Thursday, November 26, 1998
Mom, in her apron, appears smiling in the dining room doorway--a golden brown turkey steams on a platter. Grandma follows cheerfully behind with a bowl full of yams. Dad sits with fork and carving knife ready, as he and Grandpa rib each other and your brother about their respective football teams; you and your sister discuss Christmas in conspiratorial whispers.
We can largely thank television for this skewed, Norman Rockwell image of Thanksgiving. Missing from that Hallmark/Walton/Cleaver-esque version however, is that--well--Dad and his new thirtysomething bride will be spending this Thanksgiving in Rio; that you haven''t seen your brother since he joined a yak collective in Utah; that your anorexic, macrobiotic sister isn''t as much fun at the old groaning board as she used to be, and that Grandma is, as we speak, sitting out on the back doorstep lighting up a big fatty.
Dinner for one ain''t sounding bad, is it? Traditional Thanksgivings have, for the most part, gone over the river, through the woods and out the door for many of us. More and more, people are turning to creative ways to spend (remember?) this day of thanks.
If by chance--or by choice--you find yourself at loose ends this Thanksgiving, don''t despair. There are a number of alternatives you can consider--ranging from doing volunteer work to mooching a meal off friends to spending it alone.
Alone? Why not? Just think of those who will spend the day >("Have you ever thought of getting a real job?") rifling through medicine cabinets for one lone Valium, >("When are you going to get over that vegetarian thing?") or making numerous, mysterious trips to the corner store--even though it''s closed.
When it comes right down to it, a traditional Thanksgiving means food. At some point, gluttony seems to have become equated with grace. Not to say there''s anything the matter with the occasional stuffing of oneself, but let''s not do it under the pretense of being grateful.
Now that you have placed the day in proper perspective, you can get down to the matter of getting fed.
If you''re going to want more traditional fare and the company of others, the answer is simple: mooch. Snaking an invitation to someone else''s feed takes only the slightest amount of ingenuity and results in the wholly rewarding experience of letting others fret while you relax.
These invitations can be obtained in a number of ways: If you''re looking for a family-style meal, look to the friend who is most bemoaning the upcoming holiday--they''re the easiest marks for an invitation, welcoming any distraction to the family mix. (Note: You should first find out where the dread comes from. If it''s intra-family problems, you''re usually safe--you''ll be left out of it. However, if the dread comes from Uncle Niles'' blood pudding and marshmallow stuffing, steer clear. Good food can always mask bad company, but you don''t want to risk reverse.)
If you''re looking for a non-family-styled affair, the novice moocher will probably target the friends who are the best cooks. Mistake. First of all, these individuals will be the most in demand, with the most on the line and invariably the most stressed out--ultimately making you feel like you should help or do something. Also, these people tend to feel they have to create a meal rather than cook it. Thanksgiving is a cooked meal. You don''t want to have to ooh, aah and ogle every dish that comes from the kitchen.
Another popular alternative is banding together with a group of friends who also have nowhere to go--problem is, they are often freeloaders who have exhausted all their options and are ill-equipped to put on any decent sort of feed. Dinner usually includes many, many Cheese Doodles, a case of Old Milwaukee Ice, take-out turkey pizzas (you supply the turkey) and a great deal of nostalgia for better Thanksgivings of days gone by.
The best strategy, however, is to muckle onto a good married couple, friends who have been together long enough that they don''t feel the need to slobber all over each other but not so long that they can''t put out a meal without throwing meat cleavers and pots. These are generally people who have, at long last, stood up to both sides of their families and refused to make the drive to San Francisco, Sacramento or Los Angeles--and they will be happy to have you around to assuage their guilt.
Of course, having dinner at anyone''s table requires a certain degree conversation and bonhomie. There''s still an alternative. You could volunteer your time at one of the local community Thanksgiving dinners (see accompanying list). You don''t really have to smile at, or even pay attention to, anyone else around you. In fact, you can probably even get away with babbling incoherently or staring vacuously into space--everyone will just write you off as one of the community''s eccentrics.
The downside is that with so many people around, with so many people volunteering and serving, with so many people coming together to share the day, you''re likely to get caught up in the spirit of the moment. And despite your intentions to wrap yourself into a cocoon, you''ll be drawn out and find yourself actually enjoying the company.
Say, however, you choose to spend the day truly alone--it may be for a higher purpose. Some might opt for a spiritual alternative--perhaps spending the day in the lotus position, getting in touch with the inner ingrate. Not only will you emerge a better and more fulfilled person, but you''ll be able flaunt your brown rice meal in front of all your co-workers with turkey hangovers. Unfortunately, this option requires moral fiber and self-restraint. Let us consider more pleasing alternatives.
Such as a day of sloth and gorging: First, sleep late; linger abed a bit just to spite your ancestors. Next, don''t wash until you''ve been up at least a few hours, if at all. And whatever clothes you wear must be large, wrinkled and not necessarily clean. (This is strictly only in observance of the historical day--the Pilgrims were not known for their colonial hygiene.)
Make sure your house is stocked with reading material and a couple movies, but you won''t need them. You have the parades in the morning and football in the afternoon and chances are good It''s a Wonderful Life will be on at least four or five channels at night. Also, here''s the opportunity to catch up on all those overdue long-distance phone calls. Most people aren''t home on Thanksgiving, so it''s an ideal way of getting caught up without actually having to make human contact.
Then, of course, there''s the matter of food. Cooking, as a rule, should be ruled out of the question. Why? First, if you wanted to cook, you could''ve done something decent like invited your elderly neighbor over or helped out with a family dinner. Also, you can hurt yourself while cooking. This arcane activity generally requires sharp and/or pointed objects and hot substances and surfaces.
Still, you want food, so a little pre-planning is required (the pizza parlor doesn''t open until 5 pm). What you need to do is determine your favorite foods and manipulate them into Thanksgiving fare. The following are recipes from my kitchen you can actually use:
Pad Thai Turkey: Purchase two to three orders of pad thai the night before. Empty cold contents onto a platter the next day and mold into the shape of your favorite fowl. Serve and enjoy! (Makes great leftovers.)
Al Damon''s Dinner From a Keg: Place ruffles (those paper doily things chefs stick on poultry legs) around the necks of all the beer bottles in refrigerator, creating the illusion of drumsticks marching. Pickled eggs or salt ''n'' vinegar potato chips make an excellent side dish to this meal.
Faux Peas: Purchase a number of large bags of peanut M&Ms, select all the green ones and arrange in a dish with serving spoon.
Thanksgiving at the Movies: Needed: one can gravy, one spritzer bottle, one box popcorn, one seat at movies. Place gravy in spritzer bottle, place popcorn in lap--spritz and enjoy!
Barbecue Turkey: Fill turkey cavity with charcoal briquettes, add lighter fluid, torch and toss on front lawn. When fire department arrives, it''s done. Salt and pepper to taste. cw