For folks who seldom undertake cooking a feast, Thanksgiving can be a daunting holiday. There are hundreds of ways to cook a turkey and every expert swears their method is the best. There are lots of traditional or non-traditional recipes to learn. There is timing to consider ("Will the green beans still be hot after we carve the turkey??!") There is often a forgotten ingredient ("Will somebody please run out to the convenience store...NOW?!")
I cook every day for a living. I love feasts. I fall into a state of rapture when I taste something really special. But it behooves me to tell you to relax... because most of the food details just don't matter.
Yes, I think my mother must sprinkle fairy dust on her green bean casserole, it's so good. Yes, my friend Susie has elevated stuffing to a high art. Yes, my sister's desserts are worth every calorie. Yes, I'll probably make room for seconds on mashed potatoes and gravy. But really, I only know those things in the most obtuse way. What I really remember about my many Thanksgivings are not the food items on the table, but rather the company around me:
-I remember the last year we all had Thanksgiving at my grandparent's house, and how we kids all sang songs from the radio while we washed dishes.
-I remember the year we invited an eccentric old widow to our table and how she was like a machine gun of hilarity with her outlandish quips.
-I remember the year that my REAL "thanksgiving" was for a mechanically-inclined spouse. Mi esposo was a hero, fixing the garbage disposal after I jammed it up with parsnip and carrot peelings, mere moments before the guests arrived.
-I remember the year all of my friends and I reclined in a cold, under-heated apartment in our thick wool sweaters and were warmed by the crazy stories of our various misadventures.
-I remember dressing up pretty to make the meal at my grandmother's nursing home feel special for her.
-I remember, while traveling, people of another culture went to great effort to create a special night for the Americans in their midst who were missing a special holiday back home.
I don't remember which year the turkey was the best. I don't remember which year(s) I overate. I don't remember which year someone sprang for an amazing wine. I don't remember if the potatoes were too brown, or if the white meat was too dry, or if the gravy was lumpy. Really, I have no recollection of the food details...and I am a chef who generally cares deeply about the food details!!
I do care about food, but counter-intuitively, not as much on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving it's about the people and the fact that we are lucky enough to be here together. So please don't sweat the dinner. Just enjoy your guests.