Cooking / Insights

The gravy blew up! Tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving

It became my job to make the gravy the year my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner. Easy-peasy. I’d made enough gravy to fill a hundred gravy boats. Little did I know, my gravy adventure would—oops, turn violent.

In its basic form, gravy consists of drippings plus water plus thickener plus seasonings. (After reading that, you might be able to figure out what happened).

Here’s how it went that fateful afternoon…

First, I ladled drippings — borrowed from the moat between the turkey and the roasting pan in the oven — into a stovetop saucepan. Then into the drippings, I stirred two cups of broth made from simmering giblets in a pan of water for a couple of hours.

Giblets, by the way, is a pleasant enough term give to a not-so-pleasant food group: Animal innards. We’re talking about the liver, heart, gizzard, and neck of a fowl. (Once upon a time, I ate such things, but no longer). Giblets are often used to make soup, stuffing, or gravy.

So there we go.

I tossed in a pinch of rosemary, sage, and other spices into the pan of drippings and turned the heat to low.

Then I got busy. Probably cleaning.

More on that later.

After 45 minutes, I broke away to check on the gravy broth. The liquid had reduced to half full. Perfect. Next step: Stir in the flour-water paste and transform the liquid into a thick gravy.

I grabbed a wire whisk and poked it into the pan of drippings. To my horror, the liquid erupted — nay, EXPLODED. Hot, brown foam spewed over the edge of the saucepan—like lava surging from an active volcano—and onto my hand that gripped the handle.

What happened next remains a blur. I yanked the pan off the stove, bolted to the sink, and plunged my hand in cold water…

When stuff happens, or not

Thanksgiving is a busy holiday, not just for people hosting a dinner. Think a moment. Lots of folks are on duty: Flight attendants, gas stations, firefighters, emergency crews, restaurants (did you know that Thanksgiving Day is Cracker Barrels busiest day?), utility departments, and emergency room personnel.

And what about those cooking hotlines? I love National Public Radio’s nontraditional Thanksgiving stories. And have you ever dialed 1-800-BUTTERBALL? Or visited Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line? The folks behind the calls and online sites come to our collective, last-second, meal-making rescue.

Funny Thanksgiving Butterball hotline calls

  • Q: My turkey has no breast meat! What do I do?
    A: Turn it over.
  • Q: I sliced my bird in half with a chainsaw—will the engine oil be a problem?
    A: That would be yes.
  • Q: My bird barely fits inside my oven—will it rise too much for me to get it out?
    A: (In a calm voice) Turkeys don’t rise.

God bless plumbers

Plumbers work overtime on Thanksgiving Day. There’s the story of a woman (I’m not being sexist here) who called a plumber because her toilet had jammed and now there was the worst kind of flood. Turns out she had tried to flush her Thanksgiving remains down the toilet.

  • Q: Why would someone do that?
    A: She didn’t have a garbage disposal.

Which brings me to the list of…

9 things you should NOT put down a garbage disposal

  1. Bones
  2. Celery
  3. Coffee grounds (used grounds resemble thick mud)
  4. Fibrous foods like artichoke leaves and pumpkin rinds
  5. Fruit pits
  6. Pasta
  7. Onion skins
  8. Eggshells
  9. Cooking grease



I told you not to flush that!

To avoid disaster in the bathroom, start by saving your guests the embarrassment of asking for a plunger. Leave one in plain sight next to the toilet. And consider posting a friendly, ‘do not flush’ list on the bathroom wall. All boat owners in Kodiak have repaired the “head” and are keenly aware of such lists.

13 things you should NOT flush down the toilet

  1. Baby wipes/wet wipes
  2. Feminine products
  3. Cooking grease
  4. Q-Tips and cotton balls
  5. Medication
  6. Diapers
  7. Dental floss
  8. Cigarette butts
  9. Paper towels
  10. Kitty litter
  11. Hair
  12. Bleach
  13. Goldfish (yes, really)

Stress-free cleaning tips

My mom used to clean the house in preparation for the house cleaner’s arrival. No wonder I was a confused child. Still, whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your house or just having a casual gathering with family and friends over the holidays, pre-clean before things start getting hectic. Tackling even a few tasks makes a big difference. TIP: Don’t excess over it. Set the timer.

Ditch the clutter: Go from room to room with an empty tote or laundry basket to pick up the clutter that doesn’t belong in the room. Sort through the items before your guests arrive or at best, stash the tote(s) in an unused room. Promise you’ll go through the stuff before Christmas.

