Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Simple Thanksgiving Menu Planning

In just over a week, we here in America settle into our annual traditions of giving thanks. Not just with words but also with food and fellowship and FLARE. As I mentioned LAST WEEK, I know many may not have the privilege of their 'usual' Thanksgiving festivities or guest list due to lock-downs this year. I am deeply sorry for each one of you whom this applies to. In my Simple Thankful Celebrations post a week ago, I shared how startling it was for me to celebrate holidays alone when I first moved almost 2000 miles away from my childhood home and family and while lock-downs are not exactly the same, the sentiment still rings true. Holidays outside of the "usual" require some imagination and flexibility which can be difficult when we miss our loved ones oh so much. Rest assured, though, God does have a way of filling those voids with something else just as wonderful.

Perhaps, in the midst of all this chaos, you lost your oomf to make Thanksgiving happen, but I am here to tell you - it is not too late. As a matter of fact, if you have suddenly found yourself at a loss for where to begin and how to re-tool the holiday.... or if you just need some direction and inspiration... pop over and read my Simple Thankful Celebrations post from last week and then visit below to see how I setup all the good eats for a comparatively quiet gathering in my home each year.

Let's get this party started!!!!

1. Plan to Assess 

As my kids got older and our guest list grew shorter through moves and seasons of life, we had to admit that the usual explosive buffet needed some downsizing. So much food seemed to be wasted when other bodies were not around to help consume it all. I wanted to be more efficient and certainly more budget conscious as we cooked up Thanksgiving. 

However, I didn't want to make all the cuts and then have someone complain about their 'favorite' dish missing. So, I decided to poll everyone on what they loved most about our Thanksgiving spread. At first I took oral requests but as the kids grew older I had the wild idea to put a "survey" together. We all gathered around the kitchen table as they each filled out individual "surveys" listed with all food we had enjoyed at Thanksgiving past, present and even a few I was considering for the near future. As they browsed the list I took notes while picking their brains on traditions they were passionate about keeping... and new ones they were interested in trying. I wanted to keep the thread of tradition strong while also intertwining elements uniquely us and our situation.

The results were wonderful, some of which is reflected in last week's article. The evening movie to kick off the Christmas season, dressing up to honor the special day, everyone helping cook... all were rooted in this meeting/survey session and has stepped our Thanksgiving game up a notch from being just another day with a bunch of food.... to a special day we share as a family.

If you would like to try this with your family, a free downloadable pdf can be found here. The "Dish" spots are blank so you can fill your own usuals in, make copies and begin taking note. Directions are included:

 

2. Plan to Get Organized

I'm a binder, clipboard, planner gal. For all big (and especially repetitive) occasions that require planning I keep a well curated binder. 

My Fall binder comes out in September and is not tucked away until after reflective notes are added post-Thanksgiving dinner. It holds recipes, previous autumn celebrations notes, thanksgiving menu plans, craft and table setting ideas, and memories. As Thanksgiving approaches I review notes from previous years and consider what will apply to this year as I begin to implement.

A family fave I got tired of hunting down every November so I pulled it out of the magazine it was in and popped it into my binder.


Inspiration

20 year old menu




This was the November I was pregnant with Brooke, you can see how many weeks along I was on each Friday, and the scheduled Baby Shower. This November was hard though, I lost my mom on October 28th that year and spent the first 2 weeks of this month in Chicago for her funeral. We laid her to rest on the 1st... but she lives on in Heaven and in my heart as she was the one who ignited the fire of holiday passion in me ❤

Notes and tips for the next year on the back of a menu page.

Memories ❤

I know most people don't have a binder packed full of 20+ years of Thanksgiving organization, so lets start from the beginning....you can print out the FREE planner pages at the end of this article and clip the ones you find most useful to a clipboard or hole-punch into a starter binder. You can also simply grab a spiral notebook for making notes in. With big events like a holiday dinner, unless you have a fabulous reliable memory (I don't) you'll want a way to track details. 

If you keep a bullet journal, portion off a section for this cause. Be creative, have fun... think of planning as an expedition! You'll want sections for 

  • Calendar/day tracking (even and especially with only a week to go)
  • Menu planning
  • Grocery list making
  • Recipe collecting
  • Craft and activity idea listing
  • General to-doing and alternate list making

What does all this have to do with Menu prep? Well, a lot actually.  Coordinating cook-ahead dishes with other miscellaneous prep-work will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed or over-scheduled.

3. Menu Plan

Now that you have an idea of what everyone would like/not like to have for Thanksgiving and your supplies are together, it's time for the meat and potatoes.... litterally!

