That fateful day in 1621 is remembered so that we may give thanks for all of our blessings. Believe me, I am grateful every day for all that I have, but I have found other ways to "celebrate" this holiday. I'm sure if those pilgrims and Native Americans had repeated the feast year after year, stress, negativity and family dramas would have eventually become part of the scene. I hear many stories from friends and clients: There's the annoying, brother-in-law, who wears sweats and dirty shoes to the table you spent days decorating, Uncle Harry, who is sloshed before half-time of the first game, Aunt Martha, who greets you with, "I see you put a little weight on this year".
Before I stopped cooking turkey dinners in 1988, I used to go all out. I set a gorgeous table. I put out elegant appetizers. I made a beautifully browned turkey, delicious stuffing, wonderful side dishes, and pumpkin cheesecake. I did mounds of greasy dishes, and ended up with turkey soup and a bad headache.
Just two or three Thanksgivings with my ex-mother-in-law cured me of participation in this holiday ritual. The first year, I had a number of guests, had done as many food items ahead as possible, and had put in the turkey for an early afternoon dinner. The guests were happily eating appetizers and drinking cocktails, when I noticed that lovely turkey/butter scent was no longer coming from my kitchen. There I found a COLD oven, with a "pre-salmonella" temperature uncooked turkey sitting there. No, it was not broken, my MIL had somehow turned off the oven! I whipped up a couple unplanned hors d'oeuvres, and we ate three hours later than planned. Thank goodness we had plenty of liquor! All she said was, "I don't know how that happened." That was also the year she put my beautiful red cashmere sweater in the washer and dryer and it came out looking like something between a potholder and a lap blanket for Barbie!
The first year we lived in the Bay Area, we had moved into our beautiful new home 10 days before Thanksgiving. I worked day and night unpacking TWO moving vans full of stuff into our spacious house. Everything was decorated, my fabulous kitchen was organized and looked like a magazine spread. When my MIL arrived the night before Thanksgiving, I gave her a kitchen tour. I showed her where everything was, and how to work the oven, microwave, and dishwasher. She knew I had done most of the cooking and baking already, and asked if she could "please put in the turkey and make the mashed potatoes and gravy" so I could "relax". I agreed. Since it was just the three of us for dinner, I bought a turkey breast instead of a large bird. The stuffing and side dishes were done ahead, and just had to be heated, so I thought, "Sure, why not!" We discussed what time to put in the turkey breast, and I preheated the oven.
My husband and I had one large painting left to hang in our bedroom. MIL said, "I'm going to put in the turkey, ok?" I said "Sure, do you need anything?" thinking "butter, salt and pepper are out, and the roasting pan is next to them on the counter. She can't mess that up." WRONG.
Fifteen minutes later, when I returned to the kitchen, smoke was pouring out of the oven, and as I entered, the smoke alarm went off. My husband was right behind me. I opened the oven door to see the turkey breast in a PLASTIC zip lock bag with NO PAN, and melting plastic oozing on to my brand new oven element. I screamed. My husband stabbed the smoking, melty, object with a meat fork and carried it to the sink. I turned on cold water, and peeled off the "plastic coating" in one quick pull (like removing a band-aid quickly). We looked at each other. MIL remained silent. What the ____ was she thinking? I believe she eventually said something about thinking it was an oven roasting bag. Did it SAY oven roasting bag??? Even if one could accept this lame excuse, the roasting PAN would have been nice. I washed the turkey breast, started over, and we opened all the windows to get the nice "chemical smoky scent" out of my new home.
A while later, I returned to the kitchen to make mashed potatoes. She said, "I will do the potatoes." Would YOU want this woman in your kitchen at this point? I glared at my husband behind her back. He took me aside to the living room and said, "Please let her help. It makes her feel useful." Her "feeling useful" was how come I still didn't have a new red cashmere sweater! By then she had found my largest soup pot, and filled it with water to boil potatoes. I took out a more appropriate pot, saying, "There are only three of us." She said, "My son loves them, and we'll have leftovers." She grabbed a ten pound bag of potatoes from the pantry. Whatever... I'm sure that is when the scotch came out of the bar.
I noticed she was throwing potatoes...LOTS of them, into the boiling water. I asked quietly, "Don't you peel them first? and cut them?" She said, "It is easier to peel them when they are cooked." News to me. By then, I really didn't care much about dinner. I figured a bowl of cranberry relish alone in my room would be fine. I took out butter, and a large serving bowl, and was just putting the blades in my hand mixer. As she was pouring out the water from the huge pot of potatoes, she asked where my hand masher utensil was. I told her I didn't have one, that I used the hand mixer. I turned two steps to the fridge to grab the cream, when I heard the mixer. No milk, no butter, just potatoes flying around my new kitchen wallpaper. Did you know potatoes can make it to 14 foot ceilings? She was fumbling with the ON/OFF slider on the mixer. How hard is THAT? Unplug the damn thing, moron! More potatoes were flying past my head.
I walked out of the kitchen. I stayed in my room. This was the beginning of my PTTD (Post Traumatic Turkey Disorder). I solemnly vowed, I would NOT cook another Thanksgiving dinner, NOR would I ever let her "help me" cook again. I spent an hour trying to figure out HOW she gave birth to a Mensa member. My husband did a great job of cleaning the ceiling, walls and windows. She never said a word about the potatoes or took any responsibility for the TWO kitchen disasters that day. She always said, "Palma is a wonderful cook." Apparently, it is 20 years later, and she STILL occasionally says "Palma is a wonderful cook" in front of her new daughter-in-law. Hehehe.
Since we have no family members in California, we alternate years between spending Thanksgiving with friends in the Bay area, where I send flowers, and am a pampered guest, or taking a long weekend in Las Vegas. This year it will be Vegas. I do not have to watch football. Friday shopping day is MY sport, and I no longer dread this holiday. It is a safe bet, there will be no turkey on my plate.
I will admit to craving some stuffing, so I whipped up just a tiny bit with some dried cranberries and apricots, and stuffed two chicken breasts. We had them with roasted butternut squash baked with olive oil and a little grated parmigiano. We were so eager to eat, I forgot to take a photo of the inside of the chicken!
Happy cooking this week to all those who celebrate a traditional Turkey Day!