I spent Thanksgiving alone today. By alone, I mean I never left my apartment. I FaceTimed twice with my family but didn’t have a single in-person interaction with another human.
I had mixed feelings going into this holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. No, it’s my favorite day of the year. I mean what foodie doesn’t love a day devoted to eating? In my 31 years, I had only ever spent one Thanksgiving away from my family. That was 2020 when the world was upside down, but we ended up having a very small Friendsgiving with a couple classmates of my roommate. I had never spent this day by myself.
Even though I spend a lot of solo time nowadays, I worried I might feel lonely being alone on the holiday. I enjoy my alone time, maybe more than anyone I know, but sometimes I worry I have become so accustomed to being alone that I don’t realize how much I miss being around people. Plus, I won’t lie. I’ve had a huge rough patch mentally. Months, or years. I can’t really remember at this point. My mental health has always been up and down, but it feels like it has been particularly bad since Covid hit in 2020. I kept hoping things would swing back upward, but it seemed like no matter what I did, nothing helped…but this post really isn’t about that.
This post is about what felt like a turning point. Not only did I truly enjoy my solo Thanksgiving, this will probably go down as one of my favorite Thanksgivings. I feel like a mental block that has been weighing me down has been lifted. Maybe it’s just the spirit of the holiday, but something about me feels different today. I haven’t written in months because I had no inspiration, but now I have cranked out this inter-monologue. I can’t anticipate how I will feel tomorrow, but for now, it feels like I got a glimpse of being myself again.
So, what has got me so excited today? It should go without saying that the answer is food. Today I cooked three meals plus a dessert. Recently, I haven’t done this much cooking throughout a week, let alone a single day. I am so proud of myself for sticking to my plan, but mostly because this was some of the best food I’ve ever made. Let’s go over what I ate today.
I love everything about fall: the foliage, the weather, the food, the flavors. One of my favorite fall flavors is maple. Even though maple tapping occurs in the spring, the deep amber flavor of maple syrup has always screamed fall to me. So for breakfast, I chose to make maple scones.
This recipe is from NYT Cooking. These scones have the perfect mix of savory and sweet that I love in a scone. I like that this recipe calls for using half whole wheat flour. It gives them a little bit more of that savory feel that made them ideal for breakfast. When they were hot out of the oven, I spread some fancy maple butter on them and sprinkled just a little bit of maple sugar on top. With a pumpkin cider from my favorite cidery and an iced coffee (because of course I had to) my Thanksgiving was off to a great start. I ate my breakfast while watching the parade, which was really the only one of my Thanksgiving traditions I stuck with today.
In my family, there really is no such thing as lunch on Thanksgiving, only snacks before dinner. We tend to eat early to mid-afternoon, so we don’t bother with a full meal before the main event. Since I was just cooking for one, I decided to go with my typical meal structure as if it were a normal day. That means lunch around 1 pm or so.
For lunch, I wasn’t following any recipes. I mostly went off some skills I learned in my culinary program. I had a fair amount of squash left over from my last couple of CSA boxes. I used the acorn and carnival squash to make a winter squash soup. I love pureed squash soup, and I am a sucker for how ridiculously simple they are to make. Yes, it takes time to roast the squash, but the active cooking time is fairly limited.
At 400 to 425, I roast the squash on baking sheets for about an hour (or until they are so tender you could smash them). Just cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and place them upside down on a baking sheet. I sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper beforehand. I add a little water to the pan to help steam the squash. Once the water evaporates, the bottom of the squash will start to caramelize, but without the water, you risk the squash burning before it’s cooked through. This is 100% a Chris Douglass trick. He is the lead culinary instructor at BU and was one of my teachers.
After the squash roast, I saute a little bit of shallot in butter until softened (onion works, too). Then I scoop the squash from their skins and add it to the pot. I cover the squash with stock (chicken or veggie stock works) and bring it to a simmer. After about 10 minutes, I puree the soup. You can transfer the soup to a blender and then return it to the pan, but sometimes (like today) I will use the immersion blender. Thanksgiving generates enough dishes as it is. I don’t need to unnecessarily dirty my blender. After the soup is blended, adjust the seasonings to taste and you can serve it as is, or with a little cream or creme fraiche. Today, I went with heavy cream…just a touch to give it that even more luscious, velvety texture.
To serve the soup, I made some croutons from cut-up dinner rolls. I pan-fried the cubes of bread in butter until golden brown. The butter definitely browned a little, giving these croutons a depth of flavor I didn’t know I needed in my life. I will now advocate for more brown butter croutons in the world. I also made a little brown butter with fried sage to drizzle on top of the soup. Including the toppings, that is only like 6 ingredients. Well maybe 7, as I did use the sumac & cumin spice blend from my work. This soup was simple but absolutely divine in taste, especially with those warm spices.
What goes great with soup? If you said salad, we are on the same wavelength. A good harvest salad is the perfect pairing for a squash soup. I made mine with baby kale, pomegranate seeds, roasted delicata squash, something called drunken goat cheese, and a cider vinaigrette. A creamy fall soup with a bright green salad. I can’t think of a better lunch to fuel me through the rest of the day’s cooking.
As if three meals to put together wasn’t enough work, I made dinner a three-course meal. I needed an appetizer to get my hunger to settle until the full meal was ready at 7:30. So around 5:00, I made myself a little bay scallop crudo.
