Every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve cooked (or helped cook) enormous Thanksgiving dinners. I’ve hosted many Thanksgiving meals, and I’ve also shared the task with close friends or family members. As the self-titled Pinterest Queen, I’ve stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before Thanksgiving crafting cornucopias from bread stick dough and turkey party favors out of mini peanut butter cups. Every year I run myself ragged, spending a small fortune on obscure ingredients for newer and more impressive dishes, which is why I’m still figuring out what to do with that bottle of sumac in my spice rack. I’ve curried Brussels sprouts and macerated cranberries while making sure that I didn’t burn the pine nuts at the same time I tempered eggs for a delicate sweet potato custard. I always seem to go overboard, and I wonder – for what?
I don’t think I can recall a single Thanksgiving that hasn’t been utterly, bone-achingly exhausting, not to mention costly. It is no wonder that as soon as the holiday ends, I usually come down with some sort of brutal respiratory virus. I think it’s because I’m just run down.
That’s why this year? I’m going out. And I couldn’t be more excited about it.
I used to be one of those people that wouldn’t dream of such a thing. A restaurant meal on a holiday was pure blasphemy, I thought. The whole purpose of the holiday is to spend time with loved ones, so not being at home was anathema to the true spirit of Turkey Day. I used to sneer at people who made reservations for Thanksgiving, but this year I’m one of those people. I get it now.
I spent most of last December flattened by a nasty case of bronchitis, so I had plenty of time to give this some thought, and I decided never again will I make myself miserable on Thanksgiving. I was going out from now on, because didn’t I deserve to enjoy the holiday too? I liked to cook, but I’d been acting like a professional caterer. Sure, I’d chosen to work so hard, but that choice was dictated by a lot of unrealistic expectations I’d set for myself about what Thanksgiving was supposed to be and how it was supposed to look. Yet it never lived up to those expectations, because I was always too tired and crabby by the end of the day to have a good time.
I’ve never looked so forward to a restaurant meal in my life. This year I’m going to sit back, relax, and let someone cook for me for once. There will be no mad dash to the supermarket, or fighting those crowds. I’ll be able to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, my favorite Thanksgiving movie ever, because I won’t have to waste hours chipping burnt marshmallow out of baking dish. I usually spend a couple hundred dollars on food for one stinking meal, and I calculated that I’ll actually be saving money by dining out. I’m using the extra cash on a nice outfit. I may even get a manicure because I won’t ruin it hand-washing china for 30 people.
Someone else can make a pumpkin shaped cheeseball with a celery stick for a stalk. I will be watching the Macy’s Day Parade in its entirety while sipping spiced coffee. After that I plan on tossing a football around in the yard with my daughter, because I won’t have to worry about trussing my expertly brined turkey and basting it with ghee every twenty-nine and a half seconds so it doesn’t turn to sawdust. I’ll probably take a long, vanilla-scented bubble bath before heading out too.
Sure, I’ll miss my family, but you know what I won’t miss? Uncle Jerry’s casseroles, or Aunt Barb’s gelatin molds. Seriously, can my relatives make a vegetable that isn’t out of a can and suffocated under a can of cream soup? Since I’ll be ordering from a menu, I’ll get a meal that I actually want, and I can promise you I do not want anything with American cheese and crushed crackers on top of it. Truth be told, I don’t even like turkey very much. I may break from tradition and order fish just because I can.
You know what’s worse than Aunt Cheryl’s Watergate salad? Uncle Jim’s politics. Since 2016 at every gathering of family and friends, the dinner conversation, which was once reserved for pleasant topics like everyone’s upcoming vacations, has now turned to politics. And it’s not fun. If I want to listen to a shouting match about foreign and domestic policy I will watch a cable news network, okay? On Thanksgiving I’d like to savor my mashed potatoes and gravy while making small talk about the new comedy I adore on Amazon.
When I go out for dinner, I won’t have to watch my cousins nearly come to blows over immigration. No one will go home in tears in the middle of an anxiety attack after realizing that their parents are bigots. I don’t have time for this nonsense and my dinner reservations will ensure that I am sheltered from all the family drama. They can argue all they want. I’ll be enjoying the view in peace with a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc.
Thanksgiving is, of course, about gratitude — and this year the thing that I’m most grateful for is that I’m going out. By giving myself a break from the work, the stress, the mess, the complicated family dynamics (and the casseroles), I’m finally giving myself permission to be present and celebrate the holiday on my own terms.