I was talking with my older sister Heidi, who has raised four children, now in their 30s, about cooking one day; we figured that between the two of us, we had shopped for, prepared and cleaned up after at least 10,000 meals.
That figure includes at least 35 Thanksgiving dinners, and we agreed that there should be a legal limit to the number of times a person must stand in her nightgown in a dark, pre-dawn kitchen up to her elbows in cold, wet turkey, groping around for the spare parts.
After the first 30 times you’ve cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal, it’s only natural that you would seek out something different. A recipe that involves buying a new pan, a block and tackle, or an exotic, expensive spice that you will never use again.
And the culinary-industrial complex is glad to oblige, with all kinds of recipes, and myriad takes on cooking a turkey, from deep frying or teriyakying to this year's trend, butterflying. (Look it up.)
I’ve been checking in at Pioneer Woman, Culinate, and Cooks Illustrated, which I love because I prefer the Yankee sensibilities of Christopher Kimball to the southern style of Paula Deen, and because it often recommends the Butterball.
What caught my eye this year was Marilyn Monroe’s stuffing recipe, which the cooking Lee Brothers wrote up in the New York Times. Who knew?
At first I thought I might have discovered this year's must-cook dish.
Then I read it and realized: Marilyn’s stuffing recipe is, like the legendary actress herself, a lot of fun to look at, but way more work than it first appears. It would be worth it if I thought anyone would eat it, but the fact is, Thanksgiving is not the day to innovate in the kitchen.
After reading about Marilyn's recipe, I went hunting for an old Nora Ephron essay about her efforts to gloss up a Thanksgiving meal, only to have her then-young sons demand Pepperidge Farm stuffing. I couldn’t find that on the web, but she’s still keeping that point of view on her Huffington Post page.
I wish I'd read that last year before I tried a Cook’s magazine higher-brow variation on the old green beans and fried onion rings casserole, that featured a lovely béchamel-like sauce. It sat on the counter bleakly untouched, proving the adage that you can take the Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup out of the recipe, but then no one will eat it.
And so this year, we’re facing reality and sticking to the basics. No stuffing from Marilyn, none of Susan Stamberg's Mother's Cranberry Relish. (Why bother when Trader Joe's makes an outstanding orange-cranberry sauce?)
When my sister-in-law proposed a sweet potato salad recipe she found somewhere, I gently steered her over to the pumpkin pie. I volunteered to track down a couple of quarts of Brigham's Vanilla ice cream to accompany it. That will be the extent of our obsession this year.
On Thanksgiving morning, we'll sit in the kitchen yacking over a glass of prosecco and a cheeseball and crackers. When the time is right, we'll toss some frozen peas into the pot and mash the garlic-free potatoes with plenty of butter, thankful for time together.
And giving the people what they want.
What's your Thanksgiving sanity strategy? Share the conversation at the fiftyshift.com Facebook page.
The author is solely responsible for the content.