The glorious Thanksgiving season is upon us and, to all of my US readers, I hope you have a wonderfully festive week. Even if you’re not celebrating T-day this week, keep reading because I’m convinced that Thanksgiving is, in fact, the perfect frugal holiday. I mean, the whole day is centered around a cornerstone of successful frugality: cooking at home! Unlike nearly every other holiday we mark throughout the year, there’s essentially nothing to buy for Thanksgiving except for food. How great, and tasty, is that!
I mean, we can’t talk about Thanksgiving without discussing the food, am I right? When I hear backlash against this holiday’s meal to the effect that it encourages gluttony and overconsumption, I must heartily disagree! What I think Thanksgiving encourages are: LEFTOVERS! Quite possibly the greatest aspect of Thanksgiving are the massive quantities of leftover foodstuffs.
Leftovers are a linchpin of frugality and smart, efficient cooking in general. Throwing out food is a terrible proposition for your time, your money, and the environment. Leftovers represent a great deal of embodied cost: you’ve already spent money on the ingredients and invested a fair amount of your time in preparing the meal. Why on earth would you then throw your labors down the drain? Or into the trash? The horror!
Learning to love the leftover life will make you a happier frugal person and will cut down on your workload and your grocery budget. I can pretty much guarantee this. If you’re not a fan of eating the same food night after night, simply freeze whatever you don’t eat and defrost it for a future no-fuss meal (we call this “frugal take-out” because you just take it out of the freezer and eat it). Perfect.
In addition to the embodied costs of your time and money, food comes to us with an already fairly hefty carbon footprint. It must be grown, harvested, shipped, and stored–all of which takes time, money, and fossil fuels. If we then carelessly toss this food into the trash, we’re adding to its already substantial environmental price tag by increasing pollution in our landfills. Plus, discarded food is a producer of methane, which is a leading cause of climate change. Not cool, guys. Do not throw out food. For more inspiration and motivation to live a food-waste-free life, check out:
- How I Fight Food Waste At Thanksgiving And Beyond
- Thanksgiving Is The Gateway Drug To A Leftover Loving Life
- The Dirty Secret Behind How We Cook At Home
Frugalwoods Thanksgivings Past (and hopefully future)
For the past five years, we’ve hosted Mr. Frugalwoods’ family at our home for Thanksgiving, which is a treat and a delight. I love having our home filled with family, not to mention the incredible smells of Mr. FW and his mother cooking up divine concoctions in our kitchen. I’d always thought of the Thanksgiving feast as a basic rota of a turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, and a pumpkin pie.
But this is not how it happens according to Mr. FW and his mother–they outdo themselves year after year with inventive recipes for everything from brussels sprouts to yams to things involving bacon (enough said). We feast on this spread for several days and then judiciously freeze everything that’s leftover. I gotta tell you, I am amazed at how many foods freeze well! I think our success might be due in part to our deep freeze (and probably also my low standards for food–my metric is: if I don’t have to cook it, I will eat it). But seriously, you can freeze just about anything!
Mr. FW also makes turkey stock from the turkey innards and bones and freezes it for use throughout the year in stews, soups, and chilis. We still have several ziplocks of “Turk Stock” (what he labeled it as) in our deep freeze from last year. I am the director of desserts and–through trial, error, plus a questionnaire I forced everyone to answer one year–I’ve landed on the following “most craved” desserts for our family:
Shoo Fly Pie. A relic of my mother-in-law’s grandmother’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots, this unusual molasses-flavored pie is semi-sweet and best as a breakfast or afternoon coffee accompaniment (or if you’re me, perfect anytime you can get a piece). I will caution that this pie is not universally loved. We–the Frugalwoods clan–adore and adulate this pie, but I’ve served it to friends who politely tried to stomach it without much apparent glee. So be forewarned! Should you choose to bake this pie, I include the recipe–in my mother-in-law’s handwriting–in this post.
- Pecan Pie. I am actually not a huge fan of this pie, but it is ridiculously popular with my dad, my father-in-law, and Mr. FW. It’s also unbelievably easy to make, so I’m happy to oblige them every year. The recipe I use was originally my great aunt’s, although I think she got it off of a Karo syrup bottle because it bears a striking resemblance to this recipe. No matter, it’s a family favorite!
