This week, as we approach one of the nation’s most gluttonous days, I wanted to take a moment to remind you all to shut up and calm down.
Now slap yourself.
Thanksgiving is a big old meal, but it doesn’t have to be a big old deal. I hereby give you permission to have a very chill Thanksgiving.
1: Recognize that one meal isn’t worth all the stress.
So you’re cooking a turkey. Or a ham. Or a vegan patty loaf. Big deal. People cook food all the time and they don’t resort to weeping in the kitchen and guzzling rubbing alcohol in the pantry.
You’ve either got a family that you’re fond of and who are fond of you, in which case they don’t want you to be stressed out and miserable over the cooking of a meal, or you’ve got a family you hate that probably hates you back, in which case who cares what they think about the food?
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to make it taste good, just that you don’t need to internalize (and then violently externalize) a lot of stress about making everything perfect.
You know what’s perfect? The second season of “Veronica Mars” and absolutely nothing else. Which means your turkey, your pumpkin pie, your dressing, your green bean casserole and your yeast rolls are all off the hook. None of it has to be perfect. You just have to try and everyone will be happy.
(Unless you have that second kind of family, in which case the meal could be catered by the top chefs in America and they’d still be angry about it.)
Sometimes bad meals are the ones people remember most fondly! It’s weird, but true.
2: Separate reality from fantasy.
You aren’t going to carve the turkey at the table and if you do, you shouldn’t.
The reason we make a big fuss about a turkey in a way we don’t freak out about chickens is that turkeys are large and take a while to cook. Turkeys are also nightmares, both alive (because they look like violent dino-birds) and dead (because a blend of white and dark meat doesn’t cook at the same rate without part of the bird being raw or the other part being overcooked).
Do what I do with all nightmares and attack it with a knife. Butcher your bird before you cook it. Separate the white meat, which cooks faster, from the dark meat. You can roast the whole thing and just remove the parts you want to stop cooking (breast, wings) while the rest finishes. Or you can cook them in different ways.
My suggestion: take the breasts off the bone, flip them around so the skin is on the outside and tie it up like a beef roast. Then roast that in the oven.
I know I’m a fancy-schmancy food man and not everybody has this equipment, but I suggest vacuum-sealing the legs and cooking them sous vide. I did this last year and was completely blown away by how delicious and tender the meat was.
The best part about pre-butchering the bird is you can take the rest of it and stick it in a stockpot with water and onions and garlic and bay leaves and whatever and simmer it all the livelong day to make some really amazing turkey broth, which is key to making some really amazing turkey gravy.
Kill it on one dish and then just give it a shot on the others. Feel free to give people assignments, too. You can bake a pie, or you can let someone else do it. Or you can buy one. (It’s way too late to order one from Pie Junkie, so don’t bother trying.)
Thanksgiving is a potluck kind of holiday anyway. Don’t make it a gala event. Galas kind of suck.
3: Put someone in charge of snacks.
I’ve been working on a story about food challenges for Oklahoma Today recently, so I’m well-versed in how much people seem to love gluttony. But you don’t have to starve your family before the meal to make sure they’ll make themselves miserable eating your turkey; they’ll do that regardless.
By putting someone in charge of snacks, you’re helping out the parents in the group (as well as anyone married to or dating someone with “Hungry Hulk Syndrome”) and relieving some of the time-based pressure of getting the whole dinner to the table at the same time. Planning is hard. Guaranteeing your turkey and stuffing and gravy, etc., will be done at the same time is nigh impossible. Snacks are a release valve on that pressure.
My family snack trays were often filled with sweet gherkin pickles, summer sausage, gouda, baby carrots, Captain’s Wafers, etc. Nobody filled up on them, and most everything was shelf stable, but they formed a bulwark against my family’s tendency for low-blood-sugar-induced rage.
Best of all, when you’re feeling snacky later and you don’t want to get a whole other meal prepped, you can just munch on a veggie tray or eat cheese and crackers until your next mid-day nap.
I like Thanksgiving. I like turkey and dressing and big boats of gravy and brown-and-serve rolls and even the occasional vegetable that sneaks onto my plate. So let’s not ruin it with stress. It’s not worth it. Have a Thanksgiving you can actually give thanks for or just don’t bother with one at all.