Our Thanksgiving Secretary

A few weeks ago, we got an email from a local farm saying they were now taking Thanksgiving orders for heritage turkeys. “That is awesome. Let’s do it!” Andy said. For about a millisecond, I was on board, until I remembered that when it comes to the turkey, it’s not my call to make. Andy and I have free rein to go all rogue (within reason) on the sides — adding anchovies to roasted cauliflower or oranges and mint to the cranberry sauce — but my Mom owns the turkey and gravy. If it’s going to be anything other than a 14 1/2 pound Bell & Evans bird, it’s Mom who has to sign off on it. And let’s be honest, if you own the turkey, you own the holiday. My sister hosts, my brother brings snacks and pies, my father is on wine patrol, but my mom is President and CEO.

And also Secretary. I like to think that the reason why Thanksgiving teeters on the happy side of the chaos spectrum in our house is because of my mother’s Post Feast Analysis System. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she grabs her legal pads (she’s an attorney and I don’t think she ever leaves home without them) and starts taking detailed notes on the holiday: Date, menu, number and names of attendees, temperature, who cooked what, who bought what and where, what she needs more of next year, what she needs less of, what worked, what didn’t. Naturally, I’m not nearly as fascinated by the menu as I am by the details that surround the menu. What makes her system awesome is not just that it reminds us that we ate sweet potato casserole in 2011 and 2012 — it’s the little detail that my then 9-year-old niece requested fewer pecans in the casserole next time around. It’s not just that we auditioned a new cranberry sauce last year — it’s that my then 11-year-old niece was the one in charge of spearheading it with me. (Mom was also sure to note she’s not willing to give up on her old-school sauce just yet.) Of course, I look to the notes to see how I can improve my performance next time. Last year I did a couple things right (I provided “superb” homemade stock for the gravy — which was like getting a gold star) and also a few things wrong (in the mashed potatoes department: a simple “too much”). But at least I didn’t mess up the turkey.

Here’s a sneak peak of my mom’s post-game report. Is there any question who I inherited the recording gene from?

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37 Comments

cindy

Love. Perfect. (I would never do this, but it’s so cool and such a great record to have)…

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Awads

i keep notes, too! did not know you could have too much mashed potatoes (we like to mix them with leftover brussels sprouts, a little cheese and bake for Bubble & Squeak the next day). I don’t do any fancy birds b/c i always think my butterball turkey is delicious. maybe it’s the abundance of wine clouding my view, but by the time plates are full and gravied, no one really notices the turkey.

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Gwynn

I do the same thing. It was my husband’s idea and it comes in really handy when planning the holiday. I also take notes on all my recipes now indicating what I might have changed and did it work or what I should do differently next time!

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Lucinda Santiago

I want your mom! My mom was always such a control freak about each and every elements, not allowing others to bring things or make much (other than pies, because my sister is without question the best pie maker) that a fair analysis would only prove self mocking. Your family tradition — while perhaps controlling in its own manner — is so much more fun and useful.

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BeccaV

I always write down menus for holidays and parties we have at our house so I can refer to them for ideas. My notes aren’t quite as detailed, but I love the idea!

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Leah

Your mother’s handwriting looks so much like my mother’s! And as a crazy listmaker, this is so much up my alley … hmm, maybe I need a new notebook to start recording Thanksgiving details.

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Emily

My mom is a lawyer, too, and she is such a recorder. Our Thanksgivings have never been traditional as we always traveled with my dad to other countries for work during the holiday (and ate in a nice restaurant), but I can very much understand the detailed records of all other things: gift-giving, birthday celebrations, etc.

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Mommy Lisa

WOW. I don’t get to host – and since the year we made green bean casserole from scratch we are no longer asked to bring anything other than olives and pickles. My husbands family has NO taste.

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Janet

I love the post-mortem notes (attorney here too)! I make a very detailed menu each year with a timeline starting from eating time and working backwards to the weekend prior + reminders about the frozen pie crusts in the freezer. We host both sides of our family + some others for about 25-30 guests, and I have a 4-burner stove and 1 oven. Notes are key! Definitely adding a “day after” section in my Thanksgiving book.