Bay scallops are these tiny scallops that are a seasonal New England specialty. We are selling them at work, and I just had to get my hands on a pack. I really did not make a beautifully composed crudo, but it was delicious. I dressed the raw scallops with lemon juice and zest, olive oil, shallots, fennel fronds, and smoked sea salt. Bay scallops are wonderfully sweet, and the citrus components truly brought them to life.
My dad FaceTimed me for the second time today after they all finished dessert. I, on the other hand, hadn’t even started cooking my protein. I leaned into the metropolitan dinner schedule today. When you cook for just yourself, you can eat at whatever time you like. I followed a pace that suited me and didn’t stress me out. Dinnertime would be when dinner was ready.
When I made the decision to stay in Boston, I immediately knew there would be no turkey for me this year. In 2020, I cooked the smallest turkey possible for 4 people, and I still had leftovers for over a week. So, I bypassed poultry all together and turned to the sea. I am really turning into quite the fish eater these days.
An item in our shop I have been wanting to try is the swordfish chops. People seem to love them, and we are one of the only places you can purchase them online (that’s Wulf’s Fish, my employer). We market these as a luxury item, and I can see why. The texture, flavor, fattiness, etc. of this fish is unworldly.
I cooked the chop as I would a steak (only I took the internal temperature up to 145). I got a great pan-sear in a stainless steel pan, and then I finished it in a 375-degree oven. I had to make it feel festive, so I topped the chop with a cranberry and sage brown butter sauce.
I know the brown butter added an extra touch of fattiness, but it is unreal how fatty and tender sword chops are. Imagine the most tender pork shoulder you’ve ever tried, just dripping in its own fat. The sword chop was like that only better. I could not have imagined how much I would love this dish. Even though sword chops are so fatty, there is still a feeling of lightness from it being fish that you wouldn’t get with meat. The fish fell right off the bone and practically melted in my mouth. Succulent, butter, and cozy. This was by far the best I have ever cooked a piece of protein. I generally enjoy my cooking, but today I was flat-out impressed with myself.
My favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is typically the sides, so I couldn’t go without making a couple accompaniments. No stuffing or mashed potatoes here, however. Instead, I made glazed sweet potatoes and garlic lemon green beans. Although sweet potatoes and green beans are no strangers to the Thanksgiving table, I made variations that are not what I’d typically eat with my family.
I am a fan of roasting green beans. It’s such an underrated cooking method for this vegetable. A drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and these beans are into the oven to roast at 425 until they are tender and a little blistered. I topped with them with a quick dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and chopped garlic. This dish added much-needed color and acid to the table.
For the sweet potatoes, I decided to sous vide them. What better time to experiment with a new kitchen appliance than when you are cooking for yourself on a day off? I wanted to see what would happen if I vacuum seal sweet potatoes with apple cider, brown sugar, and smoky chili flakes, and then cook them using a sous vide machine. This was only my second time using the sous vide. After letting them cook at 185 degrees for about an hour, I cut open the bags, poured them into a pan, and let them cook until the liquid reduced to a glaze. These potatoes were so tender and flavorful. The glaze had the ideal sweet-smoky balance. I would make these again, although I would be curious to see what would happen if I finish them under the broiler. I would love to see some caramelization form on the potatoes.
Of course, I couldn’t end the day without dessert. Baking a pie was probably the most Thanksgiving-y thing I did today. Truth be told, I messed up my pie, which is so on-trend for me. I swear I am not bad at pie-baking, but when I try to make a pie on Thanksgiving, I always do something wrong. I have made very successful tarts on Thanksgiving, but on the three occasions I tried to make a pie, they have all been failures.
I had some small pumpkins and a butternut squash from my CSA box. It truly was a squash-tastic day. I thought I’d try making my first-ever pumpkin pie. I guess I need to improve my pie skills, because this was just not the outcome I had hoped it would be.
The first thing that went wrong was not being able to find my metal pie pan. Maybe I misplaced it during my move, but I didn’t realize it was M.I.A. until I went to roll out my dough. So, I decided to go with a rustic pie in a cast iron pan.
I made the filling and got it in the oven as directed in the recipe. It said it would take 40-50 minutes to bake. I checked on my pie at 30 minutes, and the filling was completely set. No jiggle left. I may not be a pumpkin pie expert, but I do know that is an overbaked filling. I am confused as to how it could have happened so quickly, because the temperature was set at 300, but I definitely baked it too long. During cooling, the filling cracked, and the pie just did not look too appealing.
The good news is that it does still taste good. I love the flavors of the pumpkin with all the warm spices. I think it’s what a pumpkin pie is supposed to taste like. We don’t actually eat the standard pumpkin pie in my family. It is not my favorite pie, but I do like it. Even though the filling was overly set, I can still appreciate what pumpkin pie has to offer. Plus, if you top it with hand-whisked cinnamon whipped cream, much can be forgiven.
Well, there you have it. That’s the story of how Catie possibly got her spunk back. Only time will tell how long this will last, but maybe I can ride this momentum into the new year.
Like most of my vulnerable posts, I wrote this as a form of therapy for myself. However, if anyone is still reading, I just want to say that whatever you did for yourself today, it was enough. It may feel impossible some days to even get out of bed; trust me I know, but you are doing the best you can. You don’t need to make a gourmet meal to take care of yourself. However you are able to nourish yourself is great.
Also, I encourage everyone, regardless of their stage in life, to not be afraid of your own company. I am not saying we should abandon human contact. We all need people in our lives, but I also think everyone can benefit from a little solitude. If you are away from your loved ones this holiday season and are feeling sad, do something that will bring you joy, even if it is just for one day.
I hope there is more to come from me soon. In the meantime, have a wonderful week.