It’s impossible for me to undergo an ordeal as epic as Thanksgiving without writing something about it. Most gourmands plan for weeks their Thanksgiving meal. Most are expected to cook for large numbers of people and most take their game plan unbelievably seriously, as if the exclamations of “Oh my God, this turkey is amazing!” are directed at them, not at the Almighty.
Usually, I’m one of these people. When I lived in Chicago as a young culinary student, I invited my parents and brother to Thanksgiving with a seven-course feast mapped out. I had intricate grocery lists planned, a carte of what items would be found in which aisles. I had a game plan. Nevermind that I spent the day stressing in the kitchen, as most cooks do, nipping into the bottom cabinet for the handle of cheap Popov vodka to add to my innocuous orange juice.
Last year, I cooked for my in-laws – my boyfriend, his parents and his brother – voracious and picky eaters who rarely step outside their Peruvian arroz chaufa and anticuchos for some traditional holiday fare. That's me in the photo below, with my mom-in-law, Carmen, behind me, sizing up our collection of dry spices. At the time, I was working as an intern at Cooking Light, constantly surrounded by recipes and impulsively picking the ones I knew were popular among staffers and readers alike. The meal was zeitgeist; an event to be remembered for years.
This year, a combination of settling into a new job and being completely worn out by dieting and worrying about my waistline rendered our holiday feast an unimaginative gathering of convenient food. I’d had planned, of course, to sit down with my sea of past holiday Gourmet issues (god rest it) around me and plan a beautiful meal – a pumpkin flan to end the evening would be the crowned jewel.
It didn’t happen that way. Being exhausted at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was haul out my magazines and then have to clean them all up a few hours later, or watch as they scattered further and further from their point of origin as the days past and they still lay fallow.
Instead of the challah I’d planned to make, I chose Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls – frozen, my God. I hacked open acorn squashes and put them under the broiler for a virtually work-free side. My dad made the sad dressing (not enough moisture, too much salt). My mom, never a baker, made a too-dark pumpkin pie (forget the flan) and a pile of mashed potatoes spiked with canned black pepper that stuck between our teeth. The only real work I did this year was the brining of the turkey breast – which was a brilliant move – and streuseled sweet potato casserole. A total of maybe two hours. Maybe.
It all went well – well enough, I suppose – to be called a Thanksgiving. The apathy was palpable. Next year – I can only hope for next year – we’ll all be together, and I can care more. I’ll even make a pumpkin flan.