I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year for the first time ever, and while I am no stranger to hosting large gatherings with lots of food and bev, hosting The Big Food Holiday For The First Time seems a little more BIGTIME than my usual gathering.
I asked Twitter to help me out with favorite recipes. Because Twitter (well, my corner of Twitter anyway) is the best. Perhaps you need inspiration or help hosting Thanksgiving too? Here are all their ideas. I tried to link back correctly and include every suggestion and provide good links to recipes, but I’m watching a movie while I write this so YMMV. Use your Google ninja skills if my links fail you.
Many people suggested/insisted on making Pioneer Woman’s Mashed Potatoes. MANY. Several people said to make them in the crock pot to save on oven space.
Alton Brown’s turkey got high marks, as did this one from Martha (“It really is perfect,” says Lisa.) Spatchcocking your turkey (but ask the butcher to do it since it’s a pain) also got lots of mentions as an easier/quicker way to get a great bird with crispy skin that cooks faster.
Nobody mentioned frying a turkey (also doubles as entertainment), but I feel I should mention it because FRYING A TURKEY IS KIND OF COOL TO SEE. My friend Jill once told me the best turkey she ever had was one she put in an oven bag with a bottle of champagne and a stick of butter. I dunno, SOUNDS PRETTY GREAT TO ME.
Gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to have a giant turkey taste test? Make like SIX turkeys and try all the methods? Who has six ovens or a combination of ovens and smokers that can host this for us? Anyone?
Beth makes an apple pie and freezes the whole thing, and then bakes from frozen. (GENIUS)
She also says that Cook’s Illustrated garlic mashed potatoes are worth the fussiness, but don’t scale up well. You are thusly warned. (All the CI link have a paywall, use your Google skills to find one without if you don’t want to sign up.)
Pioneer Woman green bean casserole got high marks from many. MANY. It was by far the most mentioned recipe.
Blaire also makes a “cranberry apple chutney every year that is AMAZING and makes your house smell like the holidays.” James McNair’s Cranberry Apple Chutney. Recipe is about halfway down the page.
This is Ginger’s favorite dish. (It’s STUFFING. WITH CHILES.)
Kathleen does Mexican food and margaritas, “because those are our favorite foods.” Perhaps we should all strive for an invite to Kathleen’s Thanksgiving in future years.
Carla makes Epicurious Pecan Pumpkin Pie. She also says that “Joy of Cooking stuffing can be mixed up the night before (except a beaten egg you add just before cooking) & my fam INHALES IT.” (There are a lot of JoC stuffing recipes and I’m not sure which one?)
Fran always has the best hostessing ideas. First we have this totally awesome veggie tray. Also, THOSE NAPKINS, I DIE.
Then Fran suggested Chiffonade of Brussels Sprouts which sounds SO FANCY but looks SO EASY. (Spoiler: There’s bacon.) Then Cranberry Sauce (with cinnamon and oranges!). Here’s the gravy she makes ahead using turkey drums.
I did get one lone vote for Cook’s Illustrated Green Bean Casserole. Do people really LIKE green bean casserole? Genuinely? Chris does, but I think it’s SO GROSS. Nope.
1. I returned some items to Costco this morning, and I never ever return anything to Costco. I had two Hanna Andersson sleepers that I’d bought for Preston and one had a hole in it and the other had a broken zipper. They were a few months old but Hannas are supposed to last several kids and these weren’t even lasting ONE kid.
Anyway, they gave me my money back and it was very painless (as I knew it would be) and this is why we are buying a new mattress from Costco.
2. Yes, after more than ten years we are buying a new mattress. I am leaning towards this one at Costco because the reviewers love it and it was mentioned in Consumer Reports a year or two ago and also the price is right. Very right. I looked at Tuft and Needle and Casper and they have nice reviews too, but I just really feel like for the best experience and peace of mind I need to buy our new mattress at Costco. They will take it back AT ANY POINT, should I decide I hate it.
So, a review shall be forthcoming on THAT one.
3. I called Verizon because our $10 HBO deal was about to expire and I asked some questions and I ended up getting a landline here at the house for a whole extra $3 a month. I’d been wanting a landline for several months for 911 reasons and also Claire might have a friend that wants to actually call her and invite her over to play at some point, and at a certain age it is probably really uncool to keep having to ask YOUR mom to text THE FRIEND’S mom, and we are several years from getting children their own personal communication devices ANYWAY, so an old-fashioned landline seemed like a good choice.
And for $3 a month, WHY NOT?
