You probably have grown weary of turkey, but before you throw the leftovers away and leave Thanksgiving for another year, I suggest you take just a minute and begin a holiday dinner notebook.
I started mine over 20 years ago and I am so very glad I did.
I cherish that silly notebook. I use it — and it is truly the workhorse of the holiday season. More important than the number of times I refer to it, is the fact that it has captured my family history and I cherish it. Let me explain.
My family was like so many families and my mom hosted the holiday meals. Yes, I worked with food professionally, and I loved to cook, but we gathered at mom and dad’s for all of those special meals.
Grandparents and new generations all gathered around their sacred table laden with the food mom had lovingly prepared. Suddenly, mom was gone and there would be no more holiday meals there.
Traditions and family meals are so important to me and I wanted to honor her memory and create new holiday memories for my then young daughters. Sure, I knew how to cook, but I had never been the holiday host and that was new and stressful.
I tackled it, as I do all projects, with a “to-do” list. For some mysterious and glorious reason I kept that list and slipped it into an old three-ring binder. The next holiday came and again I slipped that used “to-do” list into the notebook.
Now, over 20 years of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts have been lovingly prepared and the notes kept.
What a workbook and journal. Each year before the feast, I write out the menu. On another page, I list what steps can be done ahead and what needs to be prepared at the last minute.
I list who is coming — by name and tally the number of guests. What time will we eat? Who will bring what dish to add to the dinner? After the meal, I make little suggestions — what was especially good, what have we tired of, what needs to be baked a little longer or shorter, which dish should I have prepared more or less of?
On just two or three pages, I capture the people that shared the holiday and the food we enjoyed together.
As my notebook grew, I added copies of the “must serves” and it became a family cookbook. The buttery soft rolls we affectionately call “Grammy Rolls.” The gravy recipe that finally took the guesswork out of the challenging sauce. The classic sage dressing — and now, the new apple and fennel dressing that sometimes replaces the first one. The brine we all love for the turkey. The beef tenderloin and ham that taste like Christmas. The Christmas morning quiche. The Easter salad. It is all in there, splattered with years of love by a host of helping hands.
Some years I added notes of joy — for new friends came and joined the table that year. Other times, the notes are sad, for I look back and I can see the times when death was the unwanted guest that shrouded the table in loss and sorrow.
I noted when a blizzard kept someone away or an ice storm caused a power outage while the turkey was roasting. There is the year one of my daughters missed Thanksgiving dinner while on a school orchestra trip to New York and the first Easter after one of my daughters moved to the East Coast and could not come home.
I can look back and see when the menus served children, and as time goes by, can see when the menus changed for only adults gathered at the table. Then, I added prayers we said as a blessing — and games we played to exchange a funny “white elephant” gift.
So many years are captured in that notebook, and the years reveal so much about the one family who gathers at the table.
Yes, it is an invaluable “to-do” list, guidebook and recipe book. It keeps me organized and streamlines my holiday cooking for as I plan the holiday meal to come, I refer to last year’s notes. It eases stress like no other holiday tool can do. It forced me to capture my family recipes, write them down and keep them in one place.
Little did I know that my organizational tool would become a priceless family memoir! It connects me to the reason we celebrate holidays together and each page overflows with love and memories.
Don’t move quickly away from Thanksgiving, 2013 quite yet. Write it down now. Make your notes, keep your “to-do” lists, and put them in a notebook. (Or, if you must, enter them in the computer, but you will miss the delightful splatters on the dog-eared pages and that would be such a loss.)
As you plan the next holiday, make lists and add them to your book. It will soon become your cherished guidebook and an irreplaceable journal about the food and family that gather at your table.
Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is Triple Slow Cooker Entertaining. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at pluggedintocooking.com