How I Hosted Thanksgiving Without Losing My Mind in 19 Steps

Cranberry Curd Tart from the New York Times Cooking Section

It’s over. But hindsight is 20/20. I’m posting this with the hopes that I can learn from a little self-reflection. More holidays right around the corner, after all.

Step One. Shop three times in three days and still forget 5 things. Buy half the amount of onions I meant to. Store is open on Thanksgiving, right? Oh, it’s not? Buy 4 pounds of cranberries instead of 2. They freeze, right?

Step Two. Make cranberry sauce. Put in fridge. Whew. My work is done and all of my labor and careful planning has already paid off.

Step Three. Have 2 kids make 2 pies, one from the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can, the other from the back of the Karo syrup bottle. I am officially not a snob and my kids are now very accomplished. Third kid is currently negotiating to help tomorrow instead of today. #studyingnotstudying

Step Four. Run down to basement with husband in tow. He’s there to carry assorted cooking gadgets–electric turkey roaster, bread machine, ice cream maker, instant pot, soup pot, tart pan, and serving platter–but he is also there because I shouldn’t have watched the first episode of The Haunting of Hill House and now I can never ever safely go to the basement alone again without thinking of “The Bent Neck Lady.” #shudder

Step Five. Make King Arthur Flour Cookbook recipe for stuffing bread. It calls for 13 ingredients and I planned on leaving out the sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and the bread dough enhancer. Realize that I am out of sage, cornmeal, potato starch. 7 out of 13 ingredients down. I momentarily wonder if it will taste as good? Is it even stuffing bread anymore??? Pause to have existential crisis. Decide to wing it and hope for the best since I refuse to buy a loaf of fancy bread to shred for stuffing. Spending pennies instead of dollars even if the stress costs me my health. 

Step Six. Spontaneously decide I will make the Cranberry Curd Tart from the New York Times Cooking website because I really am a snob. My supermarket doesn’t carry hazelnuts or rice flour. Improvise with almond flour from Costco leftover from Passover and some unbleached white flour, but decide to otherwise follow the directions meticulously.

Step Seven. Realize that I didn’t follow the directions at all and have made 2 substitutions and 1 big fat mistake. Proceed anyway. Doesn’t quite look like the picture, but I am sure it will taste good.

Step Eight. Open bottle of wine that was meant for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a white blend from Pop Crush and was on clearance at the grocery store for $5. The joke is on them because it’s so good they could have charged three times the price. It would be GREAT paired with food. Turkey especially. Oh. the joke’s on me. It’s gone and now I am too drunk to follow directions meticulously. I think I will call it a day.

Step Nine. Thanksgiving morning. Wake up and hit the ground running. Well, actually, sleep in, go to Jazzercise, do some online shopping, make some phone calls, and oh shoot, better start cooking. Set the table instead. See procrastination blog post

Step Ten. Cut stuffing bread into cubes and toast in oven. Saute leeks, celery, apples, thyme. Chop chestnuts and parsley. Stuffing looks picture perfect. Makes a lot but should have doubled this anyway–it’s everyone’s favorite! 

Step Eleven. Vaguely notice family as they lounge nearby while I wrestle 18 pound Trader Joe’s turkey out of wrapper and hoist into roaster. Watch family recoil in fear of salmonella. Husband stands on guard with bleach bottle in hand. Meanwhile, I dump random spices from the cabinet on top of the turkey, stuff a bunch of random things from the crisper to the cavity, drizzle with olive oil, and add onions and broth to the pan. Close lid. Pray. Should have had more of a plan, but turkey always tastes like turkey, no matter what fancy things I do to it. I stare into space and have flashbacks to Thanksgiving 2008 when I lovingly massaged the turkey with homemade herb butter and left the skin to crisp for 3 days in the fridge, all for nothing. It tasted good but just like every other turkey. Feeling better about my decision, or lack of decision.

Step Twelve. Ask husband and kids to help peel potatoes. Watch husband pretend sweet potatoes are manatees swimming off the coast in Florida and act out entire watery scenario. Wonder if he is losing his mind. Decide he is just very hungry and his blood sugar is low.

Step Thirteen. Sheesh, step thirteen?!?! What kind of crazy holiday is this? Thank god I only have to do this once a year. Pry sweet potato from husband’s hands for cooking. Does he look a little tearful? Did he just quietly say, “Goodnight sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest?” Make mashed potatoes. Bake stuffing. Chop kale for our favorite salad.

Step Fourteen. Turkey is done. Husband lifts cooked turkey out of roaster with wooden spoons. The wooden spoons snap. We don’t speak for a full minute as we stare thoughtfully at the turkey. What have we done in the past…think…complete amnesia sets in as we both stare off into the distance trying to conjure memories of Thanksgivings past. None of our 23 Thanksgivings together are coming to mind. Two pairs of metal tongs do the trick. It looks lovely on the platter tented with foil. It is picture perfect, but no one will get to see it because carving is imminent as my husband clutches the carving knife.

