November in Alabama brings beautiful scenery as leaves change color, and it is my favorite time of year. The first bit of relief from the heat of central Alabama is always welcome! Halloween is usually our first really chilly night in Alabama, and November gets cool every day. Jackets, corduroy pants, flannel shirts, and blankets are brought out in November to protect us from the cold. When we had a fireplace, November would be the month to begin building fires every morning so the children could warm themselves before catching the school bus in the cold.
We love to hike in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains – especially during this season. The fall leaves are beautiful, the chilly temperatures ward off many insects, and snakes are usually nowhere to be seen. Flannel shirts, blue jeans, hiking boots, and a Thermos full of warm coffee or hot chocolate all make me want to tromp through the woods and see the sights.
Thanksgiving Day with Babies at HOME
When the oldest children were babies, we always had to wake up, get dressed, and go somewhere for Thanksgiving Day. That made for a stressful morning, getting everyone awake, fed, dressed, and packed into the car by 10am to make it to my parent’s house or his by lunchtime. We talked about it before our third baby came along and decided – with her arrival – we would begin our own Thanksgiving traditions at home on Thanksgiving Day. We could travel on the other days of the holiday weekend, but Thanksgiving would be spent at our home – at least until the children were bigger. This was tough for our parents to accept, but they understood, and began to enjoy not having to prepare for a big meal at their homes.
When the children were little, our tradition was to have cinnamon rolls ready and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our PJs. We would start the turkey around 9am, and the children would get dressed and begin playing while Monty and I worked all the kitchen magic for the big feast. Parents and family members would always be invited, and we’d have the festivities begin around 1 or 2pm. It was relaxed and wonderful. More about that later.
Choosing a Day to Celebrate with Extended Family
As the children got older, it was easier to get them ready and going, and we could be more flexible on Thanksgiving Day. I have three brothers, each with wives, offspring, and grandchildren. We use all four days of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to celebrate, not just Thursday. With very large families, we don’t rely on getting together on the actual holiday. A month or so before, my brothers and I choose a day to celebrate with our different families. Owens family – my side – will have our Thanksgiving on Friday and the Montalbano side will be on Thursday or Saturday, for example. Sometimes we get together with friends on Saturday and/or Sunday, too. If we have multiple days of traditional feasts to attend, we’ll do some kind of alternative meal – like appetizers and sliders or tacos or something. Once, I talked my sister-in-law into making Sukiyaki for Thanksgiving, and everyone LOVED it! She had learned to make it just like Mom’s, and she also made fantastic egg rolls.
The Thanksgiving Feast
There’s much thankfulness at all these feasts – and a little football, a few hunting stories, and (hopefully) zero politics or religion discussed. Regardless of our origins in the same gene pool, my siblings and I have many differences in our life choices. Holidays are a time to celebrate things we have in common – that bind us together as a family – not nitpick or harp on each other because of differences. Both Mom and Dad have passed away, so we don’t get together to please them. We must choose – as mature adults – to be together as a family, so I’m glad we still do. On my side, there can be 20 – 25 people present – Monty and I, 3 siblings, 3 in-laws, 4+2+2+4 offspring, 4 grandchildren, plus any special friends. We have a main table for 10, a children’s table for 4, and other tables for the remainder. The back porch is for smokers and the family room with TV is for football fans.
When we host, I use my mother’s Noritake china bought for her by Uncle Allen in occupied Japan after WWII. I also put out the Waterford Crystal goblets she bought while Dad was stationed in Scotland. Having her prized treasures out on the table – just like she did – is a lovely way to honor her and a precious way for my brothers and me to relive Mom’s holiday table. I use pretty tablecloths, cloth napkins, real silver, and fresh cut flowers on the tables.
Here in Hawaii, our holiday table has the six of us (five now with Jess away at college), plus my niece and her husband, and any friends we’ve invited to share Thanksgiving with us. I love sharing our family traditions with others – especially those who aren’t Southern. Southerners go all out with appetizers, multiple main courses, and so many casseroles at Thanksgiving! OH, and the dessert table is completely decadent.
