Let’s be real. No one feels like spending a lot of time decorating for Thanksgiving. There’s too much cooking and soon to be too much Christmas hall decking to be done in just a few days. Also, for my family, there’s the extra step of packing up all the warm turkey and side dishes and transporting the festive meal to my grandparents’s house. However, it is fun for the Thanksgiving table to feel like fall, especially if the scene setting is easy.
Yesterday, I bought a little packet of faux leaves from Michaels. I’m planning on sprinkling a few around my newly bought metal pheasant (or is it a grouse or maybe a partridge?) as a centerpiece. The remaining leaves are now a simple garland.
To make the garland:
I threaded all of the leaves onto a length of gold thread, making sure to send the thread through various places in the leaves. If I threaded through the end of one leaf, I would thread through the middle or side of the next. I noticed this added to the illusion of leaves haphazardly floating on the breeze.
I then laid the newly threaded garland on the floor and spaced the leaves as far apart as I wanted them.
Next I flipped over each leaf and added a very small dot of hot glue over the place where the thread went through the leaf to make sure that all of the leaves stayed spaced apart.
Just a dot of glue is enough.
The leaves and pheasant are currently displayed on the mantle awaiting their trip to my grandparents’. Along with the simple, festive centerpiece, I plan to drape the garland across a window behind the table. I’ll be sure to post pictures of the finished table.
More sweet potatoes, more family, and more Thanksgiving is always better.
I’m pretty sure I’m totally capable of making sweet potato caserol on my own. Of course, I don’t know for sure because my mom has always helped me.
One of my family’s top two favorite Thanksgiving dishes (tied with my dad’s cornbread dressing) is Mom’s Senator Russel’s Sweet Potato Soufflé. Ok, so in reality, any idea of who Senator Russel was has been lost to time, and from my understanding, the finished side doesn’t fit the definition of a soufflé, but oh my goodness, all cares about the name are completely forgotten as soon as the smells of roasted pecans and sweet potatoes start wafting out of the oven. The second the casserole dish is taken out of the oven, it takes a lot of will power not to dive in before anyone else knows it’s cooked.
The magnetic deliciousness of this dish is why my extended family (and now some lucky friends with the recipe) jump at the chance to bring it to any holiday gathering possible. It’s been to every work and friends’ Thanksgiving in memory, and I’m pretty sure I even brought it to a baby shower a few years ago. You can never ever have too much sweet potato soufflé! Which brings me to another point. You also can’t seem to have enough help making these sweet potatoes either.
Each time someone offers to bring Senator Russel’s potatoes, my mom starts looking visibly anxious. I’ve come to find out this is because she’s just adding this newest offer to the list of at least five other times the dish will be made the week before Thanksgiving, and it is implied that she will personally help make it each time. To be clear, I never ask for her help, but it always seems to arrive. Sometimes, the sweet potatoes are even pre-baking in the oven before I can personally get to Kroger to buy the ingredients. Just as arriving at dinners with a warm bowl of bright orange sweet potatoes and crusty sugared pecans has become a tradition, knowing my mom will tell me when I’ve mashed the potatoes enough or even taking the spoon from my hand to show me a better way to stir together the crisp topping has become completely expected.
When I first started making this dish, I found the extra help just a smidge annoying. Did my mom not think I was a good cook? Why wouldn’t she just cook something else when I could handle this? I wondered. However, after a few years of this supervision, I realized even though I could make the dish by myself, I didn’t really want to. I think the rest of my family has learned the same thing, too. Every time we cook sweet potato soufflé, there’s always a Hallmark movie in the background, and at some point, my mom and I will both get tickled when pecans start flying out of the mixing bowl as someone stirs too vigorously. With so much help in the kitchen, the festivities begin before the dinner even starts, and the dish has always turned out perfect with extra eyes on the recipe.
So, my recommendation is to use this dish as an excuse to have yet another festive meal, and as a way to make memories with loved ones in the kitchen.
For the filling, add all filling ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Stir till combined. Empty this mixture into an oven safe casserole dish.
For the topping, add all topping ingredients to a smaller mixing bowl. My mother uses two butter knives to cut the margarine into the other ingredients with a crisscrossing motion. I have achieved the same results just staring with a spoon when she isn’t looking. The stirring method is personal choice. Once the topping is combined, sprinkle (don’t press) the crumbly mixture on top of the sweet potato mixture in the casserole dish.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, but serve while warm.
