A Thanksgiving Debriefing

A harvest festival-ish holiday celebrating thankfulness and gratitude? What could go wrong?

This year we’re very thankful to celebrate the second anniversary of Kelly’s miraculous recovery from an aortic dissection. But, for the first time in memory, both Kelly and I did nothing on Thanksgiving. We had colds and spent the day at home watching movies. We ate pasta for dinner.

Between coughs and sniffles, I had a few idle thoughts on ways the holiday could be improved:

  • Ditch the turkey. Ask around and you’ll find out it’s probably not most people’s favorite food. Why not serve something else?
  • If you are going to serve turkey butcher it first and then roast it. Roasting it whole leads to dry meat.
  • While we’re at it how about ditching the traditional side dishes? They have the taste and texture of baby food.
  • What would happen if we gave the women in our lives a day off and had the men folk do all the work? Women seem to get the brunt of the holiday domestic duties.
  • I suspect I’m preaching to the choir to suggest skipping the consumption nightmare that is “black Friday.”

Consider this an open thread on the holiday. What did you do? Did a political debate break out at the table? Who did all the work? Have our international readers even heard of Thanksgiving? Note that our Canadian readers have had an extra month to debrief on the holiday. Comment!

Having no pictures of Pilgrims, please excuse my use of this terrible magazine cover depicting Puritans. I can’t tell the difference. Plus the central figure has the haggard look of someone who just spent the whole day making way too much mediocre food while the rest of her family kicked back and watched a bowl game.

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23 Comments

  1. When my husband and I moved to Florida in 2002 after we got married we established a sort of regular tradition of camping on Thanksgiving. Sometimes we’d fly home to visit family but there was also Christmas so we weren’t going to buy two plane tickets. And two of us didn’t need a feast, thus Thanksgiving camping became a tradition. We’ve had on and off years with it but we’ve tried to keep it up once again. We spend about 4.5 days in the Davis Mountains of west Texas and then two days, including Thanksgiving, at another state park in the Texas Hill Country.

    Thankfully my husband mostly enjoys to cook and is the better cook of the two of us, so he cooked a turkey before we left and we froze some to take with us. A very makeshift Thanksgiving but it works for us!

    I definitely recommend camping if you leave in a region that tolerates it for Thanksgiving. Just make reservations early because you won’t be the only ones at the campground.

    • A great idea. Here in LA the weather is beautiful at this time of the year and the mountains are close.

  2. Thanksgiving is a family-of-choice holiday for us. Each person has a task or two on the day: prep the turkey, make the potatoes, cleanup, etc. No one is stuck in the kitchen all day. We do actually like some fairly standard foods, though often with a twist (like lots of garlic and rosemary in the mashed potatoes). I will say the turkey is never bland or dry. 🙂

    The reason it works for us is that we deliberately talked about what we do/don’t like about the holiday, asking questions like the ones you pose above. Especially on a holiday centered around gratitude, it makes no sense to adhere to traditions that make folks miserable!

  3. I made turkey mole this year. I had always found the usual meat in mole – chicken – to be unable to stand up to the rich flavor. Plus, turkey was the Mesoamerican poultry of choice back in the day.

    Turns out it worked excellently. I simmered turkey thighs in the sauce until they were falling apart and the flavor penetrated very well.

  4. We love Thanksgiving! Good food, toasty fireplace, good music and conversation. Spending Peaceful time Thankful for family, good fortune and food! What? That’s not your experience? I am sad for you, but it’s All Good.

    We’re in a new house this year and the stove is some glass top nonsense (I cook with gas) so it was a learning curve, but it all came together just fine and was delish.

    I’m the cook (he’s the clean up crew) and got it down to a science with family favorites: I agree, cut the bird apart! Go Julia Child style and lay it over the (sausage and apple) stuffing and roast. I just did breast this year and it was delish, altho a whole bird is typical, so I can make stock.

    Added sides of shredded brussel sprout salad (with pecans, pickled red onions and pomegranate seeds), roasted squash with spices (Chinese 5 spice and chipotle), with homemade cran/orange ‘salsa’ on the side. Mom brought the pies and NO DRAMA (for once)! Aaannnd, now I’m hungry again. :^)

    We’re Luddites and forgo the boobtube for the holiday and there’s no way in *Hell, MI* that either of us will be shopping during any of the festivities or afterwards.

    I’m SO glad that Kelly recovered and I hope the two of you are on the mend soon. I love the holiday, but there’s no reason for anyone to make a fuss if it’s stressful and unwarranted. Peace Out and Relax in whatever way suits you.

  5. I agree with you completely, We had turkey, but it was turkey and dumplings. And horror of horrors, at least according to our company, no pies. I liked it and I was the one doing the cooking, so that’s all that matters, right? I do have to admit that I like some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods, but am tired of being the one to do cook it all.

    Hope you two are feeling better.

  6. Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. That said, whatever age it is that you can no longer enjoy four days of holiday food, I am now that age.

    I look back at what I could put away as a kid with seemingly no ramifications. Now, I guess it’s one day of indulgence and back to rational eating. Which is probably how it should be. But I’m a little nostalgic for when I could eat pie for four days and not miss a beat.

