A couple of years ago, I mentioned on Facebook that, instead of spending all of Thanksgiving day cooking, I was super tempted to just buy one of those complete turkey dinners at Whole Foods. The kind that has everything from the bird to the rolls to the potatoes to the dessert, all handily prepared for you and ready to re-heat. The kind where all of the work is done.
Facebook recoiled with horror at my suggestion. Like, I had personally affronted the institution of Thanksgiving by not spending hours making stuffing out of home baked bread and self-harvested chestnuts. “It’s so easy!” everyone told me, right before detailing their twelve-step process for brining the turkey with bouquets garnis. Facebook lies. Don’t ever forget that.
I actually really enjoy cooking. It’s one of my favorite activities, when I have the luxury of time to try a new recipe or experiment with different ingredients and flavor combinations. I find it a very relaxing and creative endeavor. We had friends over for dinner this past weekend and I sat in the kitchen drinking wine and chatting with our guests for over an hour while onions caramelized on the stove. That is my idea of a good time.
So, I am a cook. But, maybe more of a fair-weather cook. Because holiday cooking is just not my jam, man. I think it has something to do with the stress of bringing so many dishes, that I don’t prepare with frequency, to completion at the same time. If I made mashed potatoes or turkey or stuffing with regularity, maybe the whole day would be like second nature and I would move seamlessly around my kitchen with calm and purpose instead of just frantically worrying I’m burning the gravy or forgetting the rolls or over-mixing the potatoes.
Also, I’m usually just cooking this feast for a small number of people. Typically, just for Bob and I. We don’t host a large amount of family or friends for Thanksgiving and since my kids will only eat about one third of what’s found on a typical turkey day menu, it all just seems like such a huge amount of WORK and CLEAN-UP for a total of about seven minutes around the dining room table before someone spills a glass of water or asks for a granola bar.
My enthusiasm is low, you could say. But, I also love a good holiday, especially one as genuine as Thanksgiving. I’d love for my kids to have warm memories of such a special day; home and hearth and good smells emanating from the kitchen. As a result, I’ve spent the past couple of holidays dumbing down enough of my menu that I am no longer exhausted at the thought of preparing such a feast. Facebook was kind of right in that a holiday menu can be easy if you make it easy.
So! Thanksgiving dinner! Let’s do this! Here’s what I’m serving.
1. Turkey – I’m not going to brine it or butter it or olive oil it or deep fry it or talk soothingly to it. I’m just going to follow the directions on the package and hope that I make enough gravy to smother the dryness out of this thing. Also, by only purchasing a small turkey breast, I don’t have to deal with that horrible packet of innards that comes in the cavity of a whole turkey.
2. Stove-Top Stuffing – Look, we could all pretend that out-of-the-box stuffing is too pedestrian an item for our Thanksgiving tables but, you and I both know that this crap is good. Like, really good. It has half of a stick of butter in it. With that kind of ratio, it can only be good. Two boxes because: MORE BUTTER.
3. Potatoes – This dish is probably the most complicated thing I’ll make for turkey day. But, I’ve also tried to uncomplicate it because I can remember my mom really slaving over the perfect, fluffy, no-lump mashed potatoes every holiday and that seems like a lot of work/stress. So, I’ll take these yummy red-skinned potatoes, cut them up, boil them and then mash in anything that I think will make them taste yummier: some sort of dairy, copious amounts of butter and salt, probably some cheese. You get the idea.
4. Carrots – This is pure tradition. My mom made carrots every major holiday and so do I. I don’t do anything fancy but they MUST have a sprinkle of dried parsley on top with butter (of course), just like I had growing up.
5. Gravy – I used to be super intimidated by gravy but my sister, Janet, wrote down her pan gravy recipe for me that uses the water from cooking the carrots combined with some butter (WHEE!) and a few other things and it’s all very easy and I no longer serve Bob gravy out of a jar, which, does kind of seem like an affront to Thanksgiving now that I’m thinking about it.
6. Cranberry sauce – Your cranberry sauce must come from a can. Like, it HAS to have the can marks on the side of it and be cut into perfect spheres. This is the only way to eat cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving. I think we can all agree on this.
7. Dinner rolls – The entirety of Henry’s Thanksgiving dinner is this package of rolls. So, I bought two.
8. Dessert – My cousin is spending Thanksgiving with us this year and since she has her own baking blog, I’m going to assume dessert is covered. She has to drive all of the way from Georgia though so if she doesn’t feel like baking, there is an organic market up the street that sells a pecan pie that is so delicious, I’ve considered divorcing Bob and marrying it instead.
See? Easy-peasy! Almost half of the ingredients come from a can or a box. Doesn’t get more American than that!
Happy Thanksgiving, family and friends! May your holiday table be full of delicious food, no matter the effort. Also, let’s all say a little prayer this season that the price of butter drops soon.