Start with the kitchen: In our house, the kitchen is where the action is. Nothing unusual. That’s where most folks spend the majority of their time during any visit or gathering. Clean out your fridge. Toss expired stuff. Make room for the green Jell-o and marshmallow salad your aunt is bringing.

Clean off your countertops and sink: Wipe down the exterior of your cabinets and appliances. If no one notices, no biggie. What’s important is that you’ll feel better for it.

red juice all-purpose cleaning product
What’s my favorite, all-purpose cleaner?

[Hint: It’s pink]

Since 2008, we’ve operated the Cliff House B&B in Kodiak. I could tell you horror stories (worse than the volcanic gravy) but it comes down to a lot, a LOT of cleaning. But my favorite heavy-duty liquid cleaner is called Red Juice, by The Clean Team. You’ll swear by it as much as I do.

The USDA gave it an A-1 rating for use around food, so you can even use Red Juice in your kitchen and dining room with peace of mind. It’s eco-friendly, non-toxic, and works great as a degreaser. I use it in the garden, too. I’ve heard that one of the ingredients is seaweed. Cool.

I know all this might sound like an ad, but I’m just sharing my experience. Maybe it will be of help to you.

Spruce up the bathroom: Decorate if you must, but make sure the bathroom your guests will be using is clean and well-stocked with toilet paper, towels, and soap.

Stay calm and pass the gravy

Finally, disasters are relative. I mean, what might seem like the worst event ever (who forgot to thaw the turkey?) might end up as a family joke for years. It’s important to check in with yourself. I devoted a blog post to this thought: If Attitude is Everything, What’s Yours Right Now? Here are a few tips to help you maintain calm, no matter what happens:

  • Let go of perfection
  • Keep it simple: Table setting, appetizers…
  • Prepare ahead of time, as much as possible
  • Take mindful breaks (walk, inhale and exhale)
  • Pause before digging in: Say a special grace, read a poem, or ask everyone to share something they’re grateful for

Whatever you do, pausing before the meal is part of what makes Thanksgiving a true day of gratitude.

And don’t forget the plunger!

Thanks for stopping by.


Kodiak, Alask

P.S. What do you think caused the gravy to blow up? Leave a comment below.

You might also enjoy:

1. One of my favorite posts: Three personal stories to prove that miracles do happen 

2. Lemons are not just for eating. Cleaning, too. Here’s my guide to the 20 best benefits of lemon

3. How to clean salt and pepper shakers: Check out this blog post by The Clean Team: Cleaning Odds and Ends in the Kitchen.

4. I share a personal story: Insights • Inspirations • Gratitude • Joy • Peace

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Marion Owen is on a mission to help busy people survive day-to-day life by condensing topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening into bite-size pieces. Get Marion’s free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” to feel newly recharged when taking pictures.


  • Kathleen Pearson
    November 24, 2019 at 7:30 PM

    Great tips! I have never heard of Red Juice. Since I am interested in cleaning without chemicals, can you tell us where to buy it? Thanks!

    • marionowen
      November 24, 2019 at 9:45 PM

      Kathleen… yes, Red Juice is soooo good, we provide it as a shower spray. Go back into the article and you’ll see a link to Red Juice. I think you’d really like it. Let me know if you can’t click it…

    • marionowen
      November 24, 2019 at 9:46 PM

      There’s also a link to the Clean Team folks at the end of the article, under “You might also enjoy:” where I share how to clean salt and pepper shakers…

  • Helen Raschick
    November 24, 2019 at 5:14 PM

    Something about surface tension. This is known to happen when heating water in a microwave oven, it can explode when you reach in and disturb the mug. (It happened to my sister-in-law.) The recommendation there is to put a chopstick in the mug of water while heating it up, so the other comment on here about leaving a spoon in the gravy makes sense.

    • marionowen
      November 24, 2019 at 9:43 PM

      Whoa, I hope your sis-in-law wasn’t hurt. I remember when I worked on research ships, one of the seaman went down to the galley to fetch me a hot chocolate. He didn’t return for an hour. He’d been busy cleaning up the milk that “exploded” inside the microwave!

  • Laura
    November 24, 2019 at 7:35 AM

    Your gravy super heated. The way to stop that is to leave a spoon in the sauce pan. It’s a chemistry thing…

    • marionowen
      November 24, 2019 at 9:42 PM

      Ah, Laura, the chemist extraordinaire! Of course. Lesson learned, for sure. Thank you and I hope your Thanksgiving is loaded with family time!


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