What foods have you determined as "musts" for your special day? Begin to list out your menu plan. I've always divided mine into Appetizers, Main/Meat, Sides, Desserts, Beverages. It makes it easier to see and process lest I end up shorting one category or another! The Planner Packet included in this post includes a page like the one below:

Once you determine dishes, check recipes and consider each ingredient. What do you have and what do you need from the store? Make a list as you go so you don't forget anything. Again, the printable menu worksheet in my packet has an area for listing out groceries needed. If multiple dishes need the same ingredient (like butter or cream cheese, etc) write it once and tally mark next to it for each additional requirement.

4. Plan to Cook

Word to the wise: DO NOT cook EVERYTHING ON Thanksgiving. You won't be a happy camper... nor will anyone you live with!!! My packet has a page for this as well, but seeing how we are down to the wire, I will share a special extra with you:

This one is great for a clipboard and keeping track. Here is how mine looks so far (I just started filling it out today!!)

I usually start getting this page together at the beginning of November. Now that there are less of us and less food, I'm Ok funneling everything into the last 2 weeks. I use this alongside my Thanksgiving menu and begin to ask, What can I make ahead. If you check Pinterest or many homemaking and cooking magazines you will find a treasure trove of tips and tricks to spread the cooking out. I'm not a big fan of pre-made rolls, gravy or turkey (that's just me) but I do make ahead certain baked goods that will keep.

We usually do an assortment of sweet bread for Thanksgiving morning breakfast. I'm working on that every-other-day this week. I make a BUNCH and froze because some of it will be shared with neighbors at Christmastime as well!

I like to make my pies the day before. While I have pie crust going I just knock them all out, cooking the cooler baking one first and the warmer one last. With just us, we usually have pumpkin and a crisp. (this year I am doing Apple Cranberry Crisp)

Jellos and cheese balls are also a day-before task requiring a process which includes setting up overnight. 

We opted for a new tradition a few years ago: Christmas Fudge! Like Santa capping off the Macy's parade and ushering in our favorite season, fudge is the special treat and hail to Christmastime now officially arrived. It can be made anytime before Thanksgiving, we are going to work on it Monday.

Veggies (not potatoes) are usually cut the day before as well along with cheese and sausage. Bagged up it will keep just fine in the fridge until we are ready to serve on Thanksgiving.

Biggest tip: BE REALISTIC. Consider the amount of time and prep-work each dish will take and don't over-schedule. Invite all hands on deck with certain tasks as well! 

In the schedule you see above, I break Thanksgiving down into time blocks. I'm buying my turkey today and once I see how big the bird is, I can begin filling this spot in. (Size of turkey x minutes per pound to cook = total cook time). I will consider what time we want to eat and walk roasting back, planning to pull old Tom out about 45 minutes before we are ready to serve him. This leaves ample time to bake up things like the Green Bean Casserole.

As you consider prep time for day-of, work the side dishes into your schedule as well. Think prep and cooking and how to maintain dish warmth so the whole meal is toasty warm when plated. Some examples:

  • Casserole takes about 10 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to bake. Turkey comes out at 1pm, start working on casserole at 12:30, set aside and pop in as soon as turkey exits oven.
  • Potatoes take about 30 minutes to prep, 15-20 minutes to boil, 5 minutes to mash. To serve hot, begin around 12:45. (incidentally, 2 tips I have learned: peal potatoes early and soak in water so they don't brown. It saves a last-minute potato peeling craze when dinner is on approach. When ready to cook, drain and rinse and place in pot of fresh water to cook. Alternately, make mashed potatoes earlier in the day and placed finished product in a slow cooker on low to stay warm until dinner. No last minute hassle at all!

I could continue with examples but, for now, I hope this makes sense. The last hour before dinner IS a juggling act but it is one you can manage quite confidently with a clear plan (and especially if you have a little help) and multi-tasking.

5. Plan To Be Ready and Have Fun!

Inside of my planning I begin to fit other tasks around the food. 

  • Getting tablecloths out and ironed
  • Managing place settings
  • Plotting buffet arrangement
  • Collecting serving platters and making sure they are clean
  • Tidying the house, even if it's just us
  • Having supplies gathered for games or crafts

I will take each of these tasks and others, including regular daily to-dos, and filter them in where they can work and, again, not be overwhelming.