We changed our morning routine for the holiday: we once served cinnamon rolls during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but now we have a brunch. I serve a grits casserole and mimosas now. We don’t enjoy the pleasure of grits frequently here in Hawaii, but they are available. I found a recipe by Guy Fiere – Roasted Garlic Jalapeno Cheese Grits – and it is now a favorite treat. It is completely decadent and rich in flavor, and it reminds us of home in Alabama – with a gourmet twist.
Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts are the same: Turkey or Ham as the main entrée (sometimes both), stuffing and cornbread dressing (for the Yankees and the Southerners), cranberry sauce (fresh and canned), sweet potato soufflé, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Each year, I’ll sit down with the children and say, “ok – what do you want for the Thanksgiving feast?” They’ll each call out their favorites, and sometimes add something new!
The appetizer trays are VERY important for the feast. We invite people to arrive at lunchtime, but we don’t usually eat until 3-4pm. The star of the appetizer show is a pickle tray (which I found out is totally a Southern thing) with dill spears, bread-and-butter slices, gherkins, and Wickles Wickedly Hot (and sweet) pickles with two types of olives on a beautiful serving tray. (If you can’t get Wickles at your local store, order them from Amazon.com – link below.) Then, there’s a cheese tray with multiple types of cheese, each sliced in a distinctive way and arranged to support a center area brimming with one or two types of grapes. Surrounding the cheese and grapes is a variety of crackers. The other MANDATORY appetizer tray is the veggies and dip tray for guilt-free grazing. Guests bring other appetizers, and sometimes the children ask for variety – but pickle tray, cheese and crackers with grapes, and veggies and dip are mandatory.
Southern feasts are always served with water and sweet tea, and there’s always a pot of coffee. I serve a variety of creamers and a few liquors beside the coffee pot. We added wine to our beverage offerings after Mom and Dad passed away (they never allowed that), and found we all got along MUCH better if wine was available.
Desserts include pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, pound cake, and sometimes cookies – plus whatever our guests bring. I make sure there’s plenty of whipped cream for those desserts, too.
We always have flowers on the table, but I don’t usually put out a wreath or other décor.
After the Feasting . . .
Leftovers aren’t a burden to us; they are a BLESSING! The leftovers are really important, because when you spend as much money on a feast as we do, you want to get lots of meals out of it. Here’s how we extend the feasting and the fun. The turkey is “processed” for many uses; slices for meals, strips for slider sandwiches, and chunks for casseroles. The carcass of the bird is boiled in a stock pot with onions, celery tops and bottoms, carrots, and spices to make broth. If I’m too tired to bother, I put the carcass into a freezer bag to boil later. Veggies from the veggie tray are bagged up and stored in the fridge to be used in a stir fry or Thai dish. Cheese from the cheese tray are bagged up for use in sandwiches or soups. Remaining leftovers are put away in sealable containers. Extra rolls will be used to make sliders in the next day or two.
Here’s a quick list of ideas for leftovers.
- Turkey, broccoli, and rice casserole with cream of mushroom soup and cheese
- Turkey and Swiss cheese sliders with fancy mustard
- Turkey and noodle soup with lots of carrots, onion, and celery.
- Turkey panang curry with onions, peppers, carrots, and green beans over rice
- Cranberry bars (dessert) using cranberry sauce
- Potato soup using mashed potatoes – add ham chunks if you have them
Putting up the Christmas Tree
If you use an artificial tree, Thanksgiving weekend is a great time to put up the tree and have the family around to decorate! We do this in Hawaii, because real trees are expensive and don’t last long at all. We put on Christmas music, bake sugar cookies, and decorate the tree. Sometimes we craft new ornaments!
I’ll talk more about getting a real Christmas tree in our December Traditions page. Check it out!