keeping the home | thanksgiving

Setting the scene: We'll be in Ohio with Ryan's family on Thanksgiving this year, so I hosted a little pre-Thanksgiving dinner of my own over the weekend for my side of the family-- partly because I wanted to see if I could actually do it, but mostly because I wanted the comfort of having my mom around on one of my favorite holidays. Prepping for the day took the better part of a week, but just in merry little bits here and there-- buying the turkey, picking up a few more cups to match what I already have, planning the menu, washing the napkins. The air was thick with festivity. I followed Ina's directions and set the whole table the day before, complete with sticky notes in the serving dishes. Linen fabric for a makeshift tablecloth, white dishes, thrifted brass candlesticks, grocery store eucalyptus, and leaves from the backyard. I made the stuffing the day before, nervous that it would turn soggy. (Tragically, it wound up too dry.) My parents arrived with a basket full of pies, and my sisters brought wine and cookies. My mom put her apron on and showed me how to remedy my too-salty gravy. Ryan took drink orders. Ralph and his cousins scattered toys.We sat down to eat and toasted to my sister and her family who live far away. My parents washed the dishes, and my sweet dad put them away in the wrong spots. A fresh pot of coffee was brewed before the pie was served. And when the day was done, a cup of tea, and in bed by nine.

Making this meal: A big, fat turkey soaked in this brine, then rubbed up with butter and herbs. Rosemary and garlic pureed potatoes. Bacon braised brussels sprouts. Stuffing, gravy, buttery corn, rolls. Mom's cranberries. Pie! Whipped cream!!!

Listening to: Sweet, simple, thankful hymns-- because in my mind, that's the closest thing to what the Pilgrims might have enjoyed on their first Thanksgiving. The Little Women soundtrack makes me feel sentimental and happy to be with the ones I love, and long for the ones I love that I can't be with, until it makes me a little too emotional and I cry during the music where Beth dies. On this particular day of the year, I'm happy just listening to "For the Beauty of the Earth" on repeat.

Working on: Dishes. Digestion. Naps. Christmas wish lists. Decking the Halls. Fa la la la la!


recipe | wilted spinach chicken salad

I acquired this recipe the old fashioned way. Remember before the internet, before cooking websites and food blogs and printable recipes, people used to watch cooking shows and write down what the chef was making, teaspoon by teaspoon? My grandma always did that when she would come to visit. In between cooking elaborate meals and shining up my mom's pots with ketchup and salt (that really works, by the way) she'd watch cooking shows. If she liked what she saw, she'd write it all down. Later on we'd find them, little pieces of paper with her cursive scrawl all over, almost always recipes that included vinegar or horseradish or bleu cheese, or something else with robust flavor, because she liked stuff like that.

A few Saturday mornings ago I saw a woman prepare this salad on TV. I wasn't sure of the name of the show, and knew I'd have a hard time tracking it down on the internet, so I grabbed a pen and paper and pulled a Grandma Esther. I wrote as fast as I could and I'm still not sure I copied it down completely correctly, but what I did get works really well. The mellow chicken and spinach leaves are brightened by the sharp vinegar and salty olives-- I've been eating it for lunch all week, and can't get enough. Robust flavor, I bet Grams would like it.

Wilted Spinach Chicken Salad

8 cups julienned spinach leaves
2 1/2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
3 T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup cooked and chopped bacon, optional

1. In a large bowl, add spinach leaves, chicken, and green olives

2. Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and stir until tender. Add diced tomatoes and stir for a minute or two more. Stir in the balsamic and red wine vinegar. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

3. Pour dressing over bowl, and gently toss to combine.


keeping the home | fall time

Setting the scene: Every year in Wisconsin fall blows in with blustery winds that shake all the leaves from the trees and smell like smokey, burning brush. Every year I forget how beautiful it is, until it's here, and everything is orange and gold and rusty red. The air has a bite to it, and I'm ready. I've washed the hats and scarves and put them all in one basket, with fingers crossed that we don't loose any mittens this year. Pumpkins have been scattered around the house, for festivity's sake, and also so I can hear Ralph's tiny voice say punkin over and over. We've been raking and crunching and jumping in leaves, picking one or two to bring inside each day. I throw them back outside when Ralph isn't looking. I'm knitting a green scarf with chunky, speckled yarn, and I'm trying to work in a row or two every night so I can actually wear it before the snow comes. It feels like I'll never finish.

Making this meal: Mexican Chicken Soup, warm and spicy, but not too heavy. Chips and guacamole. Ina's applesauce, warmed and with a dollop of sweet whipped cream for dessert. 

Listening to: Gusty winds blowing outside, leaves skit-scattering across the street, geese honking south. Inside we're playing all the Nickel Creek albums, because banjos and fiddles feel just right in the fall. Christmas music on the sly.

Working on: Improving this house's laundry situation. You know it's bad when your husband can't find his favorite jeans because you actually folded them up and put them away. I'm cleaning out the creepy basement laundry room, folding and ironing and putting away, and easing the pain with episodes of Gilmore Girls while I work.