- Pumpkin Crisp Cake. The utilization of this recipe came about after a somewhat controversial realization that no one (except for me and my mom) like the pumpkin cheesecake pie that I grew up with on Thanksgiving. I know this because, in a zeal to feed my guests one year, I made four of them. And three of them went uneaten (ok they didn’t go uneaten forever, it’s just that no one ate them Thanksgiving week and so I took them into my office and, full disclosure, was personally responsible for the consumption of 2.5 of them… ). In the interest of meeting my guests’ tastes, several years ago I began employing a delectable pumpkin crisp recipe, which is way easier to make than pies and receives rave reviews from all parties. So, there you have it. This recipe is very close to what I make.
Oh the glories of Thanksgiving feasts!
Thanksgiving 2017 at the Frugalwoods Homestead
This year we’re celebrating on a smaller scale as a cozy little family of 3.5 (plus Frugal Hound!). We visited my in-laws last month and they’re coming to–mercifully–help us when our second child is born in February. Given this, they decided to forgo their Thanksgiving trip this year. We’ll miss them terribly and in their absence, we’ll employ our own mini traditions. Two years ago, we had much the same Thanksgiving as we awaited our first child’s birth!
Babywoods 1 was born a few days after Thanksgiving, so we spent that holiday feasting on a scaled-back version of Thanksgiving dinner and decorating for Christmas. When it’s just us for Thanksgiving, we focus in on our most favorite elements of the meal as opposed to splashing out for the entire traditional spread. This year, chef Frugalwoods will be making:
- Sage and Sausage Stuffing. This stuff is certifiably amazing. Here’s the recipe, and you’re welcome. You will not be disappointed. It really says something that this’ll be our main course as opposed to a turkey bird.
- Cranberry orange sauce. A recipe Mr. FW made up, this involves using real cranberries, orange peel, and bourbon.
- Biscuits. Full disclosure, you guys, we use canned biscuits. Try not to faint. Mr. FW made them from scratch one year and: 1) it took him forever. For-ev-er. and 2) they honestly didn’t taste as good as the ones from a can (sorry, Mr. FW)! One of our very few non-homemade food splurges, yep, it’s biscuits from a can. Something so simple, even I could probably handle popping open the can and arraying them on a baking sheet. But, let’s be honest, I won’t because it’s not my department.
Cheese straws. Mr. FW first made these delectable little tidbits for his mother’s birthday this summer (which we celebrated at our house) and they were a resounding success. Our neighbor baked them awhile back and, overcome with love for them, Mr. FW sought out the recipe and gave it a try. They are beyond good and–according to my personal chef–not difficult to make. I’m not surprised as they’re a King Arthur Flour (KAF) recipe. KAF is my go-to for nearly all baking recipes. I’ve never made a bad KAF recipe. Doesn’t hurt that they’re a locally-owned Vermont cooperative and I met a woman once at a baby playgroup who designs and tests their recipes! I think she thought I was an unhinged fan based on how much I waxed on about her amazing recipes… They’re that good.
- Cinnamon rolls from scratch. This is a brand-new addition that Mr. FW decided to tackle this year, primarily as a result of my comments about the glories of cinnamon rolls (which I have yet to consume) during this pregnancy. To say I’m excited would be a gross understatement. I’m not sure what Mr. FW plans to eat as I’ll be taking care of these in their entirety. It’s telling that, here again, we’re employing a King Arthur Flour recipe (although I can’t personally testify for this particular recipe as we haven’t made it yet).
Deviled Eggs. I don’t think these have anything to do with Thanksgiving, per se, but we really love them and we never have them outside of the holiday season. So, we’re having them!
- Shoo Fly Pie. I will, in fact, deign to enter the kitchen in order to bake Shoo Fly Pies as they are truly the landmark taste of Frugalwoods holidays. It just wouldn’t be right not to have one. Since my mother-in-law’s recipe makes two pies (and efficiency and all that), I’ll go ahead and bake both this week and then freeze one for Christmas. I’ve never frozen a Shoo Fly Pie before, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m optimistic/going to do it anyway. P.S. I’m using pre-made frozen pie crusts because I have a toddler, I’m pregnant, and I have a book coming out in March. Time-saving and all that.
