Now we’re about to crash full on into Thanksgiving and as usual every newspaper food page and cooking blog and social-foodie media post is full of advice for nervous cooks, with shopping lists, chore lists, countdowns, schedules, et infinite cetera. I keep going back to the brilliant San Francisco cooking teacher Mary Risley and her historic You Tube video, familiarly known as “Just Put the Fucking Turkey in the Oven.” You can see it here: https://tinyurl.com/wlzx8at
Honestly, I refuse to get fussed up about Thanksgiving. Almost anything can go wrong and most often something does:
- The turkey is still frozen in the middle after six hours in the oven
- The pumpkin pie doesn’t come together
- The cranberry sauce is too sour to eat
- Sibling rivalry roars to the fore
- Politics rears its extremely ugly head
- Aunt Doris’s squash and turnips are so over-cooked and watery they have to be eaten with a spoon
- Uncle Matt has so much to drink he falls asleep in the mashed potatoes
But just live with it. All of it. Let’s just imagine everything on that list happens, which is highly unlikely. But in the event(s), it is not earth-shattering. And you will live to laugh about it, I guarantee.
My most disastrous Thanksgiving may have been the one that took place in the Tuscan countryside when the electricity unexpectedly went out and we were left without the electric oven for the turkey, the electric mixer for the whipped cream and mashed potatoes, and indeed without any lights but candles after 4 p.m. when the sun went down behind the hills and we finally sat down at the table.
We fried the turkey instead of roasting it (in olive oil, of course), we baked the pies, somewhat inexpertly, in a wood stove oven of uneven heat, by hand we laboriously beat the whipped cream and mashed potatoes, passing the wire whisk back and forth as arms seized up with fatigue. And then bliss came at the end of an outstanding meal with the realization that with no lights and no hot water, there was absolutely no question of trying to clean up until the sun rose the next morning. So we opened another bottle of wine and enjoyed the last glow of the fire and the candlelight and congratulated ourselves on successfully dealing with disaster.
But seriously, is it truly rocket science to
roast a bird, boil some vegetables and
fabricate a pumpkin pie out of a can of sweet pie puree and a frozen pie crust? Why do people get so upset over it? Why do people (cooks) stress out for weeks in advance? Honestly, the NYTimes was giving advance warnings way back on the first of November. Make your lists, the editor shouted. That way you won’t forget anything.
And what if you do? What if you forget the corn pudding that you made in advance and thriftily tucked in the freezer to await the day? Did anyone notice? Did anyone care? Did anyone say, Martha, where’s the damned corn pudding we ALWAYS have?
I don’t think so.
And if your brother-in-law complains about the missing corn pudding, just flip him the bird with a secret smile. He will think you know something he doesn’t. And you do. You know you’re going to be dining on that corn pudding sometime next Tuesday and you’re looking forward to it.
I suspect a lot of this anxiety relates back to a kind of universal societal guilt over not having snow, a horse, a sleigh, or indeed grandmother’s house to go to since grandma moved to the retirement community in West Palm Beach and left us all behind.
So why do we keep trying? Why not just relax and celebrate this odd, mid-week holiday at a decidedy weird time of year as the excuse it is to just get together with family and friends, indeed adopting strays as well, for warm and comforting food, and most importantly for talking, listening, arguing (yes!), laughing, remembering, and celebrating the very fact of being alive while we salute those who are no longer with us. A roast, some vegetables, a pie, a good bottle of wine (or whiskey or rum, if you prefer)—that’s all it takes. And just put the effing thing in the oven—that’s all.
Remember that it’s above all else a harvest celebration, a chance to feel grateful for whatever bounty has come our way—and bounty can be measured in very small doses too. This year, every year, we must be grateful for our beloved planet and—I would gently suggest—after the blessing, while hands are still clasped around the table, let’s pay also bless our earth and take an urgent vow to make it better before it abandons us.
There is so much practical common sense in your philosophy, joie de vivre too. Surely that’s what a good meal should be all about, as you say.
Thanks, Jo. People often ask me how do Italians celebrate Thanksgiving. Well, I say, that’s a little like asking how Americans celebrate Ferragosto.