A Very Poor Girl Thanksgiving: How to pull off a last minute, affordable Thanksgiving dinner for two

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Sometimes miracles really do happen.

Against all odds, and with the kindness of good neighbors and strangers, my mom and I are actually going to be able to have Thanksgiving together!!!

I didn’t think this was going to be possible this year. Things have been rough for us for a long time, but I don’t think any year has kicked our posteriors like 2013 has. With both of us living more strapped than ever before, even regular phone contact with my mom is difficult to maintain, because we can’t often afford to have both our phones on at the same time. Trips to visit each other are absolute luxuries these days (which is why we never see each other), and with travel and food costs rising everyday, something as big as Thanksgiving seemed an insurmountable feat. The idea of having to spend Thanksgiving alone so soon after my dad’s passing was causing a ton of anxiety and sadness; it was always our biggest holiday when it came to cooking and being together.

But like I said… miracles do happen sometimes. While we can’t afford a turkey and the entire menu is going to be a stripped down version of what we’d normally enjoy, the hardest part was finding enough money to get each other in the same city. Now that we have that all squared away, it’s time to for Poor Girl to whip out her bag of tricks and create a tiny Thanksgiving feast that will shine as brightly as all those big dinners out there.

Here’s how I plan to get ‘er done…

The Plan

First things first: Take inventory! I never leave the house for the grocery store without knowing what I have in my kitchen. Period. Maybe it’s the restaurant mentality that I’ve always had, and the fact that I’ve historically had really tiny kitchens with very little storage space, but I just don’t see the point in going to the store unprepared only to double buy. It’s like going into battle completely blind. The way things keep going, sometimes I do feel like a general leading my troops (spending dollars) into war – against evil high prices.

I was pleased to find a lot of the non-perishables I’d need to get the party started. I already had some potatoes and sweet potatoes on hand, herbs and spices, and plenty of garlic and onions. Mom had some bagged stuffing at her house, the right orange marmalade for her special candied yams, and fixings to throw into the stuffing. The real score came from my freezer, where I found two game hens I’d been hoarding for a short while, just in case Thanksgiving would come to this.

A quick perusal of my fridge told me exactly what I’d need to get in terms of fresh produce and other perishable items. In no time flat, I knew exactly what I’d need to get for the dinner I have planned.

The Menu

Now, I normally have a working menu in mind even before I take inventory. I usually have an idea of what’s in my kitchen anyway, but I also just like creating menus (given the time, space and money, I’d probably be throwing dinner parties all the time, lol). In this instance, however, what I had at home was going to directly influence what I could make and what I could afford to buy. Once I knew what I didn’t have to get at the store, I could put the finishing touches on an actual menu. And since we really needed to work together with what we both had to pull this off, this year’s menu is a mix of old traditions and new. Here’s the final draft (PGEW dishes linked in blue):

Drunken Game Hens
Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette
Skin-ny Scallion Mashed Potatoes
Herbed Quinoa Risotto with Butternut Squash & Sweet Peas
Mom’s Stuffing
Mom’s Candied Orange Yams
Mom’s Bachelor’s Jam with assorted cheeses
Super Secret Dessert Shots that I will share with you after Thanksgiving ; )

Not bad, Poor Girl, not bad at all!

The List

Armed with a menu and an inventory of what I already had, I was able to make a list of things that were needed to make this feast happen:

  • Wine (to intoxicate the game hens. An affordable Chardonnay is always a safe bet; this year, Mr. $2.49 Chuck will do the honors.)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • More onions (having plenty of the wrong kind of onion doesn’t really help, lol)
  • Chicken broth (I hate that I actually had to buy this, but this is what happens when everything is done last minute and you haven’t turned your chicken carcass into a great broth.)
  • Cheese
  • Neufchatel cheese (for the secret dessert shots)
  • Mixed greens
  • Cranberries
  • Mushrooms
  • Butter
  • Eggs

When all was said and done, I spent about $35, about $8 over the remaining balance on the Trader Joe’s gift card my friends had given me. I was hoping to find a way to use that money for a turkey, but the TJ’s turkeys were far too expensive (most of their meat is) and I didn’t really have enough to spend at another store since I don’t have very much cash left until payday.

But that’s what the Drunken Game Hens are for. Sure, they’re nothing like a turkey, but nobody said Thanksgiving had to be just about the turkey. Most people I know end up going crazy for sides more than the actual bird, and I know we’ll be pretty satisfied with the dishes we’ll have tomorrow. The only thing I am bummed about is that I won’t be able to live off My Mom’s Arroz con Pavo for most of December like I normally do. Maybe if things get a little better in the coming weeks, she & I can also spend Christmas together. With a roasted turkey.