*The recipe can be mixed and added to the casserole dish and kept in the refrigerator overnight to be baked the next day.
I mean, the kids are all over 21 now, two of my cousins are married, and there is an abundance of wine…but we still always break out a craft or coloring page, and all of our parents and grandparents still sit at another table in the formal dining room.
I’m also in charge of decor for both tables. To differentiate, I like to keep my table a little more fun and informal, while the grown ups get a more formal dining experience.
Typically, though, I like to tie both tables together with an emphasis on natural decor by bringing the outdoors in (literally). It’s nice to inspire a seasonal ambiance by focusing the decor on what is naturally beautiful at this time of year.
At the kids’ table
Last year, I created a flurry of leaves by preserving maple leaves and suspending them from the chandelier with various lengths of fishing wire.
It’s pretty easy to create this effect. Just soak any leaf in glycerine and water soon after picking, and the leaves will stay more vibrant and less crispy. A simple Google search will help with the exact amount of glycerine necessary.
I added to this rustic table setting with homemade napkin rings (ribbons hot glued to acorns collected in my yard) and little pumpkins I kept from Halloween. All of these natural elements played well with my mother’s colorful serving dish as a centerpiece and some bright placemats.
Meanwhile at the grownups’ table
I had a few tables to work with. On one, another little round pumpkin became a carved planter for a burgundy pansy.
On the buffet, there was space for homemade beeswax candles since all of the casseroles were being served from the kitchen next door. Each of these little candles were made from a mail order kit, and cored apples in serving dishes and teacups served were perfect candle sticks.
To add hight at and keep the formal feel, a seasonal flower bouquet took center stage in a prized vase.
Overall, most of the decorations were inexpensive or were found outside or among family heirlooms around the house. The best part was that the day was warm and personal. The decor at both tables helped set the stage for a wonderful dinner and memories with family.
Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and that your holiday is beautiful. I can’t wait to share pictures from this year.
Every time friends mention they are going to Maine, I feel secondhand excitement just thinking of all the fun they are going to have.
Camden, ME is one of my favorite, if not my favorite place in the US. I’ve been visiting Camden every few years since I was pretty little, and every time I leave, I can’t wait to go back. Once, I told someone that Maine is better than 95 percent of the the places you can visit in the world, and my sister quickly told me that was a low estimate.
Places to stay on a trip to Maine:
I would highly recommend staying in Camden as your home base and balancing your trip with both exploring this little town and taking day trips along the cost. There are also several very cute, very small towns in which to stay. For example, tiny Rockport is very quaint and quiet but still close to everything.
There are obviously no bad neighborhoods to avoid. In town, the Gaylord Camden is very nice, but the place my family and I have loved the most is the 200 year old home in Rockport that we found on Airbnb.
You will definitely need to rent car even if you will be staying primarily in one town. When my family visits Maine, we really spend a lot of time sightseeing and enjoying nature. We frequently take drives or hikes just to see the scenery and find a new lighthouse or adorable roadside store along the way. Maine is very rural and historic, which is a lot of its charm.
Perfect things to do in Camden-
Eat breakfast in one of the little restaurants downtown
Mariners has a patio right over the little waterfall that pours into the harbor and has both beautiful views and pancakes with Maine blueberry jelly, yum!
My sister’s boyfriend claims that blueberry muffins at the Bagel Cafe behind the Lord Camden are the best food he’s ever eaten…to the point that he ate two there and one on the way home… but I love the bagels.
Stroll around the lawn in front of the Public Library. There just isn’t a more peaceful place.
Take a Windjammer Cruise.
I highly recommend the Schooner Appledore.
The tours are always beautiful, of course.The guys who sail the ships are characters who make the trip fun. You’ll see seals, Camden harbor, and lighthouses!
There are a several tours available. My family really enjoys the short cruises of an hour or two during the day or even at sunset.
Hike or drive to the top of Mount Battie for a panoramic view of Camden’s place along Maine’s jagged coastline and rocky islands.
On fall afternoons, pick apples at a nearby farm.
