Passing the T-Day Torch

NormanRockwellAt what point does the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner get handed over to the next generation? Is there a statute explaining the process of turning the oven mitts over to the daughters/sons so they can begin their own traditions?

I grew up thinking it was a law for grandmothers to make the Thanksgiving feast, with all the favorite dishes like perfectly-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, fluffy biscuits and pumpkin pie with real whipped cream; and the not-so-favorite bowls of sweet potato casserole and giblet stuffing. I never thought T-Day would ever change, that we’d go on eating at grandma’s house until the end of time.

But then my Grandma Stewart passed away. And then my Grandma Brickey passed away. And although I knew my mom was a good cook, I worried that Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same. She didn’t have the aluminum drinking cups that gave grandma’s 7-Up and Kool-Aid concoction that metallic tang. And she didn’t have access to boysenberry bushes to create my favorite holiday pie. And my cousins wouldn’t be around to torment.

Thanksgiving rolled around, and (surprise!) the meal magically appeared on the table—with all the appropriate fixin’s. My mom had done it! She pulled it off! I was impressed, and showed her my gratitude by eating two dozen of her dinner rolls, doused in homemade strawberry jam.

I decided I could put off worrying about traditions being changed for many, many years.

Or so I thought.

One day, my mom announced she was moving to the far-off state of North Carolina with her new husband, blatantly ignoring the fact that her daughters were Thanksgiving-disabled. Oh sure, we brought the mandatory side dish to each holiday meal; but we’d never cooked an entire T-Day banquet. It seemed our choices were either a) move to North Carolina, b) order KFC take-out, or c) eat only pie (which I was totally okay with).

My sisters and I called an emergency meeting. We tentatively agreed to cook a turkey, but had no idea how big that turkey should be, or how many potatoes needed to be peeled, and we were clueless about making gravy. We knew mom’s first ingredient was always butter; we figured we couldn’t go wrong from there.

Luckily, we had mom on speed-dial, and she talked us through that first Thanksgiving without her. We survived with only mild cases of food poisoning, and a broccoli stuffing that was quietly served into the garbage disposal.

But after mom passed away, we couldn’t even call her for tips.

IMG_0654That’s when I realized that I had become the grandmother, that legally it was my role to feed my family Thanksgiving dinner. I still can’t time a turkey; it’s either finished cooking way too early, or still roasting while we eat pie. And I refuse to make sweet potatoes. But we’ve established our traditions, and hopefully my grandkids associate the holiday with my desserts and homemade rolls. And not the overcooked stuffing or too-salty gravy.

I often wonder which of my daughters will take over the role of Thanksgiving chef when I’m too old and feeble to cook (any day now). And I wonder what favorite foods will become traditions at their meals. As our families become more diverse, T-Day might include tamales, shrimp curry or sushi. I’m cool with that.

As long as there are homemade rolls and jam, and any kind of pie, my Thanksgiving is complete.

Breaking Bread

I’ve never been one to follow fad diets. I like food too much to limit my choices to cabbage, grapefruit and a toxic drink of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. I’m pretty sure that’s a mixture they use to waterproof asphalt.

So when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2016, the idea of taking my favorite foods off the table was . . . well . . . off the table.bake-bakery-baking-5765

My doctor insisted I’d feel better if I stopped eating gluten. I laughed and told him I’d never be one of those people who badger waiters about menu ingredients, scour Pinterest for gluten-free cookie recipes or bore friends to tears with a recap of my gluten-induced misery.

I was in denial for several weeks but after a trip to New York where I gorged on pizza, bagels and, basically, bushels of gluten, I ended up in a bread coma. I went off gluten cold turkey, which is pretty much the only thing I can eat now.

My husband has been super helpful as I’ve transitioned to a life of wheat-less sadness. He chokes down gluten-free pizza and cookies without acting like I’m poisoning him (usually), but when I suggested making gluten-free onion rings, he clenched his jaw so tight his ears started bleeding. I heard him sobbing later in the bathroom.

Changing my own diet is one thing. Changing my family’s traditional Thanksgiving favorites is another. Everything about this holiday is a freakin’ gluten fest. You have dinner rolls, gravy, pie crust, carrot cake, Ritz crackers with spray cheese, and stuffing (which I don’t mind skipping because it’s a disgusting garbage of a food).

I experimented with gluten-free pumpkin muffins that had the consistency of ground up snails. Even my dog wouldn’t eat them. Well, he ate them because he’s a Lab and he eats everything; but he whined the whole time.

