Thanksgiving Family Dinner 2014

It's hard to put all of my feelings about Thanksgiving Family Dinner into words, because the more I think about it the more I realize it's about so much more than the event itself.

It starts at the beginning of the week. Sarah and I get together to talk over our plan, which we never  seem to remember from the year before no matter how well we try to document the process.
We put up signs requesting donations (potatoes, bread, squash, apples) and volunteers to help set up, cook, carve the turkeys, serve, and clean up.

The kids start to get excited.

The epic shopping trips (three enormous turkeys, veggies, bread for stuffing, buttermilk, cream...what did we forget?) are completed.
Rick, our intrepid Shadow Cross Farms delivery guy, brings extra milk.
Sarah and I have several conversations about fancy turkey prep we probably won't attempt (brining? dry or wet? spatchcock? deep frying?) and eventually settle on what's become our tried and true method, which I'll get to later.

Donations start to pile up. The kitchen fills with bags of potatoes, loaves of bread, buckets of apples, beautiful squashes.  Even a watermelon, brought in by an enthusiastic preschooler and her mom.

The turkeys take over the bottom shelf of the fridge.
The day before the dinner teachers start working on projects with the kids. Preschoolers peel and chop 30 pounds of potatoes.

Toddlers and their teachers bake trays of beautiful rolls.

In the baby room apples are sliced and bagged. Signs and decorations are created.

Everyone speculates about who will attend. Will there be more or fewer folks than last year? Who's bringing their new baby, grandparents, cousins, neighbors?
Friday morning arrives, and I'm at school at 9am. Down the hall we're all greeting each other with cries of "Happy Thanksgiving Dinner Day!"

Sarah brings me a bottle of seltzer, a tradition since, in her words "It's important to stay hydrated."
We prep the remaining potatoes, then invite a rotating cast of preschoolers to help cube bread for stuffing. The last of the squash is roasted in the toddler kitchen while the turkey prep begins in earnest.

The birds
Our method involves a salt rub, inside and out, and butter and herbs inside, on top, and BELOW the skin. Times three. No small feat for two women who just five years ago were unsure they could manage to get the organs out of the cavity without gloves and goggles.

Once the birds are roasting - one in each of our three available ovens - it's time to make lunch!
By the time the kids are napping, the unmistakeable aromas of Thanksgiving dinner fill the hallways. People pop in to peek at the turkeys.

We move the entire operation across the hall to the Senior Center and the pace picks up. Time to boil the potatoes, make the salad, season the squash.

When the turkeys come out of the oven to rest before carving, the stuffing goes in.

Parents, friends, and teachers arrive and set tables, spoon cranberry sauce, and chat away in the big kitchen.

The giant pots of boiling potatoes must be drained, providing some danger and excitement and a bonding moment for everyone in the kitchen. Our incredible parent turkey carver arrives, ready for duty.

Annika: parent, friend and carver extraordinaire

 Soon giant platters of turkey appear at the serving window.  Ruthie, our fearless Program Director, makes flawless gravy from scratch on the stove top as guests begin to arrive.

And just like that, it's happening. Whole extended families come through the door, taking over long tables and welcoming folks who aren't sure where to sit. Babies make their first public appearances. Old friends come bearing pies, bread, vegetable platters. The room fills with voices, music, and the clatter of dishes. The food flies out of the kitchen. A second wave of friends arrives and we worry we won't have enough to feed everyone, but of course we do. Folks start serving themselves, and each other. I spot several parents wandering through the tables with pitchers of water and bowls of gravy asking "does anyone need anything?"

Desserts begin to line the counter. Sarah makes a giant bowl of whipped cream.

Folks are chatting, smiling, hugging, holding each other's little ones.

And all of sudden, for me anyway, the whole year comes into focus. It's not that this moment is WHY we do what we do. It's just one of the many, many beautiful results of the work we do. Coming together to celebrate a year's worth of love, learning, and growing with these families and each other.

As I ran down the hallway later in the night to fetch more napkins and forks my eye was caught by a piece of documentation I'd never noticed before on the wall outside one of the classrooms.
It stopped me in my tracks, trailing paper napkins.

