Guilt-Free Thanksgiving

For those of us who are not Martha Stewart

Hello Friend,

“The turkey is dry.”

“The gravy has lumps. The mashed potatoes too.”

“The stuffing is soggy.”

“The mac and cheese from the box tastes better.”

“What is this? I like the cranberry sauce from the can.”

No, no one has ever said those words to me. Folks are usually more polite, especially around Thanksgiving. But I know that I overcook turkey; the whole salmonella business you know, one can never be too careful. And there is usually a lack of consistency with the other foods even though I swear I do the same thing every time. There are times when some dishes will turn out perfectly but not the next.

My family was never fussy about where Thanksgiving food came from as long as it tasted good. I was the one who put pressure on myself to make it a homemade production. My turkey never looked golden brown like I saw on TV; it looked more like a turkey that went tanning with clothes on, some parts were golden, some parts were pale.

I knew that my children loved the mac and cheese from Boston Market, and that their birds were superior to any I made, as were their mashed potatoes and gravy. I am not sure exactly how the decision was made but one year we ordered the main Thanksgiving dishes from Boston Market, and I made some additional sides.

The meal was a hit, and we continued doing the same year after year. I did feel guilty though, and somewhat inadequate at not being able to prepare a perfect traditional Thanksgiving feast from scratch like I was sure every other mother did. So, for me the pressure of Thanksgiving persisted, even though I did not cook most of the meal. The logical part of my brain said it was okay since my family enjoyed what was served, but the emotional part was a nag.

Then relief came. The back cover of the July 2005 edition of Reader’s Digest featured an illustration by artist C.F. Payne titled Thanksgiving. It was part of the Our America series and depicted a family opening brown paper bags of Thanksgiving food that looked very much like the bags from Boston Market. You can view it here .  Phew! I was not alone. The pressure was off. The artist may have spoofed Norman Rockwell’s much-spoofed Freedom from Want painting that features a traditional family gathering with homemade food seen here .

There are those of us who are blessed with the ability to prepare a perfect multicourse meal. Not all of us are able to carry that out, but each of us have our own unique talents that we can be proud of.

As Payne showed us, our America had changed from the time Rockwell created Freedom from Want, and it had changed even before that. It is likely that once upon a time women or men felt guilty if they did not hunt, kill, pluck, and dress their own turkey, as was done for generations before, once their local butcher took care of that. Maybe there are those who feel badly if they get a frozen instead of a fresh bird, and do not spend days on brining it like grandma did. Judging from the increasing number of supermarkets that offer whole pre-cooked holiday meals one can conclude that more families are letting experts handle the cooking for the benefit of all. It seems to me that this is just a natural progression of the holiday. Those who want to prepare the entire meal themselves, and can do so well, kudos to you; and those of us who are less gifted in that department should not internally punish ourselves for lacking that particular skill.

I may have been a little ahead of my time, or maybe I was keeping up with the times without realizing it, but the end result is that it works. Family and friends come together to remember all the things in their lives that they are thankful for, everyone enjoys the food they are served, and the hosting party does not worry about whether the dishes turned out right. Sounds like a perfect gathering to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!