I set the oven to 425* F to preheat and began adding together the necessary ingredients for the filling in a large mixing bowl. When comparing the size of the cans of condensed milk and pumpkin puree we had with the size of the cans called for in the recipe, the numbers didn't exactly match up. In the end we decided we would double the recipe, and since my mother only had one pie dish, we would save the rest of the filling for later, to make a second pie with. Also, the recipe we were using (the recipe on the label of our Libby's Pumpkin Puree) called for evaporated milk, but we only had sweetened condensed milk. I conducted a quick bit of research on the matter to discover what exactly the differences were. The conclusion was that though they were quite different and "mixing up the two in a recipe could very possibly end in disaster," the condensed milk would most likely work for what we were doing, except that it would add an unnecessary amount of sugar. I compensated by leaving out an eighth of a cup of sugar, but when I was adding the milk I tipped the tip of pinky in to taste it and realized it was still a good bit sweeter than what I had anticipated. My mother, who is a stickler for not over-sweetening desserts, took to spooning out even more of the sugar I had previously added. A couple minutes later, as I was adding the spices, I just about put an Indian cultured twist on the American classic by nearly dumping in a couple teaspoons of curry seasonings instead of ground ginger. Apparently, the last person to use the two seasonings had mixed up the caps for the containers and in the dimly-lit kitchen and with my less-than-perfect eyesight I hadn't been able to tell the difference between the two yellow hued powders 'til I had caught a whiff of the stuff after pouring a smidgen into my cupped hand. It was a good save. Thank God my olfactory senses are in better working order than my visual. I finished mixing the filling and poured it into the pie crust . . . only to discover that even though we had doubled the recipe, there was definitely not enough filling left for another whole pie, which I found extremely odd. But my solution to this was to text Alex and tell him to bring one of his handy Tupperware containers before coming over later so that we could save extra filling anyway and make pumpkin cheesecake bars over the weekend. (By the way, this never happened. The pumpkin pie mix sat in that container in Alex's fridge for a month before we finally remembered it and I told him to toss it ASAP.) At last, I popped the pie in the oven to bake and set to work on the next dish.
Green bean casserole; quite possibly my favorite dish at the dinner table come Thanksgiving Day. I don't know why I don't make it more often if I'm so particularly fond of it. I guess it's just a dish I've always reserved for Thanksgiving, and that will most likely never change. Old habits die hard. This dish, I think, posed the lowest number of mishaps and challenges tonight. There isn't much to it, yet it's loaded with flavor. Which is probably why it remains one of my favorite dishes. It's a welcome change from the usual masses of carb-laden side dishes consisting of either potatoes or some kind of bread. This year we weren't even doing mashed potatoes. My mum made a pot of basmati rice (an aromatic Indian variety of long grain rice) instead, which she knew the boys were especially fond of. My mum had never been a huge fan of potato dishes anyways.
All this time my mother had been working on the gravy and other random details. She called me over to the stove halfway through her gravy preparation and asked me if gravy was "supposed to look like that," as if every year she made it she forgot what it had looked like the previous year and how well it had turned out and that the method we used was pretty much exactly the same. "Yes, mum, it matters not how unappetizing it looks under this roof, so long as the flavor is right," I heartily reassured her. I liked it better slightly thinner anyways. It was flavorful without being unnecessarily filling (due to the thickening agent usually added: corn starch or flour), when there was so many other things vying for room in one's stomach come supper time.
I had been working non-stop on one thing or another up until now and then realized that there were still sweet potatoes and carrots to be peeled and cut and stuffed in the oven, so I set my mum to work on those. "Thinly slice and chop them so they cook faster," I instructed, knowing all too well the lengthy cooking time yams and the like always require. Five minutes later she presented her slices of yams to me asking if they were "good enough." They were about five times the size I was looking for and would take five times as long to cook, so I took over for her and set to work hurriedly dicing and stuffing the yams, carrots, walnuts and brown sugar into one of our last baking pans.