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Barb

Jenny– I was slow to realize that taking 90 seconds to comment is no hardship and means a lot. I have read your blog weekly for at least a year and haven’t commented, and now that I have a blog I realize it’s encouraging to know people are reading. So, while this post is interesting to me (as is anything about food, which is why I’m a devoted reader), I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “wow, that’s a great idea,” or, “I never thought to add [different ingredient],” and never took the time to tell you. So thanks for lots of good reads, and I promise to show more often in the future that I’m grateful for your efforts here.

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Gillian

Fantastic! Totally a system that my dad would dig. But my mom completely owns Thanksgiving too. And there shall be no system changes without her sign off!
:0)

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Tina

This is the type of insight only family friends know, making your years of logging meals seem [a tad] less extraordinary than those of us that know you simply through the blog. Ah ha! Not only do I love how your family has nailed task-designation ( it’s as though Thanksgiving is a surprise each Nov in my family), but I revel in the details & energy put toward the meal. God, I just love it! I care so much less about eating than I do about planning the Thanksgiving meal.

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kathy

for the last couple years the turkey person has been the one that orders (and more importantly pays for) the “Turdukin”. She made the mistake of surprising everyone with one three years ago at xmas.. Hense she owns one either xmas or thanksgiving every year since. Cause the turkey person in our familyis the one who provides the table and coat check.

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kathy

About 35+ (has it been that long) my mother-in-law ( who has 7 kids and a million g’kids and great g’kids…she has passed away many years now…but) every time the whole fandamily got together …at least once a year either xmas, thanksgiving or easter she would drag out a tablecloth she made out of a large flat white sheet and everyone at the meal had to sign the tablecloth. And the next time the tablecloth made an appearance the signatures were embroidered. We signed our names and our kids names with the date. One year my husband spilled his sisters red wine all over the table. And that even got embroidered into the cloth. Its been years since I’ve seen it. I wonder who has it? I should ask someone……
I’ve always wanted to duplicate this but never have.

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Patti Smith

I keep little notes too :) Every year I’m sooooo glad I did. I started as my mom slowly turned over the reins to me many years ago simply bc it was the only way I could remember the recipes since so much of what we cook on Thanksgiving only gets cooked once each year. :)

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Megan

loved that last line… since that was what I was thinking the entire time I read this… I just started my own dinner journal thanks to inspiration from you!

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A Life From Scratch

I. love. this. Like mother like daughter, right?

My girlfriend’s husband literally wrote 3 pages (FRONT AND BACK) just about cooking the turkey one year. I mean, I’m all about writing down notes and details, but 6 pages? It’s one turkey! We still tease him about it ;)

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kristina

I do this too! With every holiday.. I’m glad I’m not the only one.. And also that we’re pretending this is a cool (and not crazy) thing to do :)

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Reynaul

Not related to this but I downloaded my December Bon Appetit last night and I love your article on the Christmas dinner! Our dinner is the same way!

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bschus

Ahh, I so want to do this! Post-mortem is not my strong suit, but I very much love looking back at them after the fact. Great motivation!

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Zelda

How to improve my perfomance? Perhaps by not deciding on Christmas morning to make a tarte aux fraise from scratch – yes, from the spontaneously disintegrating pâte sucrée to the crème pâtissière that refused to thicken. And booking to leave on holiday the day after.

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Kelly

I love this! Btw, I finally got around to reading your book (and then promptly thereafter rereading Sam Stifton’s Thanksgiving) and I cannot even begin to say how much both books are really excellent. I haven’t read very many books that got me so excited about the idea of (eventually) having a family and getting to introduce my kids to family dinner as yours did, and it really made me appreciate how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have grown up in a family that prioritized family dinner in a huge way.

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Corrina

I have to smile as I read your post as my mother-in-law does the same post-analysis after every single get together/pot luck gathering (the later we have no control of what or how much the guests bring but the analysis is done in any case). It used to drive me crazy and but now I truly appreciate the this in the interest of food management and tastiness. Of course, my m-i-l is *very* precise, as in “We have 8 people coming, they get two spring rolls each” whereas I would tend to err on the side of more (fried food? 50 always sounds good to me…and looks better on the plate!) and doggie bags which nobody ever seems to refuse. But the post-analysis has helped me create better food next time as well as minimize excess…well, kind of. :)

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Tai

This is my favorite idea of the day. Possibly month. Doing it now!

Also – what was in the “superb home made stock?”

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Andrea

What is a “quoque” that your mum has written in the header of each review?

Thanks,

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