Researching gluten-free Thanksgiving Day recipes, I found a plethora of tasteless fare. Brussels sprouts in mustard sauce, quinoa stuffing with zucchini and cranberries, and a wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, taste-free pumpkin pie headlined my options. I tried making the organic, gluten-free, high-protein breadsticks. Yeah, they’re basically jerky.

And what do you call gluten-free brownies? Mud.

Why is gluten only found in foods that are delicious, like waffles and cinnamon rolls? It would be so much easier to avoid gluten if it was just in cottage cheese, foie gras or earthworms.

At least I live in a time where gluten-free products are available. Ten years ago, people going gluten-free could choose between kale chips or toasted particle board. Granted, most gluten-free products still taste like you’re chewing on a handful of toothpicks, but with new flours available, like amaranth, chickpea and cricket . . . never mind. It’s still terrible.blur-close-up-environment-289417

I could have gone my whole life without knowing things like kelp noodles existed. Which brings me back to Thanksgiving.

I realize the irony of me whining about what to eat on Thanksgiving—a day dedicated to gratitude and abundance. So as I’m sitting at the table, nibbling on dry turkey breast and jerky breadsticks, I promise to be grateful for all the things I CAN eat, like cabbage and grapefruit, and even lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Just not mixed together.

Originally published in Iron County Today

Twelve Steps to a Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

In less than two weeks, people will enter my kitchen and demand a perfectly cooked dead turkey, smashed potatoes and chopped veggies. Sounds pretty violent. And although I STILL can’t cook a turkey so it’s done on time, I’ve found a way to make T-day cooking go a little smoother (yes, alcohol helps).

Before Thanksgiving Day:

1. Figure out who’s coming to dinner. Contact parents, siblings, children, distant relatives, grouchy neighbors and obnoxious co-workers to see if they will attend. Chances are, no one will tell you their plans until the night before the holiday.

2. Create the menu. It’s not that hard. Turkey, potatoes (mashed and sweet), cranberries (yuck), stuffing (double yuck), assorted Jell-O salads, vegetable dishes–and lots and lots of pie. With whipped cream. And sugar cookies.

turkey(Don’t mess with tradition. People expect turkey. That’s it.)

3. Divide menu items amongst the guests. Your cousin will bring a jar of pickles. Your aunt might bring a box of butter. Plan on making everything else yourself.

4. Purchase a turkey (and other Thanksgiving paraphernalia). To determine the size of turkey you’ll need, take the number of people attending and times it by 14. Subtract the cost of the turkey, and divide by how many parents you have (this includes step-parents). Add the time you’ll be eating dinner, plus the amount of time it takes to consume a bottle of tequila. Simple.

5. Prepare food ahead of time. Except for the turkey, potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, chocolate cream pie and vegetable trays, everything else can be made the day before.

Thanksgiving morning:

6. Get up. Lying in bed, facing a day full of cooking, relatives, dirty dishes and calories, you might think it’s easier to snuggle back under the blankets and call in sick. Don’t bother. People will still show up. Start consuming caffeine/alcohol as soon as possible.

7. Cook turkey. As mentioned before, my turkey is either still gobbling at dinnertime, or has become turkey charcoal. To figure out cooking time, call the Butterball hotline, 1-800-DUMBASS. Or take the weight of the bird, divide it by the halftime score of the Cowboys game, add an additional 2.5 minutes for each time someone asks if dinner is ready, and subtract time spent crying in the bathroom. Should be golden brown (see above). At some point.

8. Set the table. Unlike Martha Stewart, I don’t have a banquet hall with full service for 25 people. So instead, I gather card tables, piano benches, concrete blocks, unused doors and a couple of old mattresses, and create a festive table with enough chairs for all!

T-Day(Eating outside keeps your home tidy. Caution: Not to be attempted during a snowstorm.)

9. Greet guests. You’re probably totally plowed at this time, so don’t say anything stupid.

10. Have a prayer. Even if you only pray when you’re in a plane hitting turbulence, assign someone to give a heartfelt thanks for surviving another year. And bless the food so your guests don’t die from food poisoning.

11. Eat. And continue eating for the next three days. Apple pie is good for breakfast any time of year. Turkey sandwiches are good only if made with leftover rolls. If you can sit with your pants buttoned, you haven’t eaten enough.

DSC_2960 - Copy(Eat until your eyes roll back into your head.)

12. Call “Not it!” when it’s time to decide next year’s Thanksgiving location.