Thanksgiving Stories, Lessons Learned and the Best Roasted Carrots and Green Beans!
As you know, Thanksgiving was last week, and we showered you with tips, videos, links, content, in all shapes and sizes, to help you plan and cook for the big event. What we haven't told you yet, are the secret adventures we went through on that day, why my dog almost gave me a heart attack, why two people cried at our Thanksgiving, the yummy menu, the decor, and the two quick sides I made that were out of this world and that I'll teach you how to make today. Of course, there will be tons of photos, not to mention our usual lessons learned so that our holiday dinners can run more smoothly in the coming weeks.
Let me start by saying this, I LOVE Thanksgiving, and I especially love to host it because then I get to think of the decor, setting the table, making my little menus and place cards. It's almost as fun as the cooking itself.
This year I went for a woodsy decor, with the natural wreath you see in the photo above, little printed menus on cream cardstock paper, and napkins wrapped in twine with a little cinnamon stick and pine needles. Of course I used my favorite stamps to print people's initials on their woodsy place cards. I set up the beautiful wreath to which I added some glittery black "berries" all around, and a cute thank you ribbon I found at a craft store last year, and then I made a little path along the center of the table with small branches, twigs, branch slabs, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cinnamon sticks and other woodsy decor items. It looked beautiful!
Here's where the heart attack part comes in. I broke my "set the table the night before rule" and left it until the last minute, only to realize I didn't have any candles for the table. We had a bit of time before our guests arrived, so I set everything up, including plates, napkins, menus, utensils, my beautiful glass water bottle and candlestick holders, and we headed out. We bought some ice, some white candles and headed back home. I open the door of our apartment, and the first thing I see is a walnut on the rug (remember those walnuts I had used to decorate the table? Yeah...).
I knew what had happened. Our little acrobat Vega (the white dog you'll see in the photos below), who can jump so high she once climbed a tree chasing after a cat (and when I say climbed I mean really high up), had jumped on my perfectly set table to grab some of the walnuts to play with. I closed my eyes and told Carlos "I can't look! I can't look!". Mind you our guests were going to arrive in the next 5 minutes.
Well, long story short, Vega had jumped on the table, walked the woodsy path from one end of the table to the other, and hadn't moved a thing, except for the one walnut she grabbed so she could play with it. Yes, I know... adorable. Also, heart attack worthy. Sheesh!
We set up our candles, and people arrived at 8 on the dot, two seconds later.
Here's the awesome part, Carlos and I have been living in Spain for 8 years now, and our families are almost never around this time of year, which means Thanksgiving is usually a feast for our friends. This year we got the best of two worlds though. I think I haven't told you this yet, but Carlos's parents moved to Madrid a little over 3 months ago! Not only that, but his first cousin and her boyfriend are also living in Madrid, and for the first time in years we got to spend Thanksgiving with family as well as friends. You've met our friends Any and David many times before in this blog. They're basically our second family here.
A BIG lesson learned
Time for the big lesson learned. One that has taken me years to truly get across my stubborn little head, and maybe the biggest lesson I've received in the past few months: accept help. By accept help I don't mean ask someone to peel a carrot or keep you company in the kitchen while you frantically do everything yourself, truly believing it takes longer to explain something to someone who is willing and eager to help you, than it is to just do it yourself. Trust me when I tell you this has been me, all my life, in every single aspect of my life. This year I got a big sign from the universe explaining why I've been doing it all wrong.
My mother in law (keep in mind throughout this story that I have one of the good ones, and by good I mean awesome), called me two days before Thanksgiving to find out at what time I wanted her to come to my house the day before the dinner so we could get most of the food ready. Mind you I had already told her she could take care of the appetizers, and that was already a big deal in the delegation department for me. Still, there she was, calling me three days ahead of time wondering when I needed her to come help. I didn't know what to answer her. What did she mean by help? What did she mean when she insisted that we could get a lot done the day before and she could simply help me wash dishes between one recipe and the next so that I didn't have to? What did she mean by at what time did I want her there?
It was such a foreign concept for me. In spite of the fact that I always tell you guys to ask for help in the kitchen in my many Thanksgiving tips videos, I realized this year I hardly ever take my own advice when it comes to accepting help. It took me calling her twice more to finally give her a time and tell her that I was indeed in need of some assistance.
The day before, just as I was going to start cooking my make-ahead dishes, she rang the doorbell and we got straight to work.