***

Just because Thanksgiving may be different this year, doesn't mean it should be forgotten. Keep it special, however small or big your feast is. This celebration is a bright light preparing our hearts with gratitude and a deeper appreciation of our Heavenly Father. This preparation makes those twinkling lights brighter as the Christmas season approaches and we shift our focus to the greatest blessing of all ❤

***

If you have any questions or tips to add, drop me a message in the comments section below! Here is the printable planner packet, click image to open the FREE pdf:

And a little something extra:

 

******************

Blessings for this Thanksgiving season!




 







 
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*Are you subscribed to my newsletter?  You might want to be.  Why?  Well, the newsletter contains bonus material you won't find on the website... not to mention, in those busy months when I can't get regular blog articles up, you can count on this periodical popping up in your email in-box with all new content!  What exactly does the newsletter contain?
  • Encouraging articles
  • Free printables under different themes each month
  • Insider info on the latest goings-ons with all things on my blog, writing relate, and a bit of 'behind the scenes'
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Monday, November 16, 2020

Menu Monday 11/16/20 Hope for Holidays

 

As the end of the week approached, headlines began to broadcast: THANKSGIVING IS CANCELLED, or at least that is the summed up version. Cities, and some states, country-wide are cancelling or limiting what families are "allowed" to do with the Thanksgiving holiday on fast approach. It is heartbreaking.

I don't want to get into the political debate on the issue here... I know everyone will have their own persuasion on the matter. What I will say is this: don't let mandates and orders steel your joy. You may find yourself modifying your Thanksgiving menu this week in preparation for next week's big day. But before you do anything drastic, may I recommend my article from this past Wednesday, "Simple Thankful Celebrations", it shares my experiences with trimmed-down holiday fare and makes recommendations for keeping Thanksgiving special. The executive summary: you can still make Thanksgiving (and other holidays) memorable even inside of guest list changes. Focus on Thankful and let the giving, fall into place!

So, go ahead, hop over to the link in text above and check that article out. There are also FREE pdf printables for you to download and use as you prep for the holiday.

This Past Week

After trying to add desserts into various nights during our week, my plans failed! We did manage the Apple Cobbler, which was DELICIOUS, but also not so healthy! 3 out of 6 of us are trying to be mindful of our sugars and calories so no mid-week dessert made it to the table. I did, however, keep something sweet and fun on the menu for Friday since once in a while isn't as bad as 3 nights a week with added leftovers of sugary goodness!!

Another wrench in our menu plans was tummy trouble. MIL was having stomach issues this past week. I don't know how much was nerves because of various doctor's appointments and how much was....? But hubby picked up tummy trouble halfway through the week as well so it may be a bug... or a health problem popping up. Not sure which. So meals were adjusted as we went and, this coming week, I am planning a more bland menu. #midlife

This past week I also did a deep clean on my stove to prep for all the holiday baking. If yours gets as messy as mine, I highly recommend a pre-baking season clean to avoid excess smoke or potential oven/stove top fires. 

 

I also scrubbed down my kitchen sink, which may seem like a bland point to bring up but my sink is an old cast-iron one and requires special attention to look nice. I videoed the process and am going to "try" to upload to Instagram for a weekly thread I am considering: Messy Mondays! I've felt inspired lately to share PROCESS and some of the not-always-seen imperfections of life as we cook and clean and live. If you are interested, come give me a follow on Instagram (if you don't already!)

Now, on with what we cooked up this past week....

___________________________________________________

Sunday  

Breakfast:  *Eggs and Turkey Sausage

Lunch:  Potato Soup

Dinner:  Havarti and Spinach Stuffed Chicken with *Baked Potato and Green Beans (was going to serve this with Quinoa but went a more traditional route) Week 2 of a Sunday Dessert was this Apple Cobbler recipe (only, I used 7 cups of my apple tree apples in place of their recommendations)


 

The Stuffed Chicken was a recipe I invented based on magazine inspirations. I made a promise on IG that I would share details today so here goes:


Need:
Chicken Breast, filleted and tenderized (pounded flat)
Fresh Spinach
1 pkg Havarti Cheese
butter softened or even melted
olive oil
Dried herbs: basil, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley
toothpicks

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 13x9 baking dish. 

I started by pouring approx 1/3 cup oil into a medium sized metal mixing bowl and stirring it together with approx 1/8 - 1/4 cup butter. Then I mixed in approx 1 tsp each parsley, garlic and onion with about 2 tsp basil (I didn't measure exactly on any of this but did it to what seemed appropriate to our taste). Once this was mixed, I set it aside. I had halved/filleted and pounded 6 chicken breasts which came to about 12 pieces of chicken but I only used 8 of these. I laid the Chicken flat, lined a rough double-layer of spinach leaves and a single slice of Havarti on top. Then I rolled it up in a sort of tri-fold manner and secured it shut with a toothpick. After it was ready, I dredged it through the oil and herb mixture and set in baking dish folded side up, leaving space between each chicken roll. Finally, once all pieces were prepped, I popped it into the oven for about 35-40 minutes, I removed them when they were just starting to tan a bit on top.

