The perfect Thanksgiving feast was created by Snoopy and Woodstock. Popcorn, toast, pretzel sticks and ice cream sundaes. Hallelujah! The only thing missing was wine.
In my early twenties, my friend Paige and I were assigned the dressing for the Thanksgiving dinner her boyfriend was hosting. We showed up with a box of Stove Top Stuffing and a bottle of Wild Turkey. That was the sum total of my experience cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. In 2001, my number was up. It was my turn to cook Thanksgiving dinner. I invited sixteen friends and family members. After all, this is a scalable meal by design. My level of confidence was soaring.
T-minus two weeks: I scurried around town acquiring extra chairs, linens, vases, candelabras, and candles. I cobbled together two dining room tables. I envisioned a table worthy of the Architectural Digest Holiday Issue.
T-minus one week: I made lists, created a color-coded Excel spreadsheet, and consulted my friend Annika, a trained chef. I wasn’t going to just cook a 20 lb. turkey; I was going to brine and stuff it.
The day of, I got up early. Every second was devoted to preparations: turkey in the oven, prepping side dishes, assembling appetizers, all the while basting the turkey at set intervals. Wisely I had outsourced the pies to my mother. Guests arrived at 6pm sharp, to the magical sound of champagne corks popping. My holiday music selection set a festive mood.
The turkey was scheduled to come out at 7 pm. I had done my calculations. Perhaps it was my 1979 Jenn-Air oven, perhaps that old bird was messing with me, but that turkey refused to yield. My meat thermometer was indicating something slightly warmer than turkey sushi. Like a baby insisting on an overdue arrival, this bad boy was not ready to come out. Apparently you can’t simply turn up the oven to rush things along. I considered finishing it off in my Amana Touchmatic Radarange, alas, the turkey was too big to fit. The only thing to do was wait it out and drink more champagne.
Appetizers ran low as the cocktail hour stretched for miles. I should have waited to cook the green beans. Luckily mashed potatoes can handle it, but they were getting cold, butter congealing, the gravy lumpy. Drink more wine. Finally the turkey was ready, but getting everything expedited to the table took another half hour. I felt as if I were wading through my own stiffened mashed potatoes to get this dinner off the ground. The “Olds” just sat and stared at me, wondering why we were eating at 10 pm. This never happened in the forty years they cooked Thanksgiving dinner.
As we lifted our goblets, my toast went something like this, “Welcome to my Thanksgiving table. You have the dubious distinction of eating the very first Thanksgiving Dinner I have ever cooked, and this will be the last.” I didn’t remember saying this glib toast. My sister reminded me years later. Apparently my guests were amused. I think it was foreboding; more Jonestown then Jamestown. Perhaps foreshadowing the disaster to come…
After dinner a few brave and benevolent volunteers helped clear the table. We started the massive cleanup project. Many hands make light work. But what’s this? My sink not draining? The garbage disposal sputtered and gasped. Globs of uneaten mashed potatoes and turkey, trailed by pools of blood red cranberry floating in the sink. The eighty year old pipes simply gave up, like a glutton’s clogged arteries. Disbelief swept over me. Keen instincts told me this was beyond the capabilities of Liquid Plumber. No, this would require a flesh and blood, living and breathing, $200 an hour plumber. I looked up at the heavens, fist shaking, “Of all the days in the year for my kitchen pipes to clog, it has to be Thanksgiving?”
Just before the sink became an infinity pool, clean up came to a screeching halt. Every dish, pan, plate, fork, spoon, glass, knife, and bowl dirty. For a moment I considered moving the entire operation to the bathtub. I could form an assembly line of washing, rinsing, and drying, before any troublemakers could unionize.
My guests disbanded, feeling sheepish about the disaster, but grateful to leave it behind. Dishes were stacked precariously on every inch of counter space. The plumber’s bill was enormous. Clean up took the better part of a week.
I was true to my word. I have not cooked another Thanksgiving dinner since. To ensure that I never do, we leave town every year the week of Thanksgiving. Now that is something to be thankful for, and a tradition I can truly uphold.