Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the relatives gather to give thanks that they don’t have to cook dinner, and they will tell you all the things you should have made for them! Take heart, there are lots of families in your situation---you probably only see these people once a year, and since I’m a glass half full (of wine) person, I always look at this holiday as one where I celebrate everyone in our lives. We can’t all be Martha Stewart and have the perfect table, or the perfect dinner, but we can give it our best shot and make people feel welcome, and included.
I have cooked Thanksgiving dinners in many places; a small kitchen in a Japanese house for 17 people, most of whom had left their families to be stationed without them for a year, a retreat center in Washington, DC where our family and extended family gathered; my own home(s) and for the past 7 years in a condo kitchen in Maui. No matter where you celebrate be thankful for what you have and those you can share it with. Here are a few personal disasters that I'm proud to share so that you don't make the same mistakes!
- When I was in Jr. High School my dad made a big deal about carving at the table—he really was culinarily challenged but being a Navy Captain, he felt it his duty to carve (probably something to do with carrying a sword on occasion) After a few too many Manhattans he plunged the carving fork into the bird, the bird slid off the platter, skittered across the floor, though the kitchen door and banged against a cabinet in the kitchen. Ever the showman, he silently picked up the platter, headed to the kitchen only to return in 10 minutes with a perfectly carved turkey---I think he had a little help and a lot of grief from my mom! The moral of the story is NEVER carve at the table.
- Or how about the neighbors that look over the fence as you are smoking that turkey in the big green egg, and invite themselves over; bringing ma, pa and the gang.
- One year when teaching a Thanksgiving class, I was given a frozen turkey and expected to make it into the perfect holiday bird in 3 hours; luckily I was teaching at a grocery store, and sent it back to the meat market to have them saw it in half, and then we defrosted it in cold water. Turned out to be a teaching moment for students because most didn't realize that for every 5 pounds of weight you need 24 hours in the refrigerator to defrost. So gentlemen, if the little lady has a frozen bird on her hands, this is the time to crank up the chain saw and let 'er rip!
- At another class, we went to carve the birds, and I realized that the assistants hadn't removed the giblets, or neck from the turkeys. I did a lot of camouflage while trying to carve these beauties, and no one realized it but me and the assistants who were horrified. They'd done one too many turkey classes, I fear!
- Be thankful for what is in the grocery store; we lived in Japan for 3 years, and the military commissaries would run out of cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin in September because people would stockpile it like gold. Fresh cranberries??? Forget it.
- Remember that alcohol and knives don't mix---we have a saying in our house, no wine until the knives are put away--that way we can avert any potential for blood.
- Tone down those expectations; there have been many family meals where I thought, just for once everyone would behave themselves and how wrong can I be? This is a celebration, not a time to find every fault that someone has and dwell on it till everyone is sick. That saying "charity begins at home," really does mean give a guy a break.
- If you are going to someone else's home for dinner, tell them if you are lactose intolerant, or need gluten free, or are allergic to anything. I once made a creamy, cheesy entree for a party, and when a guest sat down and saw what was for dinner, she said, "I can't eat dairy". From that moment on I always ask guests if they have any food restrictions--this should take care of the vegetarians in the crowd as well.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and warm Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for my family, friends, colleagues, students and the retailers who invite me into their kitchens and let me do something I love! Salute!