[Editor’s note: This holiday chestnut first appeared in Casco Bay Weekly in 1993.]
Mom, in her ruffled apron, appears smiling in the dining room doorway – a golden-brown turkey steams on a platter. Grandma follows cheerfully behind with a bowl full of her signature yams. Dad sits with fork and carving knife poised and ready, as he and Grandpa rib each other and your brother about their respective football teams, while your sister leans over and, in a conspiratorial whisper, tells you she’s fallen in love…
We can largely thank television for this skewed, Norman Rockwell Fantasy-land image of Thanksgiving. Missing from that Hallmark-Donna Reed-Walton-Clever-esque version, however, is that, well, Dad and his new thirtysomething bride will be spending this Thanksgiving in Rio; that you haven’t heard from your brother since he joined a yak collective in Utah; that your anorexic, macrobiotic sister isn’t as much fun at the old groaning board as she used to be; and that Grandma is, as we speak, sitting out on the back doorstep lighting up a big fatty.
Traditional Thanksgivings have, for the most part, gone over the river, through the woods and out the door for many of us. More and more, people are turning to creative ways to spend (remember?) this day of thanks.
If by chance or by choice you find yourself at loose ends this Thanksgiving, don’t despair. You can always spend it alone. And why not? Think of those who will spend the day gouging the underside of many a dining room table (“Have you ever thought of – you haven’t touched your creamed onions, dear – getting a realjob?”), rifling through medicine cabinets for one lone Valium (“When are you going to get over that vegetarian thing ?”) or making numerous, mysterious trips to the corner store – even though it’s closed.
Dinner for one ain’t sounding bad, is it?
When it comes right down to it, a traditional Thanksgiving means food. At some point, gluttony seems to have become equated with grace. Not to say there’s anything the matter with the occasional stuffing of oneself (my motto: all things in moderation, except for those I like), but let’s not do it under the pretence of being grateful.
Now that you have placed the day in proper perspective, you can get down to the matter of getting fed.
If you’re going to want more traditional fare and the company of others, the answer is simple: mooch. Snaking an invitation to someone else’s feed takes only the slightest amount of ingenuity and results in the wholly rewarding experience of letting others fret while you relax.
These invitations can be obtained in a number of ways: If you’re hankering for a family-style meal, look to the friend who is most bemoaning the upcoming holiday – they’re the easiest marks for an invitation, welcoming any distraction to the family mix. (Note: You should first find out where the dread comes from. If it’s inter-family problems, you’re usually safe – you’ll be left out of it. If you’re asked for your opinion, quickly stuff a large Parker House roll, whole, in your mouth and smile stupidly. You may not get invited back, but you’ll avoid confrontation. You also might find yourself abandoned at the table as, one by one, family members leave to join in the clenched-teeth argument going on in the kitchen. If this makes you uncomfortable, just chew louder. However, if the dread comes from Uncle Niles’ blood pudding and marshmallow stuffing, steer clear. Good food can always mask bad company, but you don’t want to risk the reverse.)
If you’re looking for a non-family-styled affair, the novice moocher will probably target the friends who are the best cooks. Mistake. First of all, these individuals will be the highest in demand, with the most on the line, and invariably will be the most stressed out – ultimately making you feel like you should help or dosomething. Also, these people tend to feel they have to create a meal rather than cook it. Thanksgiving is a cooked meal. You don’t want to have to ooh, aah and ogle every dish that comes from the kitchen. And besides, there’s usually no extra room at these tables.
Another popular alternative is banding together with a group of friends who also have nowhere to go – problem is, they are often freeloaders who have exhausted all their options and are ill-equipped to put on any decent sort of feed. Dinner usually includes many, many Cheez Doodles, a case of Old Milwaukee Ice, Domino’s turkey pizzas (you supply the turkey) and a great deal of nostalgia for better Thanksgivings gone by.
The best strategy, however, is to muckle onto a good married couple, friends who have been together long enough that they don’t feel the need to slobber all over each other when there’s food to be prepared (you don’t need to care what happens after you’ve been fed), and not so long that they can’t put out a meal together without meat cleavers and pots flying. These are generally people who have, at long last, stood up to both sides of their families and refused to make the drive to Jersey or Connecticut – and they will be happy to have you around to assuage their guilt.