Working with our single conventional oven always poses a bit of a challenge, as the different dishes all require different temperatures and baking times. The pie was not due to come out of the oven for another fifteen minutes by the time the yams and green bean casserole were due to go in. These were both going to require a temperature of 350*, whereas the current temperature was still at 425* for the pie. As I was thinking about this, the thought struck me that 425* degrees seemed abnormally high for a pumpkin pie. Just then, my mother exclaimed, "Wow, look at your pie!" as she had bent down to peek into the oven. I responded to her exclamation and bent down to take a look myself. The pie looked marvelous, except that the crust was beginning to turn a rich charcoal color around the outside edges of one side. That was not supposed to be happening with a good twenty minutes still left on the timer. "Great, turn it down to 350* and pop the other two dishes in there!" I said, laughing. I decided I wanted to go back and check the recipe's baking instructions after that and upon doing so found that they called for 15 minutes of baking time at 425*, and after that, 40 minutes at 350*. . . which explained a lot. I knew this was the basic method used for pumpkin pie, with the zap of high heat to set the liquid ingredients and the lower heat to cook it consistently all the way through. For some dreadful reason I still swear I saw a "55 minutes" and missed the 350* part of the instructions altogether. This was turning out to be, no doubt, an interesting evening of Thanksgiving Day preparations.
After shoving the rest of the food into the oven with the pie there was one more thing to take care of while everything finished baking: the cube stuffing. We usually don't stuff the turkey when we roast it but rather prepare the stuffing separately. There is no particular reason why we do this, everyone does it differently I suppose. Now, although I find great pleasure in the art of cooking from scratch, my mother, with her overly-crowded kitchen, and apartment in general, (although only she, my father and my brother really sleep here, there are five -- sometimes six people who practically live here, including Seth and Luke, and it is a tiny two-bed, one-bath flat) isn't too fond of doing everything from complete scratch with the lack of a dishwasher to aid in the cleanup afterwards. So I was making stuffing with one of the boxed mixes that you simply stir into boiling water and add butter and sometimes your own seasonings. The brand she had was different than the one I was used to using (good ol' Stovetop Stuffing, which you can never go wrong with) and it was not seasoned. I expected it was going to be a bland mess if I wasn't sure to heartily season it, so I had previously set aside some of the excess broth we had for the gravy and boiled that instead of water. I also added butter, oregano, garlic, and even a dash of New Orleans Cajun Style Seasonings to go along with Seth's unique variation of turkey seasoning this year. "That should be good," I told myself. Then, my mother, who had been digging through the fridge searching for who-knows-what, procured a small container of lemon thyme, which she showed me and explained that it tasted funny to her. "They didn't have regular thyme at the store the other day so I bought this stuff instead, but I didn't expect it to taste so different . . ." she handed me a piece to nibble on and I tried it. "It tastes like lemon and thyme, mum. What is so funny about it?" She couldn't really argue with my logic here, but she told me to add some of it to the stuffing to help her use it up, so I let her dump a bunch of that in. "What's the worse it could turn out to be . . . thyme is good . . ." I reasoned. At this point, I wasn't going to go out of my way to hold together what normality was left of these dinner preparations. It was an all-in-or-bail-before-it's-too-late adventure now, and it was much too late to turn back at this point. Improvisation and deviants from recipes had always been a regular part of meals I prepared, and the traditional holiday meals my mother and I prepared yearly for family and friends were no different. But this year, with the christening of my parents' new (and newly renovated) kitchen and apartment, there was definitely an extra dose of adventure in the air, among other things . . . such as the sweet aroma of burnt turkey stew and pie crust.
The stuffing turned out . . . salty. It was definitely flavorful, but I had underestimated the flavor of the broth I had used in place of water, as well as missed the fact that the brand of stuffing we had used was already seasoned . . . and the results were noticeably. . . interesting. It didn't taste bad, it was just saltier than what I would have liked. The lemon thyme hardly came through at all, which was probably for the best. But my mum and I both knew the boys were fond of the extra salty and the extra sweet, so we weren't especially worried.
The next 30 minutes were spent waiting for the food to finish and Alex to arrive. In the meantime, my mum ran off to take a quick shower and I . . . honestly don't remember what I did. It's getting rather late and my brain begins to shut down after 8:00 every night. I know it involved a good deal of sitting and resting and perhaps a mite of writing.
Dinner time finally arrived, and all the time and work put into it paid off completely. Everybody said the food was delicious and they enjoyed it thoroughly. The pie turned out just fine, despite the 10-15 minute difference in temperature changes. It was extremely sweet, which we had kind of tried to avoid, but c'est la vie. It was delicious anyway. The turkey was phenomenal, the rice was a perfect touch, and the green bean casserole was a hit as always. The atmosphere was filled with the humor and light-heartedness I so enjoy every year when we get together this way. I left with a full stomach, full Tupperware container (a few actually) of leftovers, and a full heart; happy and grateful to be blessed with the relatives I've been given, though they definitely continue to faithfully stand by their motto: "We ain't professionals!"
The apartment still smelled strongly of lavender and vanilla Febreze when Alex and I ventured back out into the frigid night air. And my mother later announced she had successfully managed to salvage her turkey rice soup, as I knew she would.