This is our new favorite way to have chicken!!! So moist and full of flavor! If I was to do one thing different, I might include some pesto either on the outside or inside. Because the chicken is so thin from being pounded out, you really don't need to worry about under-cooking it either.

 Monday   

Breakfast:  Eggs and Turkey Sausage

Lunch:  Leftover Potato Soup (had planned BLT)

Dinner:  Steak, Herb Roasted Carrots, Green Beans, Garden Salad and a hearty slice of Fresh Bread

Tuesday   

Breakfast: Breakfast Bowls (Scrambled Eggs, Sausage, Cheese)

Lunch:  *BLT and Chips (in place of planned grilled cheese)

Dinner: Stir-fry Chicken

Wednesday   

Breakfast:  Breakfast Smoothie and I *tried my hand at mini bite-sized pancakes per Brooke's request. They were cute and tasty! (I should have taken a picture!!)

Lunch:  Grocery Store Chicken Strips and Chips (had hoped to offer Leftover Stir Fry but I didn't have enough)

Dinner:  Stuffed Shells, Side Salad and French Bread

note: I doubled the cheese stuffing recipe and it would have been great, except, it was lacking substance. It made twice as much as we could eat so I lined a freezable baking pan with the leftovers and tucked them away. When I bring them back out I plan to sprinkle the top with Italian seasoned meat and possibly some spinach.

Thursday  

Breakfast: Breakfast Bowls

Lunch:  *Baked Potato (I wanted to have leftovers but dinner ended up upsetting hubby's stomach so I packed it away pending modification)

Dinner:  Pot Roast and Veggies

I tried using my Pressure Cooker, again, and it failed, again, to make the perfect Pot Roast despite using a good cut of meat and following the directions. We ended up having to slice the roast and pan fry to cook the center which was still VERY raw. Honestly, it did NOT taste that great and I am officially swearing off Insta-Roasts! I already have a GREAT oven roasting recipe I need to stick with.

Friday   

Breakfast: Eggs and Sausage

Lunch:  Pot Roast Stew for some, *Baked Potato again for others

 

The one good thing with the roast was making leftover stew. I cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and threw them in a small pot with the leftover gravy and veggies to produce creamy goodness!

Dinner:  Shredded Chicken Tacos in the slow cooker and Homemade Brownies for Dessert

Saturday   

Breakfast:  *Eggs and Sausage (planned Breakfast smoothie)

Lunch:  Leftovers

Dinner:  Burgers and Chips

___________________________________________________

So that was my week in the kitchen... what does yours look like? Is your Thanksgiving due to be altered on account of local policies? Are you planning for the big day yet?

This passage has been encouraging me to not give up on doing good and plugging ahead for others this week. Do you have a verse spurring you on right now?

Happy cooking and prayers hope in the holidays!




 ___________________________________________________
 
*** Why the asterisks? ***
Planning ahead with menus is always a good idea. It helps to stay on budget and balanced in diet... but lets be real, not every day goes as beautifully planned. I know, when I was a young wife, I found menus fascinating but was also often quickly discouraged by how hard it was to stay-on task. As I collected kids and schedules and all those unexpected demands on my time, I learned how to juggle. I like to alternate meats, spice levels and the nutritional balance from meal-to-meal and day-to-day. I also like to try 1-2 new recipes each week, though some weeks are all old favorites! I hope, seeing not just what we ate, but also how it changed, encourages you to menu plan and give yourself grace and flexibility to change it up a bit when needed! 
 ___________________________________________________

 

 
For an old article on one way I've done menu planning (free printables included) you can visit:

Menu Monday: Menu-Making Edition!






 
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*Are you subscribed to my newsletter?  You might want to be.  Why?  Well, the newsletter contains bonus material you won't find on the website... not to mention, in those busy months when I can't get regular blog articles up, you can count on this periodical popping up in your email in-box each month with all new content!  What exactly does the newsletter contain?
  • Encouraging articles
  • Free printables under different themes each month
  • Insider info on the latest goings-ons with all things on my blog and writing related
You won't find all this great bonus material on the blog so be sure to sign up so you don't miss out!  It's Ok, hop over real quick, right there to your right, see it on my sidebar where it says, "Subscribe to my Newsletter" with a  picture of the "Faith and Home Times" logo above it?  Ok, now enter your email in the box labeled "email address" then click "Subscribe"....(don't worry, it doesn't hurt and I promise not to spam you!). You should receive a confirmation email from me. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Choosing Gratitude in Humility

 Reading this week in Philippians 1:27-2:18

Be Kind. Everywhere I turned this week, I kept seeing that statement. Be Kind. No ifs, ands or buts... simply, whatever you do, be kind.

