In the early morning hours on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend, I stepped on the bathroom scale and squinted at the three-digit number staring back at me. Yep, the holidays had officially begun!
This year’s annual, gut-busting holiday of excess and family neurosis had commenced the previous Wednesday evening on a flight from Birmingham, Alabama, to Williamsburg, Virginia. Because there are no direct flights from Birmingham to anywhere, my two sons and I had to connect in Charlotte, North Carolina. And, as we’ve all heard a million times before, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. Moreover, Charlotte is not one of my favorite airports. It is spread out, and invariably I seem forced to travel from Concourse A to Concourse E in about 15 minutes in order to make my connection. This time, however, my connecting flight was in the same terminal as the flight from Birmingham. Feeling the holiday vibe, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best…
Our journey had begun propitiously enough in Birmingham when we sailed through a hassle-free, friendly TSA screening, with an on-time departure. After a smooth flight with prompt drink service, we landed early in Charlotte! As we walked off the plane into Concourse E, with its all-too-expected smell of fried jalapeño poppers from Chili’s Too, we were hit with the cold reality of modern air travel, posted in white Helvetica type: FLIGHT DELAYED!
Our flight was at least an hour late, though it turned out to be more like an hour and a half. But the real kicker was that there was only one bar in Terminal E, obviously added as an afterthought. It had about as much square footage as an Airstream camper and a line of about 25 people waiting for over-priced, precisely-measured, cheap well drinks. After waiting without success for about 10-15 minutes for the privilege of commandeering a mere 18 square inches at the bar, I gave up.
We did finally make it to Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport around 10:15PM. Laura picked us up and, in about 20 minutes, we arrived at her house in Williamsburg. We were tired but wired and didn’t go to bed right away like we should have. We all stayed up too late having a few drinks, laughing, and telling tall tales. (The kids played Xbox.) But eventually we all ambled off to bed for some much-needed sleep.
For me, Thanksgiving is food’s high holy day. I know for others it’s all about friends and family and while that’s important, I must confess that for me, it’s all about the food. I also love to cook on Thanksgiving. This year, I volunteered to do most of the planning and cooking, coming up with the menu, making the shopping list, and doing some, but by no means all, of the shopping. Several times, I got the obligatory “why don’t we just go out?” or “why not just order from Honey Baked Ham?” Sacrilege, I cried!
I must brag, but I think lesser mortals would have given up in the face of the obstacles before me. First, I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen, which is always a challenge. Second, the kitchen was a tad small. Third, and most importantly, we only had one oven, prime real estate on Turkey Day. The day was also complicated by our late arrival into Williamsburg on Wednesday night – leaving only Thanksgiving day to do all the cooking without the luxury to cook some things the day before.
©2014 Chris Terrell
So what was my solution? With the precision that would have impressed Herr von Schlieffen, I put together a detailed cooking schedule. We even began with a kitchen staff meeting at 8:00AM. No, I’m not kidding! My staff consisted of Rob, Laura’s brother-in-law, who has experience in commercial kitchen’s; Laura, because she is great at organization and cleaning up after my messes; and Forrest, my son, who is developing a budding interest in cooking that I want to encourage.
Because this is Thanksgiving, the schedule revolved around the turkey. And because we were planning to eat around 6:00PM, and with a sixteen-pound turkey, I would need to put it in the oven by 1:00PM to allow time for it to rest. So, by 12:30PM, I had to bake brownies, a pecan pie, pumpkin muffins, cornbread stuffing, and roasted root vegetables. Now, the schedule doesn’t seem so crazy, does it?! Here it is:
- Kitchen Staff Meeting
- Prepare Brownies
- Prepare Pecan Pie
- Brownies into the Oven
- Slice Red Onions
- Soak Raisins for Muffins
- Prepare Pickled Onions
- Make Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette
- Pecan Pie into the Oven
- Prep Pumpkin Muffin Batter
- Prep Root Vegetables
- Prep Green Beans
- Prep Potatoes
- Prep Onions and Celery for Turkey
- Pumpkin Muffins into Oven
- Make Cranberry Sauce
- Prepare Cornbread Mix
- Clean-Up If Necessary
- Cornbread into Oven
- Prep Okra
- Bloddy Marys!
- Roasted Root Vegetables into Oven
- Steam Potatoes
- Fry Okra
- Prep Turkey
- Turkey into the Oven
- Start Slow Cooking of Green Beans
- Make Mashed Potatoes
- Make Cider Glaze for Root Vegetables
- Remove Cheeses from Fridge
- Charcuterie Plate Served
- Set Table and Prepare Happy Hour Cocktails
- Happy Hour!
- Warm Sides as NecessaryCarve Turkey
- Carve Turkey
- Dinner Served!
©2014 Chris Terrell
A man's gotta do
what a man's
©2014 Chris TerrellA Member of the Kitchen Staff Revolts!
We all worked well together and there was little drama—maybe the Blood Marys helped—though there was a balky deep fryer that refused to work. No sweat, we still got the okra fried. Most importantly, I only went into Gordon Ramsey mode once. Ok, maybe twice. We stayed on schedule and sat down to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal around 6:30PM. (Dinner was delayed because the kitchen staff insisted on a shower before dinner.) I felt proud of what we had accomplished. It tasted great (though the stuffing was a bit dry—but isn’t it always!? – and some great gravy helped make up for that)
Here’s the menu:
Roast Turkey with Chorizo Cornbread Dressing & Gravy
Garden Salad with Pickled Red Onions, Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette,
and Fried Okra “Croutons”
Roasted Root Vegetables with Apple Cider Glaze
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Southern Style Green Beans
©2014 Chris Terrell
And unlike past Thanksgiving dinners, this year we didn’t scarf down our food, something I really appreciated. Instead, we had a nice leisurely meal with good conversation with a minimum of controversial topics. And like any good American family, we followed dinner with a tear-jerking viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
In the end, a great home-cooked feast, family and friends, over-the-river-and-through-Charlotte-airport, and an evening spent watching Jimmy Stewart remind us that we are “the richest man in town” when we have all that.