4. At first I was going to buy this telephone:
I want a corded telephone so the phone is always where it is supposed to be in case of emergency, and this one was very cheap ($11) and it even had caller ID so I could ignore Ted Cruz and his campaign when they inevitably call me (NO NO NOPE).
But then I figured if I was going to buy a phone it should be a COOL phone. It’s going to be in my kitchen and I will have to look at it every day so it should not be ugly. I had to do a bit of experimenting on Amazon to figure out what to even search for. “Phone” was no good, as it brought up LG and iPhones, and “Telephone” was a bit better but not much. I tried “wall phone” and “small phone” before finally getting to “corded telephone,” which seems to be the right phrase.
(I bet you anything my Grandmother, who has had the same landline phone number for like 40 years, is reading this and totally rolling her eyes at me.)
This phone was totally rad but it had terrible reviews and it’s not even metal, it’s mostly plastic and it’s also $100.
A friend on Twitter has this and I do really dig it ($60).
But THEN I got on eBay and AH MAH GAH so much vintage phone. How fabulous is THIS for $20? I don’t plan on dialing out very much (if ever) so the rotary part is more charming to me than anything.
1973 GREEN! Doesn’t this just make you think of Ready Player One? I love it.
I will probably get both a vintage phone and a modern one so I can check caller ID if I want to, but then I can look at the cute vintage one in the kitchen every day and not the ugly $11 one. Anyway, we got a landline and no you can’t have the phone number because haaaaaa I do not want it to actually RING and DISTURB me please remember this is still 2015 and nobody wants to talk on the phone as a surprise.
5. Let’s start a pool on how fast we think I will get my first spammy phone call. I’m not giving the number out to anyone but my parents and the lady at Verizon PROMISED me that Verizon does not sell phone numbers. I was unwilling to pay $5.25 a month to have an unlisted phone number (ROBBERY). I bet I get a spammy phone call within 48 hours. Anyone else care to make a guess? Maybe I will keep a list.
6. Claire and Charlotte will be at alternating grandparent homes for the next two weeks, so I feel like this is prime Get A Big Project Done time. I am about 80% through with KonMari’ing the house and I’m kind of bored of it and I plan on picking it back up when school starts and the kids quit interrupting me. I think for this two week stretch I will paint the half bathroom downstairs. It took me two months to paint a bedroom so I think two weeks is good for a tiny bathroom.
7. I am also going to make this rainbow costume for Charlotte over the next two weeks. It’s her Halloween costume. I am not even going to sew it, I am going to hot glue or fabric glue it (whichever I think will be easier) out of felt.
After I make that, I am going to try to make something for Preston. He’s going to be a tornado. I am totally going to find a plastic cow to sew onto it.
I am also not going to sew this one either. I wanted Claire to be a rain cloud but she has already decided to be Batman so that’s the end of that. Rainbow, Tornado, Batman. Quite the trio.
We went on a mini vacation last week to the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop. It’s about 20 minutes from the Austin airport.
WHY WE WENT
I wanted to go on a summer trip but I did not want to get on an airplane. Airports are hell with three young kids, they are a time suck (a whole day to travel on each side, no thanks), and it’s just so expensive when you’re buying FIVE tickets. I wanted a getaway with a great pool and a nice resort but I did not want to spend a lot of time getting there.
I googled things like “Best Pool For Kids In Texas” and this is one of the options that popped up.
Hyatt Lost Pines is a resort. It has a spa, it has a huge pool, it has a few restaurants, it has lots of activities (some free and some are extra cash) it has $26 PER DAY valet parking like a downtown Dallas hotel. (Self parking is free.) It’s on the lower Colorado River just outside of Austin, but it’s set way back off the highway. It’s totally out in the country but you don’t have to drive for hours and hours into the country to get there.
Here’s part of the drive from the highway to the resort. It’s very woodsy.
THE MONEY AND THE TIMING
Everything is priced like a resort. $12 mojitos, $16 cheeseburgers, $8 baskets of french fries. Expect to be gutted on food and bev. Rooms start at $160 (best I can tell) and go up, up, up from there.
We stayed Sunday/Monday, because a lady I talked to on the phone said Sunday is their lowest occupancy day and I definitely wanted to visit when it was not crowded. She was right; the resort was half booked and we had no issues with space/waiting. Highly recommend this strategy. I think any mid-week stay would be fine.
This is the reason we visited. I wanted to take the kids to a crazy amazing pool and swim for a few days. The pool does not disappoint. It is AMAZING. It is not giant, but the resort is not giant.
