A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

All right. I have a confession to make. I am not a huge fan of Thanksgiving dinner. I know, I know. This makes me sound, well, Un-American. After all, this tradition is in honor of the gathering of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans way back before there were green bean casserole and sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. As legend has it, in the 1600s, everyone came together to celebrate the harvest festival. (This sounds a little too jolly and pagan for the Pilgrims, but what the heck. Maybe it’s true.)

And so it has gone, with the food changing over the years. When I was young, we had a meat and potato stuffing to go in the turkey and a medley of different vegetables. In the week before Thanksgiving, my mother baked like a crazy person, and her fudge was, in a word, incredible. (I often wish I had a fraction of her energy.)

I am sorry to say that for me, with my sweet teeth—never mind tooth—the fudge was the best part of the meal. I have never liked turkey that much, and mashed potatoes are a little too bland for my taste. Turnip and squash are all right, but my heart doesn’t leap with joy when I see them on the table.

Then there is the work. Oh, there is plenty of it, and everything must come out at the same time and be reasonably warm. Usually, by the time the food is ready, my appetite is nearly gone. After that comes the clean-up, and when it is all over, I feel like lying on the bathroom floor for an extended snooze. (A friend’s mother has done this, and my sympathies are with her.)

Last year, Thanksgiving was particularly rough. Shannon and Mike were in North Carolina, and Clif and I had been working hard on Maya and the Book of Everything. When Thanksgiving was done, I felt even more exhausted than usual, and I was seriously considering going out to eat this Thanksgiving.

But eating out at Thanksgiving is expensive—at least $100, including the tip, for two people—and it’s just not as cozy as being at home. What to do, what to do?

Dee, our New York daughter, is a vegetarian, and it suddenly dawned on me that my life would be significantly better if we had a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, say, stuffed shells or baked ziti. Because while I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving dinner, I am a huge fan of all things Italian, and the baked pasta dishes can be—wait for it!—made ahead the day before Thanksgiving.

This notion made me so giddy that I thought, “Well, son of a biscuit, I could even make a chocolate cream pie on Thanksgiving morning if the rest of the food was ready.”

And so settling on stuffed shells, I proposed the alternative Thanksgiving dinner. Dee was all for it. She doesn’t eat turkey anyway, and our friends Alice and Joel, who will join us, are good sports and very flexible. However, now we come to Clif, who LOVES Thanksgiving dinner, but he, too, was a good sport and agreed to my stuffed shell suggestion.

But I could tell he was a little sad, and last night we had a quasi-Thanksgiving dinner of breaded chicken thighs, baked potatoes, corn, and stuffing from a bag. It was pretty darned good, and a snap compared with the real event. Clif’s desire for stuffing was satisfied, and clean-up was no problem at all.

Thus it is that onward, with a lighter heart, I go toward Thanksgiving. The house is reasonably clean, the shopping is done, and we have a plan devised for the rest of it.

I’ll still be making pumpkin bread. After all. But I have a funny feeling that stuffed shells will be a new Thanksgiving tradition in our family.


43 thoughts on “A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner”

  1. Enjoy your non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner! Glad that Dad was able to have a little taste of the more traditional fare ahead of time! 😛

    1. He was most grateful. And that Pepperidge Farm stuffing is pretty darned good. We’ll be having the leftovers tonight.

  2. This sounds like a great feast for all Laurie and so sweet that Clif and you had a special meal last night too! We wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends 🤗💖 xxx

  3. My wife feels very strongly about cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal – especially a big turkey with stuffing and gravy. I would suggest anything different at my peril. She it a very good cook, though.

    1. If your wife enjoys cooking the traditional meal, then that’s exactly what she should do. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  4. I too am not a turkey fan. In the UK it’s the traditional Christmas meat, but I have never cooked it. These days we tend to celebrate solstice rather than Christmas anyway and never with anything traditional – last year we had pulled pork!

  5. Good for you! I am very nostalgic about the Thanksgivings we spent with my father’s big Italian family. The turkey was always an afterthought :*) If I wasn’t such a big turkey fan, I think we would be having an alternate menu as well!

    1. If you love turkey, then that’s what you should cook. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  6. I️ decided for the first time to make non-traditional food for Thanksgiving too! I️ love the traditional foods but the son who lives in Boston is a pescatarian and it will just be him and us. I️ go through feeling a little sad before holidays because there isn’t the extended family anymore. I️ decided that rather than trying to force it to be traditional I️ would keep mashed potatoes and stuffing and otherwise my son and I️ will make new recipes from scratch that have seasonings and sauces that are appealing. I️ feel some relief about it already! It will be fun to cook with him- will make a good family memory.

    1. Life changes, traditions can change, too. I know what you mean about missing the extended family. I come from a small family, and many people have died. I especially think about my mother and father during the holidays as well as all the others who are no longer here. Enjoy your time with your son, and whatever you cook will be grand.

  7. Well I think you have been very sensible. I am dreading Christmas because of exactly the same reason you have been dreading Thanksgiving. All the organisation, the expense, the hours spent in the kitchen while other people swan about having fun (grumble, grumble). The past two years we have had a joint of beef for Christmas Day which has been fine. This year we have turkey again. Ho ho ho!
    I think it was lovely that you were able to provide Clif with his mini Thanksgiving meal. I also think that a lot of these big meals can be prepared in advance. Stuffing, for example can be frozen and then just defrosted and heated up on the day. Vegetables can be prepared in advance. I have cooked the turkey on Christmas Eve before, and people have had to put up with it! My elder daughter is always a big help but this year she won’t be with us on Christmas Day for the first time ever!

    1. Clare, I know just what you mean. The hostess works like a crazy person while the guests and other family members yuck it up. Before streamlining Thanksgiving, we actually worked