In a way, I’m glad things worked out this way: small, super stripped-down, and humble. That’s what my Thanksgiving is going to be, and that’s 100% okay. I was having a very hard time trying to find things to be grateful for this year, and I hate that feeling. I’ve always been grateful for whatever is granted or given to me, no matter how small; it felt pretty strange to struggle with that this year.

But this… this made me think. I may be broke, sick, barely employed and all that jazz, but I am still alive. I’m still here. I’m still behind as hell on utilities and rent, but somehow, I’m still keeping things going. My dad just died and I’m still able to be somewhat functional so I can still work. My mom, even though she is also sick and struggling, was able to come here and be with me, so we wouldn’t have to feel so sad and alone. So, in essence, I’m hanging out with my BFF this week, which everyone can agree is something to be grateful for. And somehow, despite everything, I still had the right kind of food and just enough money to make Thanksgiving dinner work.

Now that I’m on a roll, I could keep going forever! So even if I’ve enjoyed sharing this strange little menu-planning post with you, as well as some of my strategies to make this happen, my point is really this: Be thankful. Not just on Thanksgiving, but everyday of your life. We live in such difficult times and get so much shit thrown our way, that it’s sometimes hard to pause and reflect on all the good out there. It’s not easy, believe me. But good things are out there. Good people are out there. If you can, tell them how much you appreciate them. And even if you can’t, at least take the time to feel that gratitude for a few moments. It’s an amazing feeling and the positive vibes that stem from it can be downright contagious.

Have a wonderful, safe and delicious Thanksgiving, everyone!

written by

singer. writer. artist. champagne taste, 2 buck chuck budget. good cook. kooky. chocoholic. patron saint of cats. talker. listener. thinker. sometimes to a fault.

8 Responses to "A Very Poor Girl Thanksgiving: How to pull off a last minute, affordable Thanksgiving dinner for two"

  1. Whitney says:

    Thank you for sharing. Two grad students on a tiny budget are thankful for your recipes this year. Have a wonderful, wonderful day with your mother. Hope 2014 looks up for you.

  2. Laura Catherine says:

    Kimberly, I recently came across your blog and wanted to send you warm thoughts for your Thanksgiving with your mother. We could learn a lot from your creativity and courageous spirit. It has been a year of “doing more with less” for our family, so I can relate to a lot of what you are saying. Sending you lots of love and prayers for prosperity in 2014!

  3. Sandy says:

    I love your Thanksgiving menu, and more than that I love your truly thankful heart, and the spirit of ingenuity and creativity that enabled you to put this meal together. May God bless you and your mom with a new year of health, happiness and prosperity.

  4. Tammy says:

    Your menu sounds delicious, and I know it will be even better shared with your mom.

    I don’t think there are any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ foods to serve on ANY holiday, barring religious
    exemptions. If you served pizza and chips, it would be fine if that’s what you wanted, or just
    what you had.

    I know some people who have Chinese, or fish, or spaghetti. And it’s all good. It’s more about
    the people around the table, anyway. :)

    So have a super T’giving, and enjoy your mom!

  5. Yan says:

    I would love to see some pictures of you and your mom, and all the food!!

  6. Lara says:

    Kimberly, I just got online today after a few days off, otherwise I would have sent this sooner:

    I’m truly grateful – for you. You are an inspiration, an example, an unfailing hug when needed, and proof that the worst things in life, even though they get us down, can be gotten through with love, hope, and friends.

    I am grateful for you.

    Thank you for sharing yourself with the rest of the world. It’s a better place because of you.


  7. Sherry says:

    We always have turkey (usually a breast, but this year they were FOUR times the cost per pound of a whole bird, so I got a small whole bird for less than half one breast would have cost — shocking!!) My partner likes his traditions. But chicken is better than turkey any day, so I think you won on this one even if it wasn’t your first choice!!!

    Your menu sounds yummy, and I’m happy that you and your Mom had the holiday together. Here’s hoping things will swerve upward for you both!

  8. Irene says:

    Thanks for the quinoa recipe! I made it last night with double portions and have enough to last me the rest of the week. I think I’m going to go on a quinoa kick thanks to the many dishes you’ve created :-) I’m really glad you were able to spend Thanksgiving with your mom. Around the same time you lost your dad, I lost a beloved teacher, and I thought a lot about both your and his family over the holiday. Keep fighting the good fight. So many people are rooting for you.


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