There are quite a few places to pick apples and many varieties of apples, so just run a google search to see what’s near you.
This activity is best done at the beginning of the trip because you’ll want to want to bring a few apples with you when setting out for each day’s adventures. You may also have a chance to make and enjoy an apple pie if your place has a kitchen.
Tour the little shops in the little downtown. You’ll find everything from quality clothing to souvenirs and nicknacks. The Smiling Cow is a classic.
After dinner (or really anytime), grab an ice-cream at Camden Cone.
Fun in surrounding towns:
Owl’s Head Lighthouse is my very favorite lighthouse.
This is in a very forested promontory with a little museum and gift store in the old keeper’s quarters, and you can hike down to a little rocky beach to one side.
In Rockland, ME
Walk out to the Breakwater Lighthouse.
This is kind of a trek. It’s located a little over a quarter mile walk out in a bay over a breakwater of large rocks.
In Rockland, ME
While there, also check out the Samoset Hotel.
My family loves to visit Art Galleries.Farnsworth Museum–
The main museum in Rockland houses a collection of contemporary and historic American artists with a specific wing dedicated to the works of the Wyeth family.
The Farnsworth also owns the bleak and weathered Olson House in Cushing, ME. This home inspired and is featured in many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, including Christina’s World.
Many painters have been inspired by Maine, so even small galleries are filled with great art. My favorite of these is the Wiscasset Bay Gallery, which just happens to be just steps away from a wonderful antique store and what is said to be Maine’s best lobster rolls, Red’s Eats.
A trip to Maine is essentially a challenge to eat as many lobster rolls as humanly possible. There are many awesome places to eat this delicacy. Camden’s best restaurant, Cappy’s, is out of business, so my family is still on a quest to find a replacement. The best lobster rolls are served in roadside stands by local fishermen, not in restaurants. Don’t be shocked, though, if they charge restaurant prices…lobster is lobster, but it is so worth the price. Lobster rolls here are the best you will find anywhere in the world.
Recently, the best lobster rolls I have had were at Libby’s Market in Brunswick, ME. Don’t be surprised that the little dining area is in what looks like a regular gas station. The rolls are very good and fresh. The owner and his wife catch the lobster themselves.
A Little Farther Away from Camden:
Go to Acadia National Park!
The place comes alive for leaf peepers in fall. Bar Harbor is a nice place to visit near the park entrance.
Visit the L.L.Bean Flagship Store with the giant Bean Boot out front. L.L.Bean was founded in Maine, promotes an outdoor lifestyle, and supports the National Park Foundation…could there be a better company?
Visit the other awesome outlet stores. The Patagonia outlet in Freeport, just across the street from L.L.Bean and the Barbour outlet in Kittery can’t be beat.
I chose to waste extra hours of vacation time in order to spend time by myself in a city that didn’t particularly interest me.
To explain… when booking plane tickets for my trip to ski in Park City, I had the option of flying into Salt Lake City at 9pm the day before skiing or at 11:30am on the same day. I wasn’t particularly interested in Salt Lake City, and I value my vacation days like they’re made of gold, but in the interest of not being exhausted the next day, I chose the earlier flight.
This meant that I would be spending most of the day entertaining myself in what I imagined to be a featureless desert waiting on my sister, her boyfriend, and his brother to arrive from ATL around 7pm. So I did some research. At first, I was sold (by my sister’s boyfriend) on spending the day seeing the Bonneville Salt Flats. It didn’t take me long to decide that was a LOT of driving for minimal reward, especially if the flats were possibly flooded, which is highly probable in late March. I really had wanted to see this place where land speed records are routinely set, and I was super intrigued by the fact that in some places, the salt is up to 5 feet deep…how surreal! However, the flats are about an hour and a half from the airport, which would have limited my time elsewhere, and if there’s any rain, then there’s no driving to be done out there.
Instead, I made myself a nice little itinerary that I managed to follow with time to spare.
I knew it was going to be a strange and magical day when I had to stop just after the rental car exit for a tumble weed to pass.
First, I wanted to see what I termed “The Giant Mormon Temple.”
I’ve heard the downtown called the Vatican of Mormonism, which is pretty apt. Also, my own observation was that this is the cleanest state capital I’ve ever seen.