I don't think of myself as an unkind person. With the wear-and-tear of life, I do feel I have become more blunt. On busy days I often forget the need for niceties and even act a bit abrupt. But kindless... nope, never considered myself in that light.

Yet, there I sat, multiple times this week, bluntness and abruptness painting on a veneer of unkindness. I felt so bad.

To my family, I gave way to fear and left them hanging when unexpected compliments were paid.

To my Call, I forgot the Greatest example of a servant heart... without complaining, without remorse, counting others more significant than self.

To my Jesus, I neglected His life coursing through me, giving me all I needed to leave blunt and abrupt behind and instead reach for grace, peace and KINDNESS.

I didn't do the best job of working out my faith.

As I walked through the Philippians study day-by-day this week, the tests for each lesson were almost instantaneous and they were not without context.

You see, in the ancient Roman world, when Paul was writing his letters, society was a very ME-centric place. Promoting self, serving self, monopolizing on ME time, were corner-stones of the secular culture. When Paul is calling the believers to live "worthy of the gospel" he also knows how POWERFUL this counter-culture lifestyle will be.

He starts by calling them to unity, as the body of Christ (2:1-5). He then gives them an example, by the life of Christ (2:6-11). It is certainly a surreal point to hear the Call and think, "I'm trying!" only to see the Example and realize, "I can try harder."

The fact is, as much as we don't want to talk about this in today's society (or even in Paul's society), what we do, good or bad, directly impacts someone else's path through this life and into the next.

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
~ Proverbs 10:17 ~

God desires a closeness with his followers and, just as much as this personal relationship with us, he also desires that others should join in as well. Our walk with Him becomes that steadily burning candlelight in the darkness of a lost world, drawing those with eyes to see closer to light and truth.

Enter Kindness.

An attribute I believe to be best exemplified by humility. Kindness isn't always easy. Daily we are faced with situations and people who test our ability to be kind, to show love and to act humbly. When Paul states, "Do ALL things without grumbling or disputing..." in 2:12, it seems reasonable to state; do every.single.little.and.big.thing with kindness and humility. He suggests, by following this command, we will be "blameless and innocent, children of God...." Children because we bare His image in those humble acts: Christ did not grumble nor did he dispute all that was done to him. He fed thousands with love and grace. He healed many with peace and kindness. He even countered the nay-sayers with truth and self-control.

At the end of the day, kindness and humility not only unify us in the body of Christ and grow us as image-bearers, but, as we hold to the word of life (2:16) we shine as lights in the world.... in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. Not separate from them, but right smack-dab in the middle.

This world is full of a lot of crazy right now. Don't loose heart. Find moments of gratitude, even if in the simplest things, and allow that gratitude to feed kindness and produce humility... to serve those around you with love and grace.... and to shine in this world in spite of whatever it tries to throw your way.

Do you struggle with doing "ALL things without grumbling or disputing"? Take heart, let gratitude be your guide❤

  Blessings,




**This is part 2 in a month long series on "Choosing Gratitude" from a guided Bible Study I have written of the same name. Click below to get your FREE pdf and join me! I had planned on Mid-Week Messages for this series but have opted for end-of-week sum-ups for reflecting. I am also sharing scripture daily on Instagram from this study and hope you will join me there as well!**

Click on image to go to PDF


 





 
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*Are you subscribed to my newsletter?  You might want to be.  Why?  Well, the newsletter contains bonus material you won't find on the website... not to mention, in those busy months when I can't get regular blog articles up, you can count on this periodical popping up in your email in-box each month with all new content!  What exactly does the newsletter contain?
  • Encouraging articles
  • Free printables under different themes each month
  • Insider info on the latest goings-ons with all things on my blog and writing related
You won't find all this great bonus material on the blog so be sure to sign up so you don't miss out!  It's Ok, hop over real quick, right there to your right, see it on my sidebar where it says, "Subscribe to my Newsletter" with a  picture of the "Faith and Home Times" logo above it?  Ok, now enter your email in the box labeled "email address" then click "Subscribe"....(don't worry, it doesn't hurt and I promise not to spam you!). You should receive a confirmation email from me.