Relax already. Your Thanksgiving meal will be fine if you remember the meal is the message.
A friend of mine microwaved his Thanksgiving turkey. His family was polite about the gray, stringy, raw mass. That was 1989. They remember his travesty every Thanksgiving.
One of the joys of cooking is doing something new. The only day not to enjoy this joy is with 21 starving family members showing up for Thanksgiving.
The meal is the message this holiday. Play around with the meal, and there goes the holiday.
Not that we don’t try. The media, bless them, tempt us to switch from our usual repast. This year, the buzz is on “an Arizona Thanksgiving,” turkey stuffed with chili peppers. Last year, it was the fabulous turkey paprikash. These are very interesting, but never at noon on Nov. 25.
The joy of cooking on Thanksgiving is doing things the same as they've been done in your family since the Ice Age. That may mean turkey stuffed with oysters or chili peppers or paprika. The important thing is everybody will expect the usual, and they will riot and erase you from their Christmas lists if they don't get it.
Like the year I substituted Peking duck for turkey: It sparked a walkout to Burger King. I sat there with my duck, tears in my eyes.
Our favorite newspaper will be filled with a dementia called holiday stress syndrome. A big part is the terror among those charged with cooking the feast for the first time.
In-law relationships are defined by the doneness of the T-Day bird, the smoothness of the gravy, the moistness of the bread stuffing.
Perhaps the greatest compliment to a new family cook is, “Why, this tastes exactly like mine.” Thanks, Mom. Whew.
Beware: The old recipes are the comfort of the meal. They are your family’s history. They are memorials of those responsible for the genes coursing through our bodies.
I recall my denial of baked Indian corn as especially traumatic to the memory of my great-grandmother.
More paranoia: Bad turkey feasts never die. They always are reprised on later T-Days. They’re re-digested in howls of laughter and spatters of gravy around the table. Like the day your aunt misread the cooking instructions, and Tom turkey wound up with the texture of Wilson football.
You will never have a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner. But if you sit at the feet of your elders, learn their ancient recipes, their canons of turkey roasting, their mastery of lump-free gravy, you should be in good stead.
And if it flops, you can blame them.