Main Beach Entry Pool (with sand!): 1-3′ deep for a HUGE area. Sixty kids can play here and not feel crowded. There are chairs adults can put IN the pool in this section to sit and watch kids and chat. There are lots of sitting shelves around the edges for supervising parents. Claire (6) and Charlotte (4) played in here independently. Both could touch the bottom over a wide area. Preston (2) could also touch, but he was prone to forgetting he could do that so we had to keep much closer to him.
This is a huge lounge chair area in the back of the lazy river area and it’s under a huge tree and it was so dreamy.
Lazy River: So much fun! No more than 4′ deep at the deepest parts, Claire (6) was able to swim the whole thing and float it solo with no hand-holding from an adult. She was very independent here and she LOVED it.
The river has plenty of tubes (single and doubles) and they also have these totally awesome mini tubes for small kids WITH A BOTTOM PANEL! I’d just plop Preston (2) in that sucker and he would be very neatly contained and I could twirl him around of just hang onto the hand on his tube while I floated on my own and it was fabulous. Lazy river was my favorite thing to do.
The lazy river also had several slow spots with steps or beach entry and lounge chairs so that you could stop and play MID river, away from the big pool and in a low-current area.
Brother and baby niece floating in the river.
Slide: Totally awesome! Super fun! Have to be 42″ tall to ride on your own, but an adult can take a child of any age down on a lap. Line never got more than ten kids deep. The pool it dumped kids out in was roomy and had lots of chairs for parents to supervise, and a sitting shelf alllllll the way around the edge of the pool for more parents. I’m telling you, this pool had it DOWN on the “Places To Be Sit” thing.
Splash Pad/Baby Pool: The splash pad has that soft ground up tennis-shoes like surface, which is great. The baby pool is round and goes from 6″ to 18″ in graduated steps. There were lots of chairs around this area for parents to set up camp for the afternoon. Also lots of shade, which is so nice.
Water Coolers: I’ve never seen this at a resort, but they had drink stations all over the place with coolers of ice water and plastic cups. This was GREAT with the kids. No need to bother the bar staff for water requests for small people.
Seating: I’ve never seen a pool area quite like this, but all of the pools and areas I described above are connected by water, so it’s easy to say “hey, let’s go do the slide now!” but the sitting areas around them are sort of twisted and hidden so that it’s easy to find little spots where you don’t have to gaze upon the masses from your lounge chair. There was PLENTY of seating, and plenty of SHADED seating.
Staff: Major high-fives to the staff who kept the tubes well inflated and available. Tube hunting was never something we had to do. The bar staff was also great and it wasn’t ever hard to flag someone down for a drink. There are no lifeguards.
Our room was very nice. The bathroom had a shower stall AND a tub. Bed was comfy, linens were nice. Robes were super plush. The room felt recently updated. Nothing was tired or sad or in need of replacement.
I booked a “Pool Access” room and I paid extra for it. The advertised idea was that you could walk out of your room to the pool. This was not the case. Our room was behind a lot of hedges, so you couldn’t walk out the door to the pool. You could walk AROUND the hedges but there wasn’t a sidewalk and there was a rather steep hill. Also, the sliding doors didn’t lock from the outside so there was NO POINT walking out that door ANYWAY because you couldn’t lock the stupid thing behind you. I felt really ripped off on the room type. We were in room 1705, which is not a room I recommend.
It’s been a few days and I’m still really cranky about that room.
Next time I go I will book a Jr Suite. My brother booked one and it was HUGE and it only cost a little more than my “Pool Access” room. They will also book you a Jr Suite with an adjoining King or Queen room, which basically makes the Jr Suite a 2-bedroom suite.
My parents were in a King room, which was just like our room except it had one bed. There is a TON of floor space in all the rooms. Plenty of space in any room type for pack and plays or air mattresses for extra kids. I could also see booking two adjoining King/Queen rooms to get more space/doors between sleeping kids and still awake adults.
This spa was killer. They have all the normal services, but the relaxation room was just delightful. There is a pool that is only for spa people (which was totally empty and kids aren’t allowed YAY) and it looked like the perfect place to sit all afternoon and read a book and order room service.
There is a eucalyptus steam room and a shower with tons of jets and sprayers. There is a hot tub. All standard spa stuff. I got a facial and it was really great.
But as with most resort spas the services are really overpriced. Because I had small kids that my husband was watching solo I didn’t feel like I could sit there all day and ENJOY all the spa amenities like I would have liked to. Next time I will make sure to book my kids in Camp Hyatt (it’s a half day of crafts and games for kids 3+) and then I will make plans to spend four or five hours over at the spa pool or sitting quietly (ALONE!) in the relaxation room before or after services.