    I love turkey for turkey soup. I’m currently working my way through a large pot of some of the best soup I have ever made. No surprise, once I started eating soup instead of pie, I started feeling good again. (sob)

  7. I live in Australia, and I am just very thankful that I have never in my life cooked a turkey. And while we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, horror of horrors, I walked down the street on Friday to discover Black Friday posters everywhere! It is very depressing to discover that particular US import on our already consumer-ridden shores..

  8. I’m in the UK and like Australia we seem to have imported Black Friday (Black Week in many shops) without the fun of the actual holiday.
    I’ve always liked the sound of Thanksgiving- food and family without all the hoopla around cards and gifts that Christmas involves.
    We once had a big family Thanksgiving for my (now ex-) sister-in-law who’s from LA. I like turkey (and I’d like to say mine isn’t dry or flavourless either!) and pumpkin pie is ok but have to admit to being less than keen on some of the traditional sides, especially any that involve marshmallow, pie filling, jelly (jello) and/or cherry cola.

  9. Thanksgiving is my favorite food holiday-probably because I spend it alone and only cook the food I like! So there’s turkey (the breast is dry! I don’t care! It’s still tasty!), dressing and cranberry sauce.

    And I also traditionally watch the ‘Mad Max’ movies. It just seems to balance out the day…

  10. We had a most untraditional Thanksgiving feast on Saturday – but traditional for us in that we celebrated with 2 families of dear old friends we have gathered with most Thanksgivings for the last 30 years. The children that were babies and toddlers then are now about the age we were that first year – some with their own babies. Together we made extravagant paella – with fresh seafood flown in from Nantucket that morning, served with our own wood-fired sourdough bread and our homemade raspberry mead. So thankful for a jam-packed house full of wonderful people.

  11. I love leftover pie for breakfast. It’s worth making pie just for that. Well…. I must confess my husband makes the pies so I guess he thinks it’s worth it, too.
    We also have oyster stuffing every year as we are (long ago) CA transplants from the Chesapeake. I can skip turkey and potatoes, but not the oyster stuffing.
    Also I love cooking side dishes from our garden produce, but that’s not just a Thanksgiving thing, that’s an everyday thing.
    I do like the holiday and enjoy being with the family. I abhor the commercial aspect of the day after and we always go visit a local farm or state park instead.

  12. We had friends come down from Canada for “Yanksgiving” and we spent a lot of time eating everything in sight and telling our Canadian friends that they did not actually have to work to convince us of the benefits of socialism.

    Also, I’ve decided that smoked turkey is much tastier than roasted turkey. That used to be a debate every year at my ex’s family’s house.

  13. I gather from your comments on the traditional Thanksgiving menu that you are not especially skilled at cooking traditional New England foods. No surprise there–you’re from LA! Rest assured that in the proper hands, the turkey and fixings are superb, but I always consider the best part to be the aftermath. Who wants to shop on Black Friday? I’m too busy consuming pie for breakfast, lounging around the house, eating turkey sandwiches, lounging around the house, making biscuits for turkey pie (lots of gravy-yum!), and cramming the carcass into the slow cooker for plenty of soup stock–it simmers while I lounge around the house. Our favorite soup has become one inspired by African ground nut stew, but with turkey and turkey stock and cashew butter rather than the traditional chicken and peanuts. It is spicy and rich, so yummy. Let’s not forget the vegetarians who grace our table from time to time. I always make a rich corn pudding for them, and some mushrooms and dill stewed in the oven for a couple of hours makes a rich gravy for the mashed potatoes. This has been an exceptional year for butternut squash in our region. Every one I have cooked so far has had excellent flavor and good moisture without being watery, and friends have had the same experience. I’ve always hated marshmallows, so find that a lump of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon dress the squash perfectly to our taste. Endless arguments about the best preparation for cranberry (jelly or relish? with ginger or without? orange peel or not?) are more popular than politics at our table, and we always end by agreeing to disagree.
    Always lots for which to be thankful, starting with full tummies and wonderful people in our lives. So glad Kelly is still alive to bless your Thanksgiving.

  14. I love Thanksgiving, especially pumpkin pie, but I haven’t cooked a turkey since I became a vegetarian 20+ years ago. And for the last 5 years my boyfriend and I have celebrated the day by joining my brother and his girlfriend for dinner at an Indian restaurant, usually followed by a long walk in the woods somewhere. The rest of the family is very spread out so they all do their own thing and we gather at Christmas instead.

  15. As I read this, I’m having pumpkin pie for breakfast! Because that’s the best part of Thanksgiving, I make pies all through the fall and winter just to eat for breakfast at home.

    This year at our big biannual Thanksgiving gathering, it was mostly men. (The younger generation is all boys – 7 of them – who are grown, but not yet partnered, and there are several divorced dads in the crew.) It was wonderful to see all my 20-something boy cousins roasting turkeys, mashing potatoes, doing dishes, serving drinks and setting the table. My aunt still did the most work as the ringleader, because it is her house and her wife is in ill health and wasn’t capable of helping this year. It was a refreshing gender balance.

    Black Friday tradition is enchiladas and a talent show, back at my aunt’s house.

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