I’m one of six children, so I’m used to a crowd at meals. Growing up, our house was loud enough that it was overwhelming for some kids. I remember one time when my little brother’s friend, an only child, was invited to dinner, and we were having a perfectly normal meal with everyone acting naturally when the poor kid suddenly burst into tears, apparently caused by general big-people boisterousness. Nowadays, if you just count my parents, siblings, significant others, and their kids, we’re talking 24 people, and although we rarely manage to get every last one of these people at a single meal simultaneously, we frequently manage to gather a quorum. For years, Thanksgiving meant that we’d get together with my Dad’s three brothers and their families, and many of us still get together, which becomes a pretty huge crowd.
So this year I was a bit perturbed. Cute W’s parents were coming for Thanksgiving, which meant that traveling somewhere else wasn’t an option. I’d never hosted Thanksgiving. When you have literally dozens of grown-ups invited to the meal, it’s quite easy to slip under the radar and get by just making a cheeseball. I love that. Plus, it allows us the freedom to do things like stop and watch the parade on the way to my aunt & uncle’s house. The other concern about this year’s Thanksgiving was that there would only be six of us. That’s simply not enough people. I’m sure that some people would truly enjoy that quiet intimacy (my brother’s friend, maybe?), but to me, the prospect seemed downright depressing.
And so I settled on a solution: I’d need to engineer an invitation for all of us to go to someone else’s Thanksgiving Dinner.
Okay, okay: I know that this sounds appalling in its rudeness. But it wasn’t really as rude as you might expect. Or maybe it was: you be the judge. We have neighbors who are family friends, and they’ll often do potluck-ish parties. In fact, one year I planned a Christmas Caroling party, which was wonderful, but for some reason we just couldn’t muster up the energy to do the same party the following year, and these friends hosted one instead. And it was better (they have more space and a piano), and they’ve been hosting that event annually ever since. I think that the first year they might have asked me if I minded, and I was like, “Hell, no!” Because now we get all the fun with very little work. Not only that, but Cute W, who heads to their house on Monday nights during football season, said that in years past, this family had invited us and other friends to Thanksgiving dinner repeatedly, but it was usually after we’d already set travel plans to visit family.
Going to our friends’ house was the perfect solution to two problems:
1. I have never roasted a turkey and have no interest in trying it for Thanksgiving for my in-laws the very first time; and
2. A meal with six people just doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving to me.
Now all I needed was the invitation.
For the next several Monday nights, Cute W would arrive home from football-watching and I’d ask, “So, did they mention Thanksgiving? Did YOU mention Thanksgiving? What are they doing for Thanksgiving?” And Cute W’s replies would be variations on no, and I forgot, and I don’t think we talked about it, and it never came up. I was exasperated, and I was losing time fast.
Then a couple of Saturdays ago we were at these folks’ house for dinner with friends, and after drinking a couple of glasses of wine and learning that the expat friends were invited for Thanksgiving, I basically said, “Please can we come, too? I promise that we’ll cook a lot of things.” Well, of course she said yes. I mean, she was screwed, right? The next day I had some sort of mortification hangover and told her that she could back out, but we were in.
So, I’d mentioned that I could help cook dishes, and my friend ended up emailing me her notes from last year, where she’d diligently listed off the various dishes she planned and comments about what to do differently. She said to pick what I was up for doing. I pondered it, then brought my proposals to Cute W for approval. We should do stuffing, I decided, because it’s Cute W’s mom’s specialty, and the kale salad that had been well-received at the dinner a few weeks ago, along with some desserts. And, as you no doubt remember, we recently received a ginormous, c. 18-lb. turkey. So I said, “And I figured I’d offer her the turkey if she wants it.”
“You can’t just offer her the big, frozen turkey,” Cute W said. “You should say that we can roast the turkey.”
“But we’ve never roasted a turkey,” I said.
“So what? I can figure it out. How hard can it be?” my cocky husband said.
“But don’t you see that the whole point of engineering an invitation to our friends’ house was so that I wouldn’t have to stress out about making a turkey?!?” I wailed.
“You don’t need to stress out. I’ll cook the turkey. And I thought that the point was that we wanted to have a big group for Thanksgiving because it’s more festive,” says irritatingly reasonable and helpful Cute W.
“Oh, sure, you’ll cook the turkey, but I’ll still stress out about the turkey, plus I’ll be the suck-tastic daughter-in-law who’s too lazy to make the turkey, so their son has to do it,” I moaned.
Cute W gave a little it-is-what-it-is shrug.
“Well, wait a minute, she probably wants to make the turkey.” I was grasping at straws. “I mean, they always hosts Thanksgiving, and they probably want to make sure it’s a great turkey since it’s their house. So I’ll say that we’ll be happy to give her the turkey frozen or cooked, however they want it. In fact, maybe she gets some special turkey who lives a happy free-range life on a local farm, and the thought of our unnaturally jumbo, Price Chopper-donated, fluid-injected turkey will just gross her out completely. . . . ”
Newly hopeful, I sent my email. The reply came quickly. They’d LOVE it if we cooked the turkey.
“We’re so not qualified to provide a turkey for Thanksgiving,” I whimpered to Cute W.
“It’s all on me, babe,” says that f$%^er.
“And I’m telling you, honey, if you screw up this turkey and ruin Thanksgiving, I’m totally throwing you under the bus,” I said.
“I know,” he said, laughing and kissing me.
Since then, Cute W’s been researching. He’s ordered kitchen equipment, like a new wire rack and a meat thermometer. Does the fact that we’ve been married for 20 years and have never, ever owned a meat thermometer before indicate to you that we shouldn’t be in charge of a large carcass?
Oh, screw it. I know you’re all on his side.
For the past several days I keep asking him when he’s going to take the bird out of the freezer. After considering methods, he’s decided that he’s going to thaw it bath-style, which means he’s waiting. I have begun to have nightmares about my children running down the street to start partying at our friends’ house while we stand in the kitchen, contemplating a half-frozen turkey. I really would feel better if it were not still a giant block of ice.
Cute W’s decided that he’s going to spatchcock the turkey, which basically means that he’s going to flatten it to even out the cooking. There’s a very helpful Serious Eats video about spatchcocking which contains this gem of a quote: “. . . the easiest way to spatchcock your turkey is to ask your butcher to do it for you. . . .” Awesome.
And of course, it occurred to us that we should make the gravy now, too. Which freaks me out, because my father’s been honing fabulous gravy for 50 years and continues to tinker, and so my expectations are high and, again, our qualifications are minimal.
We’ll see how it goes. Luckily, there are plenty of side dishes planned.