When I was a little girl, I found a love for cooking. Throwing in a dash of this, and a pinch of that to make the best flavor combinations, followed by that “mmm” moment someone experiences when they indulge in a bite, or many bites of something I labored over.

Cooking for my large family on a budget has challenged my creativity in the kitchen. I have been the preparer of the Thanksgiving feast since my grandfather passed away when I was a young 22-year-old, but this year will be the largest feast I have prepared thus far for my family of nine, along with extended family that attend my dinner every year.

My Thanksgiving feast is very traditional with a turkey, ham, dressing, cranberry sauce, pies and many other fixings. I have to admit, I have opted out of making my own turkey for probably the last 10 years, but prior to that, we tried turkey every way you can imagine.

My husband, being from Pennsylvania, had a traditional stuffed turkey, so naturally we tried that the first year that the feast was in our hands.

It turned out fine, but I prefer my Southern-style dressing over his Yankee-style stuffing. We slowly evolved over time and decided one year to fry a turkey.

We purchased all of the supplies — which is quite expensive on a young family’s budget — but we figured we would have the fryer for years to come.

The turkey came out pretty good, but after the meal, we went home and decided we would pick up the fryer from my grandmother’s front porch the next day.

Well, the next day it was gone. I try to find the humor in someone picking up a fryer full of grease and loading it into their vehicle, because it really does no good to be angry about it, and I figured that someone must have needed it more than us. What’s done is done, and we never bought another fryer.

For the past several years, we have ordered and purchased our turkey from Green’s Sausage House in Zabcikville. Smoked turkey, to me, is the best way to eat a turkey, and makes the best leftovers. The white meat stays moist and full of flavor, but this year, since we have such a large crowd, we decided to try to smoke the turkey ourselves at home.

My husband has smoked pork roasts, briskets and chickens, so I think a turkey will be fairly easy — I hope. If not, we will always have the ham.

Thanksgiving is a time for family and gathering together to share memories and laughter; it is one of my favorite holidays.

Usually, we decorate for Christmas on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but this year, we are planning on decking our halls before the big turkey day. The decorations just add another layer of magic to the holiday and allow a little more time to bask in the glow of Christmas — my favorite holiday by far!

After the food is cooked, and the bellies are full to capacity, my husband and I head off to shop during the Black Friday craze. We have participated in Black Friday shopping since our kids were little.

As they got a little older and began asking questions, we told them that we had to go visit Santa Claus to give him their freshly made Christmas lists.

Our story went, that parents all met at a warehouse of sorts, and were given a fur coat and placed on a magical elevator. That elevator took us to the North Pole, where we stood in line for hours to see Santa.

Then we would give them their lists and money — you know, to cover the increased demand of children to Santa’s supplies.

Santa can’t afford to give all the children presents, so parents have to pay something, and that’s why they couldn’t get EVERYTHING on their lists.

Now, they are too old to believe those stories, so they know we buy their gifts, but I also use the day to take advantage of bargains.

To find some of my favorite holiday recipes, or more stories of how I manage a large family, visit my blog at authorjenniferwatson.com.

Jennifer Watson is a Herald correspondent.

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