Step Fifteen. Make gravy. THIS IS THE MOST STRESSFUL PART. Pouring a giant vat of hot greasy liquid into 4 cup fat separator as wide-eyed starving children look on is a little unnerving. Separator does its magic. Kids don’t care about watching turkey being carved, but they appear mesmerized by the fat separating from the stock, the way one might stare at a lava lamp. I make a swimming pool’s worth of gravy. It is perfect and no seasoning is necessary.

Step Sixteen. Kids and husband carry food for 50 people into dining room set for 5. I’m in the bedroom frantically printing out Thanksgiving trivia and games as I just thought of it right now.

Step Seventeen. We eat. We play. It’s perfect. All of the stress and hard work was worth it.

Step Eighteen. Kids clear table. Kids do dishes. So many dishes. Kids do dishes on repeat for two days. Best kids ever. I am truly thankful all around.

Step Nineteen. We eat Thanksgiving dinner three times a day for three days. When it is gone, we are both relieved and sad.

Step Nineteen. Start planning for Chanukah. I think I’ll get a head start. I learned a lot from Thanksgiving this time. 🙂

 

 

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King Arthur Flour Cookbook

Instant Pot  Oster Turkey Roaster

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Procrastination Soup aka Instant Pot Chicken Soup

It starts with a montage:

A blurry flurry of papers.

The camera pans out.

A writer is crouched over the pile, frantically scrawling away.

The camera zooms in.

A pencil scratches the surface of the paper, the sound like skates cutting into clean ice.

A fist crumples a ball of paper and drops it down off of the side of the bed.

The pile is growing; one ball bounces off of another.

Classical music plays in the background. Or maybe classic rock. Or even something bluesy, ‘cause writers often have the blues. In fact, they regularly mope around, brooding as a form of procrastination.

The camera pulls back.

They suffer publicly. Their friends wonder why they don’t just get a real job. They grow moodier. They start fights with loved ones to avoid fulfilling their destiny, whatever that means. They must believe their chosen line of work is some sort of unavoidable fate, however unpleasant, and that they are the chosen one.

Only they can do this task: drop the ring into the fiery pits of Mordor, conquer Voldemort, destroy Darth Vader, enter the Upside Down and blow the smoke monster to smithereens using nothing but their mind.

Even when they succeed, trauma will ensue. It is inevitable. They will never fully recover. They will never be the same. While childhood friends continue life as they knew it, they, the chosen one, will never be the same. Everything will have a slightly more sinister twist. Forever.

The calendar pages flutter as the deadline approaches. The clock ticks noisily on the wall. Blood rushes to their head and a heartbeat is ominously heard loudly in their ears. There is no body under the floorboards, so it must be stress.

Suddenly, cleaning the toilet seems very appealing.

Rituals form. Every day, coffee will be made at this time and this way. Two sugars, two splashes of creamer, filled to the little crack near the top of the rim. Same mug. Every day. The work will begin when the coffee cup is empty.

When the bottom of the mug is revealed, two words are visible: Start now. This was cleverly painted on the bottom of the mug by the writer at a paint-your-own-pottery store. So far, it is all the writer has written, which doesn’t bode well for destiny.

As the two words appear, the music stops short, cut off uncomfortably in the middle of a refrain. Unresolved dissonance hangs in the air. It is as if oxygen has been cut off. All blood flow to the brain is gone. Nothing is left except despair echoing in the pit of the stomach.

The writer looks at the pile of crumpled papers and says: Fuck it. And also: Time to begin.

Except they are launched into a daydream.

It is more like a grand mal seizure.

They have disappeared from the earth, even as their body sits on the edge of the bed, laptop in hand.

They stare straight ahead, the eyes two pits of sadness as they see nothing but terror ahead. They are a prophet. An oracle. They can see the future, and they are afraid.

They clutch the manuscript tightly in their hands. They run for the subway entrance. They barrel down the stairs, pushing past crowds of people who are all wearing gray suits, and dash toward the open train doors. The doors begin to shut in slow motion. The manuscript that is clutched by hands is now also crushed by hands as a leap of faith is taken.

They make it through the jawlike doors in the nick of time, Indiana Jones style, reaching out at the last minute for the hat.

 

Procrastination Soup

Place the following ingredients into the Instant Pot: a small chicken, a few peeled and sliced carrots, a chopped onion, a bay leaf, a tablespoon of kosher salt, and whatever else you’d like to add to your soup. Fill to the max fill line with water.

Set Instant Pot to the soup setting on high pressure for 2 hours. Release pressure manually, although if you don’t, that is fine too.

When done, strain, add the carrots and some of the chicken, shredded, back into the soup. Make some noodles. Eat.

Okay, now. Enough procrastinating. Get back to work.