EATS AND DRINKS
The food situation is adequate, but it’s not GREAT. I packed a lot of snacks for my kids to eat poolside and I am glad I did.
One of the on site restaurants was closed one of the two nights we were there, and another is actually out on the golf course. Two of the four restaurants are “reservations recommended.” The resort is in the middle of NOWHERE so going off-site would be super time consuming. I would have liked to stay a third day for more pool and fun, but honestly the idea of having to eat there for a third evening was a big NOPE to all of us.
Drinks were fine, but not amazing. The breakfast buffet had some hot items that were already cold at 730 in the morning.
They have a food truck area with a snow cone truck and a pizza truck. There are lots of picnic tables and it’s under a big tree and there are cafe lights and the whole thing is delightful. I wish there had been one other actual food option. Kids loved the snow cones, though.
Don’t expect artisan, local, fabulously fresh and packed with flavor food here. It’s a huge miss for the resort, especially since Austin is so close and is so known for great eats. I don’t know, I feel like food isn’t THAT hard to do well, especially at those prices. They can improve here.
The pool is why we visited, but I was very pleasantly surprised at all the OTHER stuff to do. They have a huge bike rack of trikes, youth bikes (with and without training wheels), and cruiser-style bikes for adults. There are a lot of paved paths to ride on and we enjoyed tooling around.
The guys did a trap shooting excursion one morning and they said it was fun and very well-run and a nice facility, but way too expensive. $85 bought you one box of shells to shoot.
There were always organized activities for free though. Twice a day there was a kids craft. Outdoor events included Juggling Lessons, Capture the Flag, Glow in the Dark Badminton, S’mores, Little Bobbers fishing on the lake, a movie in the amphitheater at night (with popcorn and towels to sit on!) etc. Here’s a schedule for one day (click to embiggen):
One day it rained out the craft (there was lightning and the pool also closed so ALLLLLL the kids were inside) so they put a bounce house in a conference room and moved the craft inside, which I thought was really great.
The grounds were really gorgeous. All landscaped in native plants with giant pecan trees, it was really picturesque and pleasant and there was TONS of shade and always a place to sit and a place for Preston to run off and not listen when we asked him to STOP RUNNING PRESTON STOP STOP STOP.
There was also a playground, because OF COURSE THERE WAS.
A lot of families. A lot of grandparents. Most kids were elementary aged. I saw some tweens, very few teens. I saw ZERO young 20-something no-kids people. Everyone was friendly and seemed to be very aware and forgiving of the vagaries of Having Children On Vacation. Good crowd. Not snobby, not entitled, not rude.
I only saw ONE guy working on his laptop at the pool and having a conference call with a guy named Mark. (Which we allllll heard about because it was kind of a long call.) Apparently, this guy will be able to fulfill Mark’s request even though HE IS AT THE POOL ON VACATION WATCHING HIS KIDS GO DOWN AN AWESOME WATER SLIDE. (Seriously America, UNPLUG.)
For a family resort with a giant pool, there’s no place in the room to hang up wet bathing suits to dry. I had to hang ours all over the bathroom on hooks that were designed for towels, and the drips made the floor SUPER slippery and dangerous. I put them on the side of the tub the second day, but they didn’t dry and everyone complained about cold and wet bathing suits the next morning.
The day camp for kids was full and I couldn’t get the girls in. The property was only half full, so I expected an availability, but there wasn’t one. Super disappointing. I wish we had been told that it was popular or space was very limited or…something.
This is a nice resort. The staff is absolutely on the ball and everything is very well organized and staffed. It reminded me a lot of Disney. It’s expensive (especially if you book the wrong room like I did), but honestly? WE HAD SO MUCH FUN. And it was close to home and the kids LOVED it and so did we. Money well-spent. GOOD VACATION.
I bought a Lifeproof iPhone case before we went to take pics in the pool and underwater and I LOVE IT. It was spend ($66) but my phone was totally dry and the pics were great. It’s reusable. Recommend.
I think we hit it on a good week, weather-wise. It wasn’t too hot (didn’t break 95) and it only rained one afternoon. I am not sure I would visit in August. When it’s 100+, it’s not fun to be outside in any situation and so much of the fun here is away from the AC.
If I had kids that were not in school yet I would book a mid-week stay here in early September. It’s still plenty warm, but I bet this place is a ghost town once school starts.
We will be returning next year, or perhaps we will try the JW Marriott in San Antonio. I heard lots of great things about it from other guests at Lost Pines and from my local friends.
A++, will definitely do again.