Last year, like most of us, I took Thanksgiving off.
As a professional Thanksgiving evangelist, skipping the holiday had implications beyond my personal life. You might think that for someone who’s written recipes for Thanksgiving eight years running, missing a year running on the Wheel of Content would be a blessing, a welcome respite. But no: to think that would be to assume I have a healthy work-life balance, where my sense of self and purpose isn’t directly correlated to how useful I can be to others, and in fact I missed it terribly.
My love for the holiday is connected to a fondness for cooking with entire sticks of butter, yes, but it’s also connected to control. Having it, relinquishing it. I’m a bossy person who secretly loves being told what to do. So Thanksgiving, and all that it brings, sits squarely in the center of my “favorite things” Venn diagram.
Telling others how they should be cooking while simultaneously being asked to adhere to a relatively strict framework myself? There’s got to be a German word for that, but I’ll just call it “my happy place.” To not participate last year left me feeling rudderless, like a ship with no captain, all dressed up with nowhere to go, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I love dispensing advice about food and cooking (solicited and unsolicited) year-round. But on those other 364 days, our decision on what we should eat for dinner is, frankly, pretty arbitrary. Roast a chicken—or don’t! Make some pasta—or not! Personally, I dream of having restrictions, a framework to exist within, an assignment that I can attempt to nail. I often find myself wanting to abandon the blank canvas and simply paint by number. Nothing sounds more relaxing, even if the numbers I’m painting by involve the purchase, roasting, and carving of a 16-pound bird. It’s not lost on me that my idea of peace is so many people’s idea of chaos, but I suppose that’s what makes me a professional.
This year, I felt so, so ready—inspired and excited, even—to return. Return to dry brining a turkey and roasting it on a sheet pan, return to advocating for unpeeled squash and tearing (never slicing) your bread for stuffing, return to telling people they aren’t baking their pies long enough. Return to answering questions about making mashed potatoes ahead of time (I wouldn’t) and whether making your own turkey stock is worth it (it is).
Return to an earnest showing of gratitude, to an appreciation that the land we live on does not belong to us, to the breath of fresh air that is a holiday observed in America for which consumerism isn’t a requirement for celebrating. (Granted, there is a large grocery bill involved, but it’s a far cry from the unbridled commerce that often accompanies a certain holiday in late December.)
Selfishly, I am ready to have a purpose again. To help people cook a larger-than-usual meal, to soothe their fears about overcooking or burning, to help all of us therapize our collective way through what can often be a fraught and stressful time. To hop back on that Wheel of Content, arguing for not one but two salads on your table and once again dying on the hill of “Pumpkin pie isn’t that good.” Ready to burn myself out writing about Thanksgiving for 14 days straight, answer texts and calls about pie crust from acquaintances I hear from once a year, open up hotlines to strangers around the Internet, and then not think about it for another 52 weeks.
And next year, if we should be so lucky, I’ll be ready to do it all over again.