It’s time to get out my trusty Thanksgiving folder and start organizing this year’s Thanksgiving celebration. My worn manila folder is a treasure full of memories of Thanksgivings past: menus, recipes, shopping lists, decoration ideas, guest lists, timetables, and notes about what worked and what didn’t.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday to host. I love bringing my family together to celebrate. I enjoy the planning and the preparation. And since everyone requests the same traditional foods every year, I’ve gotten the holiday meal down to a comfortable routine.
I hosted my first Thanksgiving in 1980. I was a young mom living in Southern California with my husband and our two children. All our family lived in San Francisco, so my two grandmas, my parents, my in-laws, and my two brothers all flew down for the big event.
I researched recipes and read tips on turkey preparation for novice cooks. I also knew I could count on my mother and grandmothers to offer their wisdom on the day of the feast. I set the table with all my best china, silver and crystal—wedding gifts that were taken out only for special occasions. On the day before Thanksgiving, I made a batch of challah dough and braided 20 individual dinner rolls. My mom and two grandmas kept me company polishing silver and folding napkins. After that dinner, my braided rolls were legendary. My grandmother never stopped raving to all of her friends about them. Though the rolls were a show-stopper, in an effort to simplify, I stopped making them after a few years.
One enduring family favorite on our Thanksgiving menu is “Grapefruit-topped Sweet Potatoes.” My mom found the recipe in a Sunset magazine and I still have the original pasted in my recipe binder. Grapefruit sections bake on top of the spicy mashed sweet potatoes with a melted butter and brown sugar glaze that melds all the flavors into a tasty dish that pleases everyone.
Our after-dinner activities have varied over the years. We’ve reminisced about Thanksgivings past and played board games, like Pictionary and Yahtzee. We made stamp art cards to send to my daughter, the year she was studying in Bristol, England. But my favorite Thanksgiving ritual started in 1999, when I found a creative way to have everyone say something they were grateful for.
My husband cut maple leaves out of yellow, brown, and orange construction paper and put one at each person’s place. Before dinner I asked everyone to write something they were grateful for on the leaf. Then I collected all the leaves in a basket and put them away until we were finished with dinner. After the dishes were cleared, I brought out the basket and let everyone pick one leaf—not their own—to read out loud. We had so much fun laughing and trying to guess who wrote which leaf.
I still have all the leaves in my manila folder. Reading them now, the handwritten words of gratitude bring back sweet memories—especially the ones written by departed family members. I’m so grateful for all these Thanksgiving memories I’ve celebrated with my family.
Grapefruit-topped Sweet Potatoes
- 2 lbs. sweet potatoes*
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup light cream or milk
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. each nutmeg and cinnamon
- 4 Tbs. melted butter
- 2 medium grapefruit
- 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Steam the potatoes until tender. Then peel and mash until smooth. (You should have about 3 cups.) Beat in the egg, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and 2 tbs. butter. Spoon potato mixture into a greased shallow 1 1/2 quart casserole. Cool, cover, and chill if done ahead.
Cut skin and all white membrane from grapefruit; carefully cut out sections and arrange them on top of the potatoes. Pour the remaining butter evenly over top and sprinkle evenly with the sugar.
Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven until heated through, about 25 minutes.
Serves 8 generous portions
* You can substitute 1 large can and 1 small can of cooked yams.