Who am I kidding? I'm a nervous wreck over this decision. What self-respecting, aspiring gourmet would relinquish the greatest opportunity of the year to display her culinary skills? What would my fellow food bloggers say about my kitchen cop-out? More importantly, what would my mother-in-law think?
Outsourcing our nation's most hallowed feast actually makes a lot of sense - it saves time, energy and the pressure of creating a perfect holiday meal. The expectations on a cook to produce a feast worthy of day-long grazing are enormous. From a juicy, tender turkey with savory stuffing to fluffy mashed potatoes and delectable pies (and all the glorious regional varieties in between), no other holiday is as food-centered as Thanksgiving. So if this day were solely about the edible, then who could possibly object to a tasty meal, regardless of who prepared it? But no matter how I rationalize it, the decision to buy rather than cook our holiday dinner has me trussed up tighter than a Butterball.
Quite simply, a Thanksgiving meal represents more than just good eating - it's also about family traditions and personal bonding. We will undoubtedly enjoy a delicious meal but at what cost?
It's particularly special to my husband's parents when most of their family can be together in one place. For years, they've hosted Thanksgiving at their home where the traditional scenario has been the guys going off to do guy stuff while the womenfolk head to the kitchen. Archaic gender roles notwithstanding, preparing Thanksgiving dinner has been a time for me, my sisters- and mother-in-law to talk, laugh and cook. Since it's my mother-in-law's kitchen, we follow her lead but we've also brought our own ideas and suggestions for dishes and cooking techniques. These moments of exchange - of recipes, anecdotes, advice and worries - reinforce the bonds that will hold us together when we each return to our respective, distant homes.
This year, the reins of tradition have been passed to my household but I fear my hands and my skills are too small to handle them. So I opted not to make Thanksgiving dinner from scratch. When I made that decision, my in-laws didn't have a say and thoughts about the possible repercussions came later. Have I arbitrarily taken away an important part of their Thanksgiving ritual? Does handing over an integral element of a family holiday to strangers strip it of deep and personal meaning? From the day I filled out the order form, doubts have been gnawing at me like Henry VIII on a turkey drumstick.
The bonds we feel while we eat are also formed and reaffirmed in the process of creating that meal. The preparation and consumption of food reflect the lessons of Thanksgiving - that cooperation and commensality are the keys to the health, happiness and harmony of family and community. For my mother-in-law, it's an increasingly rare opportunity to guide her adult daughters and share her kitchen expertise. I don't want to deprive her of that experience but I also don't want her to see me freak out if the turkey comes out of the oven tasting like 12lbs of beautifully seasoned sawdust.
What to do? Despite my angst, I haven't changed my mind about the Whole Foods order but after discussing it with my in-laws (who, to my great relief, were quite supportive), we agreed there was room on the table for a few homemade dishes. So we'll still bond over spatulas and skillets in the kitchen and then we'll continue bonding over a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau as we put up our feet and relax by the fireplace.
If I am demolishing some family traditions then we'll simply have to start new ones. Remember the men? My sister-in-law LouAnn and I have decided that they'll be in charge of making a side dish of grilled winter vegetable. What could be better than a little male bonding over a hot Weber grill on a cold November day?
Now, this little pilgrim is buckling her shoes and straightening her bonnet. It's going to be a delicious Thanksgiving.
Creamy Cranberry Horseradish Sauce
Forget the gravy. Ditch the canned cranberry. The sweet, tangy, piquant flavor of this sauce is wonderful on Thanksgiving turkey and even better on day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches! A must-have for our holiday table, this recipe is courtesy of my mother-in-law.
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp salt
In a blender or food processor, coarsely chop the cranberries and onions.
Transfer to a small bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix by hand until blended. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before serving.