As you can see, this is nowhere near a traditional Thanksgiving menu, but it’s a menu of foods we love (carbs!!) that represent a major deviation from our normal kale/chard/garbanzo bean diet. It’s also, now that I look at, basically a bunch of side dishes and deserts, which is how we like to eat if given the chance. Lots to taste! I think the holidays are all about creating and enjoying special meals, so this menu sounds perfect to me. Also, I’m now starving and wondering when Mr. FW plans on making those cinnamon rolls… right about now seems like a good time.
Create A Thanksgiving That Works For YOU
I heard a story on NPR this past weekend about the stress that many people feel over an imperative to create a perfect, sumptuous, traditional Thanksgiving feast, to which I say, why? Why make foods you don’t enjoy or don’t know how to cook? If your family loves spaghetti more than anything, why not have that? If your specialty is homemade Indian food, why not cook Chana Masala? Being an anti-stress, anti-pressure, anti-conformist person, I perish the thought of people fretting over a holiday meal. I mean truly, what is the point?
There’s no law saying you must have a turkey and mashed potatoes on your table this Thursday. There’s no Thanksgiving police ready to fine you for not serving a pumpkin-themed dish. Do what you love and cook what works for you. Create a holiday you’ll enjoy, not one that you’ll stress out over.
This is crucial to remember because I often find that when we’re stressed out about something, we ratchet up our spending. We start throwing money at a problem in a vain attempt to make it all better, which usually just ends up complicating the situation and throwing off our finances for the month. Perhaps I’m too laissez-faire about these things, but if a tradition causes you heartburn and makes you spend more money than you normally would, why do it?
The holidays are meant to be fun, to be filled with delight, and to leave you with warm, lasting memories. Tearing your hair out in the kitchen for twelve hours straight is not in alignment with those goals. So I challenge you this year to let go of the drive for a perfect, Instagram-worthy Thanksgiving and instead create a holiday that’s peaceful, low-stress, and centered around time with family as opposed to time in the kitchen. Just channel me and my biscuits-from-a-can (which really are delicious, I’ve got to say… ) and frozen pie crusts.
The Season Of Gratitude
I feel as though I have a slightly deeper understanding of Thanksgiving now that we live on a homestead beholden to the natural world in a way that we never were back in our city days. The notion of celebrating the harvest, expressing gratitude that summer’s labors are over, and relishing the privilege of being inside a warm, snug house with plenty to eat is a more profound realization for us now that we grow some of our own food and heat our home with wood from our land. It’s a real seasonal imperative to hunker down inside and appreciate the fruits of our seasonal work.
I’m on a quest to infuse gratitude into my daily life (results totally vary… ) and one of the ways I do this is by reflecting on how thankful I am for seemingly simple things that I used to take for granted. I am thankful that I live in a warm home, I am thankful that I have electricity and water, I am thankful for my health… it’s a pretty long list. By reminding myself that it’s entirely within my control to perceive that I’m surrounded by abundance as opposed to deprivation, I’m able to manifest contentment.
I am not a perfectly grateful, zen person. I’m really impatient and also a recovering perfectionist (constantly in recovery… ). These attributes are not attractive and they do not help me to be gracious and loving. But this daily practice of listing things that are awesome about my life, and remembering that my happiness is largely within my control, does seem to be working.
Mr. FW and I are profoundly privileged, a topic I’ve reflected on a number of times here on Frugalwoods, and I feel an imperative to keep this privilege top of mind. Something about parenting a small toddler has a way of chipping away at one’s inner peace and eroding the confidence and gratitude that I start the day with. By creating small bits of space for gratitude to creep in, I’m able to see the bigger picture of the interesting (stubborn), independent (willful), intelligent (talks non-stop) person my daughter is growing into, as opposed to dwelling on the frustrations of daily toddler existence (to whit, I’m writing this with a child literally clinging to my leg… ). One of the greatest gifts frugality has given me is the understanding of how much I have and how little I actually need in order to live the good life.
Thanksgiving is a time when we’re prompted into gratitude and I think that’s a wonderful thing for a holiday to do. Rather than exerting a focus on gifts, or external metrics of happiness, or material wealth, Thanksgiving centers around the core things we value. Find space this week for this type of reflection, seek out quiet moments to list the things you’re thankful for (an exercise not just for kids!), and meditate on gratitude.