My carefree no-fuss Thanksgiving

Visions of Thanksgivings past: Homemade apple and pumpkin pies (Photo: Shala Howell)
Visions of Thanksgivings past: Homemade apple and pumpkin pies (Photo: Shala Howell)

As regular readers know, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for the past few years. Since cooking is not an activity that comes naturally to me, this involves about three weeks of planning.

We live in a third floor walk-up, so I like to begin bringing in the Thanksgiving supplies a bit at a time, so that the load on any given grocery trip isn’t too great. There’s nothing I can do about the giant turkey itself. That trip is just going to be a bear, but if that turkey isn’t paired with 10 pounds of potatoes, my life is immeasurably better. So I stage the grocery shopping out, which requires careful planning.

The cooking is spread out over a few days as well. I’ve got charts and timelines telling me what to do when. Most years, the turkey itself only takes several hours, but I’ve got a set of charts for the years when I decide to do Alton Brown’s brined turkey, in which the active turkey prep starts on Monday.

Cooking doesn’t come naturally to me, but planning does, and most years, executing a major campaign like Thanksgiving is a lot of fun. Even if dinner is greeted with a chorus of “There’s no way we’ll be able to eat all this” and “This is pretty good for turkey.” Admittedly, it’s slightly painful to witness my handmade cranberry sauce passed up in favor of the stuff that you slice up from the can, but most years I have the fortitude to bear it.  I often manage to greet day two with equanimity as well, even though my patented turkey enchiladas are invariably welcomed with “Turkey, again?”

This fall, though, I just wasn’t feeling it. So about a month ago, I announced to all concerned that I wouldn’t be cooking a turkey with all the trimmings this year. I would be having a Sunday dinner on Thanksgiving. Less food waste, less fuss. Maybe we could even go to the Thanksgiving Day parade this year, since I wouldn’t have to spend all that time in the kitchen cooking.

Visions of Thanksgivings Past: Beans, mashed potatoes, turkey, two kinds of cranberry sauce, and salad. (Photo: Shala Howell)
Visions of Thanksgivings Past: Green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, two kinds of cranberry sauce, and salad. Might even have some broccoli there in the distance. (Photo: Shala Howell)

I expected this to be a very popular decision. I’m pretty much the only person in my family who actually likes turkey, and far from the only one who likes to see a bunch of food go to waste.

Oh my goodness, you’d have thought I’d canceled Christmas.

Selecting the sides was easy. Everybody got to pick their favorite, so we’re having mashed potatoes, green beans, and homemade bread. My daughter also wanted a rutabaga custard pie, so I added that to the list. Salad, too, because it’s easy.

The trouble was what to make instead of turkey. Considering how much they dislike turkey, my husband and daughter feel really strongly that turkey is the only possible choice for the Thanksgiving table. I’ve been sending up trial balloons for replacement meats for weeks. Ham, lamb, and prime rib have all been floated and shot down for one reason or another.

“What do you think about Cornish hens?” I asked, after exhausting every other possible option.

Daddyo gave me a pained look. “They’re just like chickens. That’s not very special.”

“But everyone gets their own chicken on a plate,” I said. “And they’re adorable and tiny. It would be a delectable Thanksgiving day joke — instead of serving this giant bird no one likes we’ll be dishing out really tiny ones.”

“That no one likes,” Daddyo said.

“I’m not eating a baby bird,” The Nine-Year-Old said firmly.

“Also, they’re full of bones,” Daddyo said. “I don’t like bones.”

“Did I mention everyone would get their own? I loved that as a kid,” I said.

“Wait,” said The Nine-Year-Old. “Does that mean I’d get my own wishbone?”

Now, I don’t normally like to make promises to my daughter that I can’t be certain of backing up, but the need was great and the cause just, so “Absolutely.”

“I’m all in,” said The Nine-Year-Old.

Daddyo looked disappointed. “I would still prefer beef.”

“OK,” I said. “You can cook your beef, and I’ll make Cornish hens for the rest of us.”

Daddyo looked at me darkly. “It’s going to be steak and it will be the really good kind.”

“Just tell me what to buy and I’ll go get it.”

“No. I mean the really good kind. You just have to be here to receive it.” Daddyo said in a tone that implied the steaks would come wrapped in little gilt packages.

“Should I dress up?”

More stuff we're not making this year: two kinds of stuffing and maize pudding. (Photo: Shala Howell)
More food we’re not making this year: dressing, stuffing, and maize pudding. (Photo: Shala Howell)

On the morning the steaks were due to arrive, Daddyo walked into the front room where I was having my morning coffee. “The steaks will be here between 8 and 10 a.m. today. Also, now that I know that it’s possible to buy just a turkey breast, I think you should get one of those so that folks who want to have just a taste of turkey can.”

“You realize that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, right?”

Daddyo was unperturbed. “I was looking in the pantry this morning and I noticed we didn’t have any of the Ocean Spray cranberry sauce to slice up for the table. We’ll need that too.”

“Let me get this straight. For our Sunday dinner on Thanksgiving, we’ll be having steak, turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade bread, rutabaga custard pie, salad, mashed potatoes, and green beans?”

Daddyo nodded.

“So pretty much the only thing we’re missing from our regular Thanksgiving table is the stuffing.”

“I bet you could get your mom to bring that.”

“Just so I’m clear, this year we’ll be having the full Thanksgiving meal plus steak,” I said.

Daddyo nodded. To his credit, Daddyo’s planning to cook the steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans. And I can probably get The Nine-Year-Old to prep the salad and cranberry sauce.

Still… “I’m not doing an apple pie this year, you know,” I said, defiantly.

“That’s ok. I’ve ordered one.”

Next year, I’m just doing a turkey.  This care-free non-traditional Thanksgiving plan is too much work.

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