Having decided to take the year off from cooking the full Thanksgiving spread for a bunch of people – or doing much of anything, really – I humbly accepted a friend’s invite to be part of her own Fête de l’Action de Grâces. How cool was that, I could just relax and let someone else do the work for once.

Except I couldn’t.

One, as a good Midwesterner, I am conditioned to help out when there is work to be done. No two ways about it. Two, cooking is fun, and it kills me not to be a part of making any home-cooked meal I’m going to eat. So my antsiness peaked by the Tuesday before and I begged my friend to let me help with the prep work on Wednesday. It seemed a fair arrangement – potato peeling services for a glass of really good Scotch. The bonus, I got to sample the Boursin mashed potatoes and savory garlic sweet potatoes a day in advance.

I assumed that would satisfy what little cooking desire I thought I had this year, but nope. After the Big Meal, during which my turkey consumption was actually quite low to make room for all the other sides and to account for the pre-dinner snacking, I still felt a bit unfulfilled.

So the next day I broke my Black Friday vow to stay home and scored a small organic turkey I may well just roast in secret this weekend. First World problem, I know, but I am almost embarrassed by last week’s bragging about Taking The Year Off from cooking this Thanksgiving.

No, this is not about cooking an entire bird for myself and binge-eating it with all the grace of a zombie. It’s about truly enjoying the cooking process. There is something about that state of being on High Alert to monitor the temperature of the dead bird in the oven that makes me happy. It’s an adrenaline rush, to be sure. And then, the prospect of leftovers! Turkey sandwich with cheese and tomato on whole grain bread! [insert drooly noises here] And, finally, the satisfaction that comes from Getting My Money’s Worth by making stock from the carcass. (Aren’t I clever.)

Brine-O-MaticYes, I discovered this year – and will have to come to grips with – the fact that, for me, cooking Thanksgiving dinner is largely an act of pure self indulgence, no matter what veil of familial charity I try to throw on it. Sure, others may get to enjoy eating the food, but I get the all-day high of playing around in the kitchen, using all my cool kitchen toys and strategizing every dish’s completion by 7:00pm like a war general. God, what a rush. And clearly I’d do it were anyone else here or not. Maybe I should join a support group and write a book or something. (A cookbook – hey-oh!)

On the other hand, for this clandestine affair it will be easier to substitute some less traditional sides for the usual supporting cast. I’m thinking:

  • Torchon de foie gras with crostini
  • Spinach and arugula salad with pomegranate seeds, shaved Parmesan, and a light vinaigrette
  • Purple potatoes fried in duck fat
  • Chocolate espresso pot de crème for dessert

This year I am thankful for unorthodoxy.

(And Bacon, but that goes without saying.)