On the surface, there was nothing unusual about last year’s Thanksgiving plans. I was going to be cooking, the family was coming over, and a few friends as well. It should have been old hat to me by this point, just a matter of going through the standard operating procedure. However, I wasn’t feeling it. I was still reeling in the aftermath of a breakup that happened early in the month which had caused the little gremlins in my brain to turn up my impostor syndrome to epic levels. That feeling of being an impostor wasn’t helped by having my manuscript rejected by yet another publisher. I don’t know about you, but I personally think “How To Recreate the Summer Olympics in Your Bathtub” would be a best seller.
What was particularly aping my mind that year wasn’t so much the rejection of the book, or the woes of a breakup. I was more thinking about how one couple, in particular, would be coming over for Thanksgiving. You know the kind, the one who appears so achingly perfect on social media you wonder if they’d hired a publicist to manage all of that for them. Each post so carefully choreographed you’re always searching to see where the humanity lies beneath the facade. They’re also family, and judgmental as hell about the fact that I use vintage movie posters as part of my home’s wall art.
It was the perfect cocktail of brain traffic swirling around in my head as I walked around the grocery store with my go-to shopping list for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t going to try to dazzle or reinvent the wheel with that year’s meal. I just wanted to make the foods I could always count on to be a hit with my guests. It was the things you’ve heard me talk about in this column for years when it comes cooking epic holiday meals. Making a brined turkey, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, pies, rolls, greens, and letting other family members bring an assortment of casseroles in varying shades of brown and green.
My favorite part of making the Thanksgiving meal, outside of enjoying the fruits of my labor, is the labor itself. I like being alone in the kitchen, recipes posted up all over the place, taking my time, playing music while I cook. I go into my own little zone and it can be therapeutic. Sometimes the day of Thanksgiving, when you’re stressing about making sure everything is ready on time can be a nightmare, but when you can work ahead of time without the pressure of a deadline it’s relaxing.
With the make aheads done (pies, mac and cheese, turkey in the brine, dough for rolls on a slow rise in the fridge), I was able to sit and rest for a bit. I sat in a recliner with a yellow legal pad and pen to quietly work out what needed to go in the ovens when. Exhausted, and with the big day of the bird ahead of me, I called it an early night and crawled into bed.
I woke early that Thanksgiving morning and made a pot of strong coffee. After having a moment to drink a cup, I got the turkey out of the brine, washed it off, did a quick pat dry and placed it in the oven. You can pretty much figure out how the rest of this goes. You worry about the turkey while it cooks, heat up the pre-made stuff, and mash potatoes. I’ll spare you those details as there’s nothing special about them—well, outside of me singing Barry White songs while cooking the potatoes.
I took the food out of the ovens just as I spied the first of my guests pulling into the driveway. It was my parents who arrived first, followed by aunts, then cousins. Last to arrive, fashionably late as they always do, was the painfully perfect couple. They walked in with a bottle of wine to gift me, their teeth being so absurdly white that I’m 99% sure you could use them to send signals to ships at sea about low tide. Given their history of judging me for my movie posters, I decided to place my vintage poster for “Murder By Death” right in the center of my dining room.
I went to greet the perfect couple as they were getting out of their car. They smiled at me, the light was blinding. As they walked into my home they looked around with eyes of slight suspicion. I could tell they were trying to see if my house was “clean enough” or “not weird enough” for them. I pulled them in close with a vibrant handshake, and said, smile as wide as six football fields on my face: “Wait till you see the dining room! I have a beautiful poster for ‘Murder by Death’ up with this fab art by Charles Addams on it!” They smiled uncomfortably.
All during the meal as my family and friends raved about the food, the perfect couple said that it was good, but they weren’t afraid to offer up how THEY would have made it if they had been the ones cooking the meal. As they kept giving my food and my home the side eye during the entire meal, one of my friends sitting directly across from me at the dinner table communicated with his facial expressions: “Are you really gonna put up with this.” I winked back and he nodded that he knew I would make my displeasure over their self-imposed superiority known soon.
After the meal ended, my friend suggested we move to the living room for a rousing round of Mario Kart. I heartily agreed and after I did a quick clean up of the kitchen, we all moved into my living room. The game of games began as we stretched out around my couches, having to remind ourselves that since family was present, we shouldn’t swear up a storm like we usually do when playing Mario Kart. As you can guess, the perfect couple said “no” when we invited them to join us for a lap on the Rainbow Road.
After many hours spent laughing, playing Mario Kart, eating pies, and having a really fun time with friends and family—all while the perfect couple just watched like we were from space—they decided it was time to go. As I walked them to the door the husband said to me “Don’t you think it’s a bit silly that you’re still playing video games. You’re getting older, surely you hope to marry one day.” I looked at him with a look that I don’t often give people. A look that was filled with a touch of anger, sadness, and shock that someone would say this to me.
I placed my hand on his shoulder and said “You know, I like me. I like my friends. I like my life. We have fun. We’re only here for so long and I plan to enjoy my time here. Marriage doesn’t define my happiness. Have a blessed day” with that I showed them the door. It’s always amazing to me how people who are so boring they think passing gas is a scandalous function are always judging those who still find that life can be fun after 30, kids, marriage and all of that. I’ve always rejected the notion that growing up means you must become a boring person. I plan to be a ripe old 80-year-old who still watches cartoons and plays board games.
As they left my house looking stunned I dared to open my mouth to them, I felt a sense of pride come over me. I walked to my kitchen, picked up a turkey leg, put it on a plate, and joined my friends in the living room where I kicked a number of their tails with blue shells, and that one shell that makes you get really small and makes the music get all tinny—does it have a name? It began as a Thanksgiving where I wasn’t feeling too good, and it ended up as one of the better ones I’ve had in a while. I can only hope the same for you next week as you gather with your friends, family, or chosen family. May your plates and hearts be full. Happy Thanksgiving.