I made Thanksgiving dinner this year.
I haven't hosted a Thanksgiving in forever. Mostly because I hate roasting a whole turkey.
I know what you are thinking. "Roasting a turkey is so easy! You just cover it in butter, stick it in the oven, and cook it on low all day."
My mother and grandmother made extraordinary Thanksgiving dinners when we were growing up. Every one of my siblings loves making Thanksgiving dinner. Every one of them loves roasting a turkey.
Everyone but me. Somehow I missed the "memo" on how to roast the perfect turkey.
I tried to make a whole turkey... once. It was a very long time ago and it left me moderately traumatized. I was a 25 year old newlywed (first marriage) and I thought I should make the Thanksgiving dinner. I had mastered all the side dishes over the years. I had just never made an actual turkey.
6 am. Thanksgiving Day, 1989. I got up early to get a head start. I was ready to conquer the bird. I just didn't know what to do first? Do I rinse it off? How do I stuff it? How many hours do I really need to cook it?
So I called one of my brothers. In those days, when I would call him, like most older brothers, he looked for any opportunity to tease me about anything he could. I said, "I need help." He was like, "What do you mean you need help? Haven't you ever made a turkey before?" I had to admit that I was the only one in the family who didn't get the "roasting turkey gene." So he proceeded to guide me through it like mission control talking to an astronaut in outer space.
He tells me to stick my hand up the turkey and remove the stuff from inside. "Wait. What stuff? Remove it from where?" I ask.
How was I supposed to know that the giblets and neck were stuffed up the butt of the turkey for safekeeping? By the way, it's not safe at all, because you can't cook a turkey with all of its "stuff" jammed up inside of it.
"I don't want to put my hand up the turkey's butt," I said. He was in hysterics laughing at me.
But I couldn't find the "stuff" that he was talking about. (Apparently, my turkey was still partially frozen, which is why I couldn't get it out.) The whole thing was incredibly gross and my hand was getting frost bite from the frozen cavity where I was attempting to dig around. I ended up having to wait a few more hours until it thawed out more to try again.
Eventually I got it into the oven. I opened and closed the oven door every fifteen minutes like a nervous mother watching her baby sleep. I was worried that it wouldn't turn golden brown, or be moist enough, or cooked through, or the stuffing would be undercooked and my guests would all get Salmonella poisoning and die.
Everyone survived but I vowed NEVER to roast another turkey again.
Side dishes, however, I excel at. So that’s what we are eating this year: side dishes only, no turkey.
Most of my family is on the mainland this year so we are hosting a small dinner. My husband doesn't like roasted turkey, my sister-in-law and her partner are both vegans and my youngest daughter only wants cucumber sushi rolls for Thanksgiving. (I know how weird that sounds. It's because one year we went to a hotel buffet that had platters of sushi available and that was her favorite Thanksgiving ever.)
I decided to throw in some gluten-free options as well. I planned the menu and did my grocery shopping days in advance. I went to four different markets to get all the ingredients: almond milk instead of regular milk; coconut oil instead of butter; etc.
I got a late start on cooking because our family spent the morning playing Pickleball. By the time I got home, there was no time to shower or eat. I needed to get busy. I had decided to make ten dishes from scratch and each one of them was more labor intensive than the next.
I quickly realized two of my recipes were Cuisinart dependent. No problem except that my Cuisinart was in Los Angeles. That just translated into a lot more hand chopping, mixing and freaking out. I was also missing two key ingredients for my chickpea vegan loaf and one of my gluten-free peach cobblers. So now I was running behind, sweating like a pig, starving and improvising.
Normally making dinner for six people is easy for me, but I felt this extra pressure because it was Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe I was overcompensating for not serving the traditional roasted turkey... not that anyone would have eaten it anyway.
Or maybe I felt like I had to make the meal extraordinary because I feel like I have nothing else going on right now. If I was selling or producing TV shows, I would be "too busy" to make Thanksgiving dinner. But since I am not, I feel like I need to be the perfect homemaker. This could very well be the only other career I have if this producing "thing" doesn't work out.
In the end, this one-woman-cooking-show turned out pretty great. My turkey meatloaf was moist and delicious. My chickpea vegan loaf came out awesome. My roasted Brussel sprouts were a big crowd pleaser. My yam casserole was divine. My whipped potatoes were creamy and delicious. My stuffing was excellent (even though I cheated and used the boxed kind). Not everything was perfect. My collard greens were a little soggy and underappreciated, and my peach cobblers were a little mushy. Nevertheless, my husband thought it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners ever!
My daughter, on the other hand, said she missed having cucumber rolls.