22 years. 22 years of fun in the kitchen. Hell – 22 years of fun, period. Forever and yesterday at the same time. 22 years.

We’re spending this anniversary as we have spent most of them – in the kitchen. It’s great having an anniversary around the biggest food holiday of the year. We do like to eat.

22 years. It boggles the mind how far we’ve come. Our first two Thanksgivings together were defining moments, to say the least. Our first was in San Francisco with my family. The second was in Pennsylvania with Victor’s. Both deserve retelling…

Thanksgiving was the first major holiday we were hosting for my entire family. We had a great house with a formal dining room and, in theory, anyway, lots of room for a crowd.

With six kids in the family and their assorted spouses and kids, plus my parents, it had been years since we all actually sat around a table for a holiday.  We just outgrew it.  Regardless of whether it was at my parents’ house or one of the siblings, dinner was a buffet and you grabbed whatever seat or floor space there was.  If you had a good seat, you stayed there – because the moment you got up, another sat down.

I decided that for our first family holiday, we would do a sit-down dinner for everyone.  We were also having a couple of friends join us, plus my sister-in-law’s mother, brother, and his wife.  Maybe 22 people.

The simple fact that our dining room table sat 8 shoulder-to-shoulder didn’t faze me in the least.  Sit-down dinner.  I had decreed.

I had six-foot folding tables lined up from the far end of the dining room through the dining room and through the archway into the living room.  The table had to be way up against one end of the arch so people could squeeze (and I do mean squeeze) from one room to the other.  Once people were seated, there would be no movement whatsoever.  People sitting at the archway would be sitting right up next to the wall.  They could lean forward and look around, but they were crammed up against that wall.

I set the table.  20 feet of matching tablecloth and napkins.  China plates, silver and glassware, centerpieces, candles.  It was pretty spectacular.  The only real problem was there was no place to put people before or after dinner, and barely any where to put them during.  I had literally taken over all of the dining room and half of the living room.

I moved things, I rearranged things.  I was good in math.  I knew that a finite space would hold a finite amount.  I didn’t care.  I was determined.

Victor was great (and smart!)  He didn’t say a word.  He just watched as I moved things, changed things, rearranged things, redid things and redid them, again – and again.

Finally, I stood in the doorway and just stared.  My vision shattered in front of my eyes.

I calmly walked back in, took everything apart, and set up a buffet in the dining room.  Or, at least that’s my memory of it.  I’m sure Victor has a much more colorful version, but I’m the one who is writing this.

What we did have was a great dinner with the entire family – and they grabbed whatever seats or floor was available and ate and drank and ate and drank some more.

And a wonderful time was had by all.

The following year we headed east.

I had only met Victor’s family a couple of times.  Once when I had stolen him from them and moved him to California, and once when we flew back for his cousin’s wedding.  There were phone calls, letters, cards, and emails, but not a lot of face-time.  That was about to change.  We were heading back to Pennsylvania and his brother’s house for Thanksgiving!

The family wanted me to feel welcome and was asking Victor what I liked, what could or should they do… Victor just said don’t worry.  Throw him in the kitchen and he’ll be fine.

On Thanksgiving Day, that’s where they threw me.  I was put in charge of Turkey and Gravy.  Perfect.  Two things I could do blindfolded, standing on one leg, with an arm tied behind my back.

Tim can cook turkey and make gravy.

But…  Tim was going to make sure this was a PERFECT turkey and gravy.  I grabbed Marie’s thermometer.  I had actually never really used a meat thermometer before.  There are a dozen ways of telling whether a bird is done, and I know them all.  I’ve cooked many a turkey in my time.  But I was not leaving anything to chance this time.  Perfect Turkey.  Thermometer.

Into the fattest part of the thigh it went, and into the oven went it all.  I basted, I spun it around, I babied that bird, and when it hit temperature, i took it right out of the oven.  The timing was perfect.  I didn’t pay attention to anything I had learned or known in the past.  The thermometer was God and that was that.

Everything was just about ready and I went to carve the bird.  First slice in and I had a raw bird.  I had an OMG IT’S NOT COOKED raw bird with Victor’s family starting to make those “When’s dinner ready?” noises.  Victor’s mom had been watching all of this and just told everyone to shut up and get out of the kitchen.  She played interference with the family while I scrambled in the kitchen.  (I do love that woman!)

I came as close to panic as I ever want to come in my life.  My insides were churning and I was ready to throw up.  I was trying to look calm – and I pretty much succeeded – but I was anything but calm inside.  I turned the oven up to 500 degrees, split the breast from the legs and thighs, and back into the oven it went.  In 25 minutes, we had the most tender and juicy bird imaginable.  Perfectly cooked, with excellent gravy.

I found out later that evening that Marie’s thermometer was 15 degrees off.  The next day we braved the crowds and bought her a new one.

Since then, our Thanksgivings have been a little less stressful – well… for me, anyway. I just make the messes and Victor cleans.


It’s really a great system.

We’re having a fairly small group tomorrow by our standards – a mere 10. Of course, that’s not stopping our massive cooking spree. It just means it’s a 20lb turkey instead of a 33-pounder. Thanksgiving is all about excess, right?

I actually start planning the meal a month or so in advance with an Excel spreadsheet – listing the appetizers, the actual dinner, and desserts. I tend to keep adding things as I see a new recipe or get an idea about something and when the list looks just too ridiculously long even for me, we start culling and tweaking until we finally hit upon a happy excess.

The 2016 menu is:


Pickled Cauliflower
Little Gram’s Eggplant
Smoked Sausage
Smoked Turkey
Cranberry Mayonnaise
Cranberry Mustard


Eggplant Lasagne
Nonna’s Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Savory Pumpkin Pie
Marie’s Sweet Potatoes
Stacked Sweet Potatoes and Apples
Corn Pudding
Green Beans
Milk Rolls
Cranberry Sauce
Canned Cranberry Sauce


Pumpkin Pie
Bourbon Cake
Pumpkin Caramel Cheesecake
Pecan Tart
Wedding Rings

The cauliflower was grown in our garden this year, as was the eggplant for Little Gram’s Eggplant. We’re getting our money’s worth out of that garden, for sure! Everything else is pretty much scratch-cooked, as well, except for the can of Jellied Cranberry Sauce that will be in my mom’s dish she always used – nice, round rings. It puts a smile on my face every time it goes on the table.

The smoked turkey and smoked sausage come from Robertson’s Hams in Oklahoma. It’s where we get our Easter hams every year. The savory pumpkin pie concept come from La Cucina Italiana. The corn pudding recipe is from our friend, Susan. Milk rolls recipe from a restaurant in North Carolina via Bon Appetit magazine. The desserts are just stuff we make. I took my basic cheesecake recipe and reworked it to become pumpkin. The bourbon cake recipe has a murky past. I found the recipe back in 2003 but have no idea where it originated. It’s been in my recipe folder on my computer for 13 years. What can I say? I’m an electronic recipe packrat, as well. Ya never know when the mood will strike to make something to saw 15 years ago…

But back to the present…

After 22 years of doing this together, there’s no angst, no issues, no worries. Just plenty of fun and plenty of food.

Here’s to the next 22…