A few years back, for some reason I can’t even remember (probably a sick kid or two), I was left to do Thanksgiving on my own. I wasn’t too concerned about it; plenty of my friends had done Thanksgiving and they had survived – some even enjoyed it. Plus, with all the Food Network I had watched over the years and all of the turkeys I had seen prepared, I was sure to have absorbed some of the skill through osmosis. Right?
Wrong. So. So. Wrong.
The Thanksgiving when I flew solo has gone down in our family history books as the Worst Thanksgiving Ever. It was the Thanksgiving of garlic and onions, but not the good kind that you find in an exceptional Italian dish. No. It was the bad kind. The kind that leaves your mouth tasting like you’ve been preparing for the great Vampire Battle of 2018.
Oh and let’s not forget the oysters. It was also the Thanksgiving of oysters.
When I look back on that Thanksgiving I wonder what went wrong? (Besides the obvious onion, garlic and oyster trio.) As I think about it, I believe it boils down to one word. Simplicity. That’s where I missed the mark.
There are traditional dishes that people have been eating for years – turkey (duh), mashed potatoes and gravy, yams (or sweet potatoes – does anyone out there really know the difference? Is there really one? Or is someone out there still getting a big chuckle out of the fact that we have been duped into believing they are actually two different things?), green bean casserole, mac and cheese, stuffing, corn, rolls….you know the drill. A whole lot of scrumptious, delicious, heavy food that is guaranteed to put you to sleep thirty minutes after you eat it. Simple. Uncomplicated. Remarkable.
Why couldn’t I get with the program? Again – can I blame the Food Network? Nobody beats Bobby Flay with simple. You need a flavor profile that makes you scream “Bam!” (Wait. That’s Emeril. Anyway, you get the point.) I wanted to WOW my family with my kitchen prowess and simple did not seem the best way to do so. I was going to take those tried and true recipes and turn them into something unforgettable (which may have been my only success that Thanksgiving – they were definitely unforgettable.)
Let me break down this unforgettable menu for you:
Unforgettable Item #1 – The Main Event: Mr. Turkey
I had one wish this holiday and it was not to overcook the turkey. I searched Pinterest. I read recipes. I consulted friends and family who were turkey baking pros. They all had great tips and tricks; so why not combine them? Ugh. Amateur cook problem number one right there. I had NEVER made a turkey before. I hadn’t even bought a turkey before. And the craziest part about this plan? That’s not how I cook at all. I am a recipe follower through and through, but for some reason on this celebrated Thursday, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and start mixing and matching recipes. The end result? Disaster. It was one step (barely) above the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Christmas Eve turkey. To use the word dry would be generous at best.
If I were to ever attempt Thanksgiving again (which at this time seems unlikely) this is what I would prepare:
Unforgettable Item #2 – The Gravy
This could be my favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast. My gravy pouring knows no bounds. I will cover nearly everything on my plate with this yummy, rich, runny (but not too runny) goodness. If it were socially acceptable, I may go so far as to lift the gravy boat and just pour it in my mouth.
My grandma grew up on a farm and every year for my Birthday she would ask what I wanted for my celebration dinner. It never failed – fried chicken and homemade gravy, please. She would make a milk gravy with the chicken grease that was like none other. I would sit and watch her add a little of this and a pinch of that with one hand while her other hand continuously stirred and collected remnants of chicken from the bottom of the pan. I remember asking for her recipe once and the reply was basically what I just wrote – a little of this and a pinch of that and there you go – gravy!
I tried that once shortly after I received the “recipe” and mine tasted nothing like grandma’s. (Mine tasted more like flour and salt got together and had a thick pasty baby.) That was gravy attempt number one.
Gravy attempt number two was Thanksgiving morning. I was way more prepared this time around (or so I believed.) Again, I consulted all of the necessary people and websites and landed on what looked like an incredible recipe from Ina Garten (combined with some of what I learned from grandma….the second time is a charm.) Ina’s recipe called for onions. I love onions, so I thought I would add a few extra. You can never have too many onions, right? WRONG! The end result of my improvisation nightmare. Onion gravy with extra onions. Bluck.
If I were to make Thanksgiving gravy again, this is what I would prepare:
Unforgettable Item #3 – Oyster Stuffing (yes, you read that correctly)
Growing up, Thanksgiving at grandmas was something I looked forward to every year. Like many people, I really and truly believe my grandma was the best cook on the planet. One of the things I looked forward to the most (second to the gravy) was her oyster stuffing. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. It’s amazing. And, I have to say this is the closest I came to success on Thanksgiving day – with one exception. I forgot to read the fine print on the oyster container and used smoked oysters instead of plain oysters. And as you know, smoking enhances flavor – and adds, well, smokiness. The oysters grandma used were subtle. The oysters I used screamed, “Hey! I’m an oyster and I’m here with 100 of my oyster buddies!” Ugh.
If someone were to ever trust me to bring grandma’s tried and true oyster stuffing to Thanksgiving, this is what I would prepare:
Unforgettable Item #4 – Mashed Potatoes
And the fourth and final item on the list – the beloved mashed potatoes. For this one I can at least blame my husband. (Sorry to throw you under the bus, babe.) He was in charge of the mashed potatoes and was obviously feeling my “let’s travel off the beaten path vibe.” So what did he do? He added garlic to the potatoes. Which wouldn’t be bad, but he added lots of it – and let’s not forget what would be covering those potatoes. Onion gravy. The end result? Super garlic potatoes with a heaping glob of extra onion gravy. (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.)
I don’t even need to add a link for this one. If I were to do this again (or my husband), the simple answer is to NOT throw an entire bulb of garlic into the potatoes for the Thanksgiving meal.
What did I learn this Thanksgiving? Simplicity wins. And maybe consider trying some of the recipes out before the big day? That would have helped things tremendously.
Looking back now, I actually have incredibly fond memories of The Worst Thanksgiving. My kids still talk about it, and I have a feeling years from now – this is the one Thanksgiving we will all still be talking about. It may not have tasted good, but it has provided us with plenty of laughs over the years.
And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, that is something to be grateful for.