You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This will be our third year hosting U.S. Marines in our home for Thanksgiving.  It is such an honor to be able to participate in this fabulous program offered through the ASYMCA (Armed Services YMCA) and I am excited again to start the preparations for their arrival. As our families live out of state, Thanksgiving for us is often spent with just the three of us – so we consider these boys our extended family.  Pictured here are two of our dearest connections from an earlier Thanksgiving, U.S. Marine Corporal Mat Wollman and U.S. Marine Nick Bernal.

The process is really inspirational.  You sign up with the ASYMCA (if there is one in your area) and after you complete an application that is mailed back to them – and upon approval – you are then sent a vehicle pass and number that allow you to enter the base gate (in our case – near San Clemente – about 2 hours round trip from our home) and into the “queue” as you await your car’s spot at the front of the line where two Marines will load into your car.  In years prior, we were allowed to have as  many as we could take – one year we had five; but the program has grown so rapidly and there are so many people wanting to host, that they have limited us to two.  My husband and son will leave by 7am as the Marines need to be picked up by 9am and they will spend the day from 10-4 with us; at which time, they will be transported back to San  Clemente to be returned by the deadline of 7pm.  

I am so proud of my husband and son, who spend four hours driving on Thanksgiving Day in order to give the Marines a special Thanksgiving while they are away from their family.  The program is geared specifically to new recruits who are usually between the ages of 18-21 and who have just completed basic training.  

So…about those preparations:  About this time (2 weeks out), I begin the sautéing of the “Holy Trinity” (celery, scallion, bell pepper) and the chicken livers for my “Louisiana Dirty Rice” and my “Homemade Bread Stuffing”.  This knocks out a decent bit of chopping, cutting, frying, cleaning and storing ahead of time.  I pop those in the freezer until the day before Thanksgiving when they will move to the “ice box” (as we called it when I was growing up) and on Thanksgiving morning, will combine with their dry/cooked, etc. ingredients to complete the finished dish.

Another pre-prep-step during this week will be the baking of the Pumpkin Pie, which can also be frozen.   I will save baking  the Almond Frangipane Tart with Cranberries and Pears until the day before.  Since I am in charge of the Cranberry Sauce for our local fireman that are on duty Thanksgiving Day, I will also whip up a big batch of homemade Zesty Orange & Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce (another freezable item) sometime during this week – at my leisure and divide it up for the firemen and our Marines.

On the day before, I will peel the potatoes (Yukons and Yams) and place them in cold water overnight and while hubby and son are driving, I will be boiling the Yukons and baking the Yams.  The Weber grill charcoal can will be fired up and the Roasted Honey Bourbon Glazed Turkey with Sage Butter will be tenderly roasting on the grill with a pan underneath to catch all those delicious juices for the “First You Make a Roux Turkey Gravy”.

Meanwhile, over on the BBQ Rotisserie Spit, my husband will be roasting a deliciously moist and beautiful Australian Leg of Lamb (which he does divinely every time!) to be served with an Egyptian Mint Sauce (mind you, NOT GREEN JELLY which would be an insult to such a piece of heaven.)  This sauce is a delicate blend  of Egyptian mint leaves and malt vinegar and it is THE BOMB!

Now…onto the table-dressing.  The week prior to Thanksgiving, I will make sure all my stemware is “crystal clear”, silverware is spot-free/clean, linens are ironed and formed into a pretty napkin fold, placemats and chargers are out and the centerpiece design is placed and ready to create my tablescape around that centerpiece.  A few small votive candles will dot the table – sometimes at each place, sometimes down the center; that’s something I figure out as I’m dressing the table. 

Next is printing a pretty fall-leaf Place Card for each place and while I won’t know the names of the two Marines we will host until they are on their way; my husband will call me once they are in the car so I can get that done before their arrival. 

Once the gang is all here, we will enjoy time in the Family Room getting to know “our boys” and like many families – football will be going on all day (other than when we sit down to eat – at which time we will be “Thanksgiving Unplugged”, thanks to my friend and colleague Diane Gottsman of The Protocol School of Texas) and Thomas Farley – aka “Mr. Manners”.  We’ll play board games like Buzz Word and Taboo and then head to the table for the feast of blessings and the blessings of feast.

I hope you have a blessed and memorable Thanksgiving with family, friends, or with unknown persons to whom you have opened your home for a special day.

~ Jonnie Fox Flanagan



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