Ok, so confession, this landmark was a little lost on me. It wasn’t as gigantic as I expected, and it’s not as embellished as some cathedrals I’ve seen, but I’m sure I would love it if I were Mormon, so I’m not bashing it. Also fascinating fact: inside the building isn’t just one large room, like a cathedral. Instead, a visitor enters from the basement then progresses through a series of symbolic rooms, each at different, ascending levels, until the person reaches the top floor.
I also saw the State Capital building…very stately, indeed.
Then because I generally appreciate nature more than cities, I went to Antelope Island.
At first, I was a little concerned that the island home of bison and antelopes wouldn’t be worth the drive, but a nice local lady at Utah’s version of Kroger assured me it was worth the trip.
Note: Getting to antelope island did not take as long as Google thought it would. Google seemed to be calculating distance to the very end of the island loop, which is not necessary because the animals can be seen even near the beginning of the several mile loop.
Note: There is a $10 entrance fee for most cars, but it was well worth the price.
After paying the small few, I crossed a causeway across the Salt Lake. I am a complete stranger to this environment, was immediately awestruck.
It was a very still day, and the clouds reflecting on the Salt Lake gave a sense of surreal, horizonless vastness. I had heard of this effect on flooded salt flats in Bolivia and knew that it was also possible on the salt flats I had passed up, but I was astounded to unexpectedly stumble upon this mirage.
The view directly behind the pastel, horizonless moonscape was equally majestic with the mountains rising beside the lake becoming more and more blanketed in spring snow as I drove.
Despite the breathtaking views, I knew I would be a little bummed if I didn’t see the bison or antelope I had driven to see. Don’t worry, though. Unlike looking for wildlife in many parklands, the bison and antelope are very easy to find once you arrive on the island at the end of the causeway.
I felt like I had stepped back into the old west.
I took most of the drive around the island and had to stop several times for bison who were wandering across the street. It was truly great.
I also spotted a group of antelope, but they were a little farther away.
I spent a few hours driving and photographing then drove back to Salt Lake City a little before rush hour with very easy traffic.
Note: Salt Lake City is serious about their HOV lanes, or maybe I was just aware of this in contrast to Memphis’s willy nilly monitoring of the HOV.
Once I got back to SLC, I ate at Settebello, the pizza place I had previously found online. I parked in a centrally located garage and felt safe walking the ten minutes to the restaurant.
The pizza and wine were great and are my favorite things to eat on vacation, but Red Iguana Mexican restaurant closer to the center of downtown also looked very good.
Note: servings of wine are limited to smaller glasses because of Mormon views on alcohol.
After dinner, I chose to walk to the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. It was pay what you wish and was rather small. I wouldn’t say it’s a can’t miss museum at all, but if you have a few minutes to kill in downtown Salt Lake City, it’s a decent stop. The temporary exhibit while I was there was Desire Lines, which I learned is a path formed in nature by erosion, humans, or animals that most often represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between origin and destination. This was an interesting theme to reflect on after nice to reflect on after my earlier trek through the rugged landscape with bison, antelope, and other tourists.
After the museum, I strolled through the very nice indoor shopping mall (with an indoor stream and an Athleta store) next to Temple Square before driving back to the airport.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by Salt Lake City. The most notable positive point was that I felt very safe walking all over downtown as a single, female traveler. I also enjoyed that every part of the city seemed well maintained. Moreover, everyone I encountered was very polite and friendly and glad to give directions. All of these things were very refreshing after traveling from Memphis, where safety, friendliness, and cleanliness are often hard to find. I will, however, follow these positive reviews with the opinion that I probably did everything that interested me in Salt Lake City in one day and that it is a great layover city and not a true destination city for me…my desire line stretched from the airport through the city and to the ski slopes beyond.
An Honest and Authoritative guide to eating in and around St. Petersburg, FL
If it’s not on this list, I really wouldn’t bother.
Fourth Street Shrimp Store- Casual, family restaurant in downtown St. Pete– My favorite restaurant in the whole world. My family eats here at least three times on every week long trip, but it’s totally acceptable to eat here for every meal.
Recommendations in order-favorites first:
Popcorn Shrimp is tied with fried Jumbo Shrimp
Regular Fried Shrimp
The Hurricane-Tropical, landmark restaurant steps from the beach on Pass-a-grille– Eat lunch outside before walking to the beach. There is also a dinner restaurant on the second floor and a bar for watching the sunset on the third floor.
