the night before Thanksgiving – removing the neck and giblets (ick) and rubbing the turkey down with salt. Dry brining is a great alternative if you are low on refrigerator space, because it doesn’t require a giant pot full of salt water. The rest of the cooking continued at 8 AM, and though the turkey was ready at 1 PM, the side dishes took until 2 PM. Doing prep work for the side dishes before Thursday would have been helpful. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make either of the desserts, since they were store bought from the local farmers’ market. Our family loves their caramel apple walnut pie!

My mom and sister ended up helping out in the kitchen. They peeled and chopped vegetables while I took care of the soup. They also kept an eye on all the various pots on the stove. Though I’m usually the one responsible for making the mashed potatoes, I guided my sister through the process this year. My dad volunteered to taste test.

I probably won’t wait for next Thanksgiving to make the butternut squash soup again. It was easy to make and really delicious. To make the recipe even easier, you could probably substitute frozen butternut squash for the fresh squash, since it comes pre-cubed or even pre-pureed. For presentation, we added a sprig of fresh dill. The soup could definitely be prepared ahead of time, frozen, and then thawed before serving.

The turkey was a big hit, and there weren’t many leftovers. The skin was crispy, and the meat was juicy. I followed the recipe’s suggestion and saved some of the herbed butter to use in the gravy, which was a good decision. (My mom ended up making the gravy, since I had no idea what to do with the giblets.)

The pecan crumb topping for the sweet potatoes was a favorite, but if I were to make the recipe again, I would definitely roast the sweet potatoes longer. They were a little too… crunchy. The recipe called for “fluffy.”

Overall, I’m pleased with how the meal turned out. It was pretty hectic in the kitchen, so I’m glad I had my mom and sister to help. If I ever have to make this meal again, I will definitely do more prep work the night before or find ways to simplify the recipes. I’d prefer not making the whole meal by myself again, but now I know that if I ever have to make a turkey, I could do it without giving anyone food poisoning.




On Saturday, my mom broke her ankle – ironically while she and my dad were attending their AARP safe driver seminar. When my dad called to let me know what happened, I knew something was wrong from the beginning. The way he said hello, the strange noises and voices in the background, the way he asked me if I were at home. I could hear concern in his voice as he told me about how my mom would be needing surgery and how our family’s plans to be together for Thanksgiving would probably change. A broken ankle doesn’t seem very severe, considering my parents were recently in a car accident that totaled their van – the reason for their safe driver seminar in the first place. It’s just that the phone call with my dad just seemed strangely familiar.

It brought me back to March 27, 2008. I was a junior in college sitting in my dorm room. My mom called, or maybe it was my sister. My mom was to see a specialist – a blood doctor – to look into some of her levels. Hemoglobin. White count.

March 28 – a second call. I could tell in my mom’s voice that something was wrong. The way she said hello, the strange noises in the background. The appointment with the specialist had her going to the hospital for blood transfusions. Leukemia. From the hospital, she would go to the oncology unit at UPenn, where she would spend a month in chemo. It was so difficult being away at school – away from my family – at that time. Nothing felt certain anymore.

Over two years later, my mom continues to be in remission. That month of 24/7 chemo rid her body of cancer, and for that, our family is extremely grateful. Considering what my mom has been through over the past few years, a broken ankle seems like nothing. Those phone calls, though – they just trigger feelings of helplessness, uncertainty, fear. However, if I learned anything in 2008, it is that there is no need for fear – only faith and hope.