Last week my family celebrated Thanksgiving in a way that was a bit of a shock for everyone. Well, everyone except me: we went out to a restaurant to have Thanksgiving dinner.
This was not my idea. I have been dutifully cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family as well as 8 of my in-laws for the past decade–ever since my son was born. Every year we have pulled out my grandmother’s ancient, but still very useful, portable electric roaster to cook our turkey in. Every year I have pulled out my recipe book, filled with my husband’s family Thanksgiving recipes for stuffing, sweet potato casserole, orange cranberry sauce and hollandaise sauce. Every year I have stood with my mother-in-law as she gives me tips and suggests about how to cook her Thanksgiving feast (while she helps, of course).
And every year when I talk about making the stuffing, my mother-in-law and I have the exact same conversation about it.
Me: I’m going to start on the stuffing
MiL: Oh honey, you’re not going to stuff it in the bird are you?
Me: No MiL, I’m not. It’s your recipe and I’m going to cook it exactly like you do. I just call it stuffing because my family has always called it stuffing.
MiL: Oh good! Here’s the cornbread you’ll need to make that dressing (heavy emphasis on the word dressing).
And every year, after having this conversation, I bite back my tongue and keep myself from screaming: Good GOD woman! You know what I mean! I will never call it dressing so let’s just move on with life!
But as usual, I digress.
Back in August, my father-in-law suggested that instead of having me spend hours in the kitchen and have everyone try to squeeze into our not very big living room and dining room, that we go out to eat, their treat. Since it was going to be the same group of about 11 of us, I immediately said YES! My husband was far more reluctant. He emailed his dad back about his disappointment over breaking tradition and how important it was to me and the kids. He CC’d me on the email of course, so I could immediately write him back and say, “As the person who is going to spend hours and hours in the kitchen cooking with your mother, I fully endorse this restaurant idea…now you email your dad back and fix this mess you’ve made!”
After an actual discussion between us, my husband completely saw it from my POV and agreed that a meal out might be fun. For him it was a big step out of his comfort zone, which is not something he’s used to. For me, not only did it mean NOT having to cook for a cast of way too many and still having leftovers for days and days, but it was actually a throw back to my childhood.
Even though my mom is a perfectly good cook, she has never actually enjoyed cooking. Whenever we could eat out, we did. And since I grew up in California, thousands of miles away from any family members who did not live in my actual house, my mom thought it was a waste of her time to make a huge Thanksgiving meal for four people. Especially when two of those people were kids who didn’t eat much. Plus, we lived in apartments with fairly small kitchens most of my life, so it’s not like it was easy to have tons of dishes going at the same time.
So every year my mom and step-dad found someplace that was not our own dining room for us to eat. I have very vivid memories of Thanksgiving dinners eaten at Sizzler, which up until I wrote this post, I thought was defunct since all the ones in Indiana had shut down. Turns out they still exist! Just on the West coast. This made me blissfully happy as my dream to once again eat their Malibu chicken, which was the stuff my childhood dreams were made of, is still a reality! Thank the Lord for mediocre steak houses and our love of them!
I also remember having Thanksgiving at church sponsored events where each family would contribute something to the meal. My mom would pick stuffing, but several boxes of Stove Top stuffing, make it quickly before we left the house and then we’d get to sit down to a full Thanksgiving meal at a huge table in some sort of cafetorium and eat with people we sort of knew from church. Those meals were a bit dicier as aside from my favorite, the stuffing, you never knew what strange ingredients people would add to their version of mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce.
One year we went to some super fancy place near Disneyland that was rather darkly lit and had some sort of ocean theme to it. I swear it was called something like Pirate’s Cove or something oddly similar…probably without the word pirate since I do remember it being nice. I was like 8 though, so really anything that wasn’t Bob’s Big Boy or Del Taco was pretty nice to me.
I do have to say that despite years of eating Thanksgiving dinner in restaurants, today’s trip to Season’s 52 for our family celebration was probably the nicest, tastiest one I’ve had at a restaurant. I do have to admit that the one we had aboard the family cruise we took two years ago comes a close second, but that was more for the whole being on a cruise bit than anything else.
To me where we ate wasn’t nearly as important as family being together. Although the fact that I spent no time in the kitchen and currently only have one bowl in my sink (from last night’s popcorn and movie watching), is the real holiday blessing!