We talked, we laughed, she told me stories, she peeled a gazillion shallots in spite of the fact that they were making her cry. She washed and dried my mushrooms and my measuring cups before I even needed to ask her, she kept me company, she measured out ingredients, she learned how to cook all my Thanksgiving dishes in the process and helped me check seasonings. She helped me plan the decor, and not once did I feel anyone was in the way or that I had to explain things. I learned, quickly, that this is the excuse we perfectionists use to do all the work and be terribly exhausted afterwards, and make no mistake, there's no Thanksgiving prize for doing it all and then needing a post-Thanksgiving vacation.
If the dinner hadn't been the best Thanksgiving we've had in years, I would have said that that mother-in-law magic elf prep day was the best part of the whole thing. Not only was it fun, but I realized that it's often the cooking journey that is 50% of the party, and what a better way than to spend it with a friend.
To top things off, she arrived the day of with a vegan fruit turkey, delicious garlicky mushrooms, olives and an asparagus dip for the appetizers. Best-mother-in-law-ever!
After tons of photos were taken, and everyone admired the "almost ruined by the dog table setting", we sat down to say grace. I'm always slightly shy about saying grace out loud myself, and always end up convincing someone else to do it, but this year, since there were so many Thanksgiving newbies at the table, the job fell to me. We held hands and I said a few words of gratitude, and when I opened my eyes, two people were crying! I'm not going to say who, you know how it is, what happens at Thanksgiving stays at Thanksgiving! Needless to say, I apparently have a knack for it and people got emotional (in a good way of course, tears of gratitude and such... I hope!).
Then of course it was time for the grub. This was our menu this year:
Appetizers made and brought by Carlos's mom: the awesome fruit turkey, sautéed garlicky mushrooms, asparagus dip and pepper stuffed olives
Braised seitan roast with a BBQ glaze (if you're a member of the online program, you can find the recipe here!)
Boozy shallots in a sweet sherry reduction
Roasted garlic for spreading on everything
Sweet potato casserole with melted vegan mozzarella and crunchy onion topping (if you're a member of the online program, you can find the recipe here! Just top with cheese, melt in the oven and add crispy onions on top)
Red wine mushroom gravy (if you're a member of the online program, you can find the recipe here!)
Roasted balsamic carrots with garlic, rosemary and thyme (recipe below!)
Super crisp green beans (recipe below!)
Pecan pie (if you're a member of the online program, you can find the recipe here!), which also happened to serve as a birthday cake for Carlos's cousin whose birthday had been a few days earlier
I broke my own rule of never testing a recipe for the first time when guests are coming over, but this time it totally paid off, here's how to quickly make the roasted carrots and super crunchy green beans. You'll love them!
Thin long carrots, preferably in many colors if you can find them
Green beans, ends trimmed
A few garlic cloves cut in 2 or three large pieces without removing the skins
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Fresh thyme sprigs
1) Blanch your carrots in a pot of boiling water, just for 2 minutes, then immediately take them out with some tongs and place them in an ice bath to halt the cooking process, Remove them and pat them dry with a paper towel. Cut any big ones in half, lengthwise, so that they're all approximately the same size.
2) Blanch the green beans in the same boiling water for just 1-2 minutes or until bright green and slightly tender but not fully cooked. Then immediately take them out with some tongs and place them in an ice bath to halt the cooking process, Remove them and pat them dry with a paper towel. Set them aside.
(Note that you can do this blanching process ahead of time!)
3) Place the carrots in a baking sheet and add the pieces of garlic, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and some of the rosemary chopped to help release the flavors. Drizzle with olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Toss until well combined and season with salt and pepper.
4) Roast in a 400ºF (205ºC) oven until they're sizzling and golden. Once you see that they're golden, add the green beans to the pan and drizzle some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and some more of the herbs. Pop it back in the oven for about 5-7 more minutes. The green beans should be bright green and still crisp.
5) Sprinkle with sea salt or sea salt flakes and serve!
It was such a magical night. Not because of the ninja dog moves that saved my table, or because of all the help I got in the kitchen, or because of those teary eyes. It wasn't even because of the delicious food! It was because life continues to bless me more and more every year, and it's especially in days like these in which I get to take it all in and say
I hope you all had an incredible Thanksgiving! It's officially the Holiday season and since you all know I'm a Christmas junkie, I'm excited and ready for the holiday games to begin! You know what they say! It's the most wonderful time of the year!