Say, however, you choose to spend the day alone – it may be for a higher purpose. Some might opt for a truly spiritual alternative – perhaps spending the day in the Lotus position, getting in touch with the inner ingrate. Not only will you emerge a better and more fulfilled person, but you’ll also be able to flaunt your brown rice meal in front of all your co-workers with turkey hangovers. Unfortunately, this option requires moral fiber and self-restraint. Let us consider more pleasing alternatives…
Such as a day of sloth and gorging. Let’s start with the sloth:
First, sleep late. This is New England, after all, and lolling is generally frowned upon (with the occasional exception of writhing in pain after having a limb severed in a logging accident). So linger abed a bit just to spite your ancestors.
Next, don’t wash until you’ve been up at least a few hours, if at all. And whatever clothes you wear must be large, wrinkled (preferably slept-in) and not necessarily clean. (This is strictly in observance of the historical day – what do you think, the Pilgrims were known for their Colonial hygiene?)
Make sure your house if stocked with reading material and a couple movies, but you won’t need them. You have the parades in the morning and football in the afternoon and chances are good It’s a Wonderful Life will be on at least four or five channels at night. Also, here’s the opportunity to catch up on all those overdue long-distance phone calls. Most people aren’t home on Thanksgiving, so it’s an ideal way of getting caught up without actually having to make human contact. And if at any time you’re beginning to feel at all glum, you can take the drastic measure of venturing out – to take a walk if you are of the aforementioned spiritual ilk, or a trip out to the airport, or even a voyeuristic spin down the highway to snap you back to a feeling of good fortune.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of food. Cooking should be ruled out. Why? First, if you wanted to cook, you could’ve done something decent like invited your elderly neighbor over or helped out with a family dinner. Also, you can hurt yourself while cooking. This activity generally requires sharp and/or pointed objects and hot substances and surfaces. I say, leave those things to the trained professionals.
And if that isn’t convincing enough, a quick flip through The Joy of Cookingshould nail the argument shut. Let’s sample from the chapter on poultry and game birds: “Poultry cooks and tastes best if used within 8 to 24 hours after slaughter.” (Hung around any barnyards recently? Think those guys at Purdue have either?) “Among the entrails of a fowl the most valuable are… ” (Would you really like me to continue?) And finally, the following instructions cinched the deal for me. “Cut off the head, so that the neck is as long as possible and at once catch hold of and bind the two tubes attached to the craw, to prevent leakage.”Bon apétit!
OK, so dinner doesn’t necessarily have to mean dressing a dead carcass, butsomeone had to do it – hardly the stuff of appetite-whetting.
Looking further through the cookbook (the only one I own; I was seduced into the purchase by its many recipes for toast, my spécialité de la maison), I saw such things as “Angels on Horseback” (rounds of bread, large drained oysters and bacon – the name derived from the hallucinations you have while retching the concoction back up), “Beef Tongue with Raisin Sauce,” “Hash in Creamed Cabbage” (major ingredient too difficult to obtain on short notice) and “Fruit Fools.” These and other items caused me to pass on the cooking notion.
Still, you want food, so a little pre-planning is required (Domino’s doesn’t open until 5 p.m.). What you need to do is determine your favorite foods and manipulate them into Thanksgiving fare. The following are recipes from my kitchen you can actually use.
• Pad Thai Turkey. Purchase two-to-three orders of Pad Thai the night before. Empty cold contents onto a platter the next day and mold into the shape of your favorite fowl. Serve and enjoy! (Makes great leftovers.)
• Al Diamon’s Dinner from a Keg. Place ruffles (those paper doily things chefs stick on poultry legs) around the necks of all the beer bottles in your refrigerator, creating the illusion of drumsticks marching. (When they actually begin to march, however, time for bed). Pickled eggs or salt ‘n’ vinegar potato chips make an excellent side dish to this meal.
• Faux Peas. Purchase a number of large bags of peanut M&Ms, select all the green ones and arrange in a dish with serving spoon. (Caution: “Faux Peas” are often confused with snow peas, which are actual vegetables. Forewarned is for armed.)
• Thanksgiving at the Movies. Needed: one can gravy, one spritzer bottle, one box popcorn (with or without the golden-butter-flavored ooze), one seat at movies. Place gravy in spritzer bottle, place popcorn in lap – spritz and enjoy!
• B-B-Q Turkey. Fill turkey cavity with charcoal briquettes (Mesquite or plain), add lighter fluid, torch and toss on front lawn. When fire department arrives, it’s done. Salt and pepper to taste.
And with that, I wish a happy Thanksgiving to all! Now get lost and leave me alone until I can find something to recycle for my Christmas column.
Elizabeth Peavey is thankful for the fact she never throws anything away.