In the kitchen at the end of the night with Sarah,  Ruthie and a few friends and parents washing dishes and packing up leftovers I'm happy as can be. I'm proud to work beside these people. I'm proud to be a part of the lives of these families. I love sharing this meal with all of them, year after year, to celebrate all that we have.

And that's it.
 What we've got here, what we're building and nurturing together, is a stable community. And it shows.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We are thankful for you. 

Always a hit...

Pasta and my famous meat sauce. They love it. They love any kind of pasta, really. And there's nothing too special about the sauce- just ground turkey and a little sneaky kale. But  I think when you've been playing all morning in the windy cold and your cheeks are pink and you're hungry for lunch... its just the thing.

Chili and cornbread

One of my lunch lady goals is to bake more.  We love to bake with the kids during the cold months. Its such a relaxing, thoughtful activity, and it works nicely with small groups. Plus the kids love trying their own creations and sharing them with friends. A few teachers and I are working on a plan to bake all of our own bread at BCS. I'll keep you updated on our progress. For now, cornbread from scratch to go with our vegetarian chili will have to do!

The Recipe

A four-year-old friend of mine at BCS recently had an idea for a recipe. This is a kiddo who is endearing, loving, energetic, and challenging, and who isn't always that interested in lunch, for a variety of reasons. So I was surprised and thrilled when he stopped me as I headed for the kitchen one morning a few weeks ago, waving a homemade book.

"Erinn!!! I made you a recipe!"

the recipe

The recipe, it turned out, was a multi-page, illustrated list of ingredients. With a drawing on the back of me...

back cover of the recipe, with my notation

He wanted to get started that instant, but lunch had to be made, so we made a date to meet and make a plan. I asked a few preliminary questions and discovered that the recipe was intended to turn out as a cake, that he anticipated we'd need a big bowl and a little spoon in order to make it, and that it would likely need to cook for either 5 minutes, or 20 hours.
Armed with this information and the proposed ingredient list (flour, milk, cereal, raisins, apples, and rice) I set out to look for cake recipe inspiration.
I found a ton of cake, muffin, and quick bread recipes online that incorporated cereal, and thought that raisin bran would be ideal since it essentially gave us two ingredients from the list for the price of one. I printed out a muffin recipe that seemed like a promising starting point and we met the next morning before lunch prep began.
We looked through the recipe booklet he had made and talked about each ingredient. We had quite a discussion around the rice. I gently suggested that we try rice as a side dish with our cake, since cakes with both rice and cereal as ingredients were unusual, if not completely unknown to humankind. We agreed that we'd proceed omitting the rice, this time.
We decided that the finished cake should be a rectangle, and there should be enough to share with his classmates and teachers.

He invited one friend in to help us out, and we gathered our ingredients...

Our preschool recipe developer and friend gather our ingredients

Preparing our baking pan.

We went over the muffin recipe I found and talked about why we'd need to include some other ingredients in our cake that weren't on the original list - eggs, sugar, a little butter, baking powder - and how we thought it would taste when we were done. 

We measured, poured, and mixed ...

measure and mix

And we made a beautiful cake! 

The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from cooking something from scratch, to share with people you care about, is a powerful thing.  I couldn't have been happier when I showed this kiddo his finished product, and he couldn't have been more proud when it was served to his friends. 

Food is love, folks. 

BCS Cereal Cake

  • 2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups raisin bran cereal
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled apple chopped into small pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Preheat your oven to 400.  Oil and flour a 13x9 inch baking pan and set aside. 
First, stir together this flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, combine the cereal, milk and honey. Let stand 3 minutes or until cereal starts to get soggy - for once this is a good thing!
 Add the egg and the oil and beat well until everything is combined. Mix in the apples.
Add the flour mixture and stir just until everything comes together. Do not overmix!
 Pour the batter into your prepared pan. 

Bake at 400° F for about 25 minutes, then check by inserting a toothpick into the center. The cake may need more time, but you'll know it's done when your toothpick comes out clean and the top is turning a lovely, crackly brown. 

If you're so inclined, serve with a side of rice.