Thanksgiving Prep (with a little help from the nice folks at New York Times Cooking)

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Aromatics to dry-brine our Thanksgiving turkey. Includes sage, thyme, rosemary, garlic, kosher salt, pepper and a mix of orange and lemon zest.

Last Thanksgiving I decided “enough” with all this cooking. It makes a mess, takes up a lot of time, and what’s the difference anyway, right? A roast turkey is a roast turkey. So I went to the dark side and ordered Thanksgiving dinner for eight from my local grocery store.

A side dish called “ambrosia” was included. It was a far cry from the style of ambrosia I remember my late mother-in-law and her sister painstakingly preparing in their tiny kitchen near the Pensacola Navy base. The supermarket ambrosia was a squishy concoction made of tiny marshmallows, sour cream, canned mandarin oranges, canned crushed pineapple, maraschino cherries, and coconut.

Lois and Ann’s elegant Alabama version had four ingredients: navel oranges, red grapefruit, flaked coconut, and a touch of plain old cane sugar. That’s it. They served it in small stemmed crystal compotes. It was the perfect foil for an otherwise rich meal. We called them “the old gals,” and there will never be another pair like them. Buck and I will miss them forever.

I supplemented last year’s supermarket meal with some of our traditional side dishes, including Hopkin’s Boarding House Squash Casserole. Other family members brought a sweet potato dish and desserts. We had great fun, as always, but the storebought main event and its accompaniments were dreadful disappointments. The turkey, overcooked and nearly too salty to eat, the so-called ambrosia a sugar-coma inducing glop. The younger set unsurprisingly went for it. I didn’t dare peek at the nutritional analysis, instead encouraging everyone to take a good walk after the meal.

The packaged dinner came with a whole turkey, dressing, gravy (which was so gross I never put it on the table), the ambrosia (aka “marshmallow delight”) and cranberry sauce.

The cranberry sauce was inoffensive, but it didn’t compare to the Epicurious recipe we’ve used for years, Triple Cranberry Sauce, a fragrant melange of fresh and dried cranberries, orange marmalade and apricot jam, pomegranate juice and cook’s choice of a splash of Grand Marnier or Wild Turkey.

So (as I’m certain you’ve intuited) this year I’m cooking again, and while others at the table may be happy for the return of the good stuff, it’s primarily for my own pleasure. The savory and sweet aromas that fill the house starting several days before the event make a homemade Thanksgiving remarkably pleasurable for the cook.

I have a humble and grateful heart for winding up in this life of comfort and ease, retired and secure in the love of my dear Buck and our whole extended family.

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The turkey and aromatics have been sealed in a bag and will stay in the fridge until early Thanksgiving morning. Thanks to New York Times Food Editor Sam Sifton (#nytimescooking) and food columnist Melissa Clark for the recipe, called Simple Roast Turkey.

Check out New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark’s “Essential Turkey” video how to. She makes it look simple and fun. Best of all, there’s no stuffing or trussing.

Aromatic