Grouper- the grouper sandwich or fried grouper bites
Leverocks– Upscale seafood restaurant with a somewhat elderly clientele-don’t be fooled, Florida’s retired folks know where to find good food.
Try the signature Scrod Jason
Dockside Dave’s– heavy , large portions of fresh seafoodon madeira beach
Try the blackened grouper, fried grouper, and onion rings
Shell’s-fun dining location for families
The second best clam chowder in St. Pete. The muscles and shrimp pasta are also very good.
Billy’s Stone Crab–Large restaurant with a dock and often live music set into a mangrove inlet on Tierra Verde with sunset and natural views. *My family is currently boycotting this restaurant because the wait staff isn’t very friendly, they charged us double for a to-go order, and they stopped serving shrimp cocktail. I personally like the restaurant though.
Try the stone crab with a house salad. The complimentary bread is also very food.
Sometimes a whole lobster is only $8!
Ted Peters– extremely casual outdoor dining. Only serves smoked fish, hamburgers, and hot dogs, but everything is so so good. There is really an old Florida feel here. The fish is smoked on property with a choice of three types of fish. The hamburgers and hot dogs are juicy and delicious. If you like root beer, the root beer is very old fashioned and homemade.
all toppings for hamburgers are extra.
The waitstaff used to be rude. They are much nicer now.
This is a cash only restaurant.
Coney Island– This diner in the heart of downtown has not changed since my grandad took me there as a toddler, but I’ve heard it hasn’t changed since it opened in the 1920’s either.
Order a chili dog (or as many as you can eat), a side of slaw (to put on the chili dog), and a chocolate milkshake…yum!
Rocco– formal dining in a turn of the century mansion in downtown St. Pete. My cousin’s rehearsal dinner was held here. Everything is delicious and well worth the price from the appetizers, to the steak, to the mixed drinks.
Pappas– Fresh Mediterranean fare in a Deli style restaurant. There is only one restaurant in Tampa and in the airport now.
Try the house salad. It’s very unique with potato salad under a Greek salad. Really everything is good, though.
Red Mesa– Casual but upscale, contemporary Mexican food a little outside of downtown St.Pete. There is a wide variety of delicious guacamoles. They also serve various types of sangria instead of mixed drinks.
Columbian– The oldest restaurant in FL. Located in Tampa. Ornate decor, authentic Spanish cuisine. The Columbian salad is the best. Also, I don’t love sangria, but the sangria here is good.
Ceviche Tappas– Creative tapas located in a cool old art neuvo hotel in downtown St. Pete. Lovely patio. Not as casual as most restaurants on this list. Nice date ambiance and unique, inspired menu.
Simply Delicious– cuban deli located just outside of downtown St.Pete, this is the very definition of a whole in the wall in not the best neighborhood in St.Pete. Family owned and operated, and they love their customers. They always remember my grandad and ask if his grandkids are in town. The sandwiches and rice beans and meat plates are great, as is the salad with the special house dressing. Note the serving sizes are enormous…like a sandwich could feed a family of three or four.
Ice Cream/ Dessert
Larry’s – family owned, extremely popular, homemade ice cream and other random treats on St. Pete Beach. You can’t get better ice cream.
Everyone in my family has a different favorite flavor.
Larry’s isn’t into focusing on the one thing they do best. Instead, they mistakenly try to diversify by selling bizarre things like mini donuts with cereal on them or gelato or pizza or (even weirder) wine floats. Ignore these distractions. Order ice cream in a waffle cone
At or after Sunset, the line grows out the door.
Twistee Treat– Soft serve ice cream in an cake cone shaped building near Larry’s.
Try the vanilla soft serve dipped in a chocolate shell!
Twistee Treat is now owned by Larry’s.
Uncle Andy’s Ice Cream Parlor– Cute and not crowded, located in basement level of Don CeSar– Meh, my cousins like this place, but the ice cream is not homemade.
Sea Critters– casual restaurant on Pass-a-Grille with seating on a dock over the inter coastal. Only get the Key Lime Pie. The pie is outstanding. Nothing else is good or super fresh.