Today is one of my favorite days of the year, let’s just call it Thanksgiving Eve, shall we?

While Christmas probably has Thanksgiving beat in the decorations department, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, hands down. You get the great comfort food and wonderful family time without all the gift-giving pressure. Plus, there’s football. 🙂

But as much as I love the big feast, I’ve always had a soft spot for the day before, the day where I whip up dishes that aren’t exactly staples during the rest of the year. This year we’re potlucking it at my in-laws’ place, so I’m bringing three dishes. Or more accurately, two dishes and a pie.

I love making risotto, but I rarely make it with butternut squash. So that’s precisely what I’ll be doing for dish #1. In addition to that gorgeous orange color that screams Fall, I also love to top mine with bacon (for obvious reasons) and a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds. Mmmm.

Before watching Food Network somewhere around 2006, I always thought stuffing was something that Kraft had cornered the entire market on. I never knew that you could actually make your own—and that it would taste a million times better (I will, admit, however, to still having a special corner of my heart reserved for Stove Top, though, it’s nostalgic food like Kraft Mac & Cheese). And after all the vegetable chopping, which I personally find relaxing in a weird way, it’s a snap to whip up.

This year’s stuffing (I refuse to call it by its proper name, dressing, even if I do live in the South) is going to have a blend of toasted ciabatta and rosemary olive oil bread with sausage, fennel and apple. And seriously, if you haven’t given fennel a try, it’s absolutely fabulous in stuffing—especially with sausage. Now please don’t judge it by trying it raw (I’m SO not a fan), but sautéed or roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, it’s so tasty. It’s like a secret flavor weapon that everyone will wonder about when they try the stuffing.

Finally, my first order of business today will be making an Apple Crunch Pie. It’s sort of like a mix between two of my favorite desserts, apple crunch (or crisp, if you prefer) and apple pie. While the apple pie portion of the recipe would be delicious on its own, I think it’s the crunch topping that totally makes the pie. It’s also an opportunity to whip up something that’s impressive but easy like pie crust—and really who has time for that in real, non-Thanksgiving Eve life?

Above all, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to pause and reflect and be reminded of all you’re thankful for. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a whirlwind year here, and it’s been one clouded by so much needless negativity. So wherever you may find yourself tomorrow, I hope you enjoy a welcome break from all of that. And like my sister reminded me yesterday via text with a link to this brilliant article yesterday, make sure you enjoy a piece of pie. The gym will always be there tomorrow. Or if you’re a Black Friday shopper, you’ll find a way to get your steps in, I’m sure of it.