The Year I Tried to Contribute to Thanksgiving Dinner

Dec 2, 2021 | My Sabbatical

I am not a chef by any stretch of the imagination. The meals I make for myself mostly consist of what, as kids, we called cold plates. A balanced meal but all easy things: blocks of cheese, fruit, veggies, maybe some crackers, etc. In summary, no one asks me to provide anything elaborate for holiday meals. I try not to be offended.

Every Thanksgiving I’m in charge of bringing the cranberry sauce. I proudly show up with a few cans and spend 20 minutes slicing and arranging on a provided plate. And hey, that stuff is slippery. It’s a skill.

But this year, because I’ve been spending months doing and learning new things, I wanted to actually make something.  When I announced this at a family lunch a few weeks ago, the idea was met with deafening silence. My mom broke it with a “honey, are you sure?” “YES, I’m sure mom! I am capable of making something!” I replied with some amount of uppityness.

So I was assigned the seven layer salad. Was it the complicated dish I had envisioned? No, its a salad with seven layers. But it would require a lot of chopping, which could be fun. And if I messed it up I wouldn’t poison everyone. Probably.

The day before Thanksgiving arrived. And then the afternoon. And then evening set in. My sister came over to bake her famous from-scratch cheesecake. I was finishing a photography job at the table while she worked in the kitchen. In my head I still had plenty of time to make the salad, but apparently my mother was getting nervous. As I finished my photo editing I heard chopping.

“Mom, I’m doing the salad!”

“Well, are you ever going to start it?” She replied while chopping the celery.

“I’m starting it right now!” I bustled over and took the knife from her hand. I started in with the celery, trying to look confident.

I only needed to ask 173 questions over the next half hour, but in the end I created a beautiful and edible seven layer salad! I proudly placed it in the refrigerator for the next day.

Riding the high of my great success in the kitchen, I said I could take my sister’s cheesecake out of the oven when it was done. “It needs to cool for a bit, and then put it in the fridge before you go to bed,” my sister instructed as she left. No problem.

I went about my evening, excited for Thanksgiving and satisfied that all was prepared.

The next morning, I woke up out of a deep sleep in a complete panic. Did I put the cheesecake in the fridge last night? I rushed down to the kitchen, bite splint still in my mouth and tripping over things because I didn’t have my contacts in yet.


NOOOOOO. I stared at the cheesecake on the counter, in the exact spot I had left it 10 hours earlier. My first thought: it’s probably fine, I can just put it in the fridge now and it will be cold in a few hours. No one will know. My second thought: this can’t be the year I give everyone food poisoning.

Not having a cheesecake wasn’t an option. I had just listened to my cousins wax poetic about the cheesecake and argue about who was going to hide a piece for the cousin who wouldn’t be there for the meal. My sister’s cheesecake is a family tradition, and I had just wrecked it! I had ONE job. Ruined.

The only other option was to throw on some pants and race to Meijer for more cream cheese. The cream cheese is supposed to be left out for a bit so it isn’t cold for mixing. Did I have time for that? No. While driving back from Meijer I held each cream cheese up to the vent in my car, helping the warming process along. Desperate times, people.

I FaceTimed my sister and confessed my crime as I pulled out the mixing bowls. She helped me make a new cheesecake, and bless her she didn’t yell at me. I could feel her disappointment through the phone, but she was kind. Resigned. Not all that surprised.

We are a mid-day Thanksgiving meal family. By the time the new cheesecake was made I was running late and scrambling to get ready to go to my aunt’s house. My sister stopped in to pick me up, and waited patiently on the steps as I found matching earrings and put on an actual dress.

“I’m ready!” I said as I ran down the steps, coffee mug in hand. A coffee mug that wasn’t empty.

I watched in slow motion as I sloshed drops of coffee onto my poor sister’s head. It sprayed onto the pages of the magazine she was reading.

She didn’t move, but quietly asked, “Did you just spill coffee on my head?”

I collapsed, laughing hysterically as I tried not to spill more coffee. And then opened the dishwasher while it was running, spraying myself in the face with water. That sent both of us into fits of laughter.

In the end, we made it through Thanksgiving and had fun with family. I tried something new, and made both a fancy salad AND a cheesecake from scratch! My contribution to the meal wasn’t extraordinary, but I didn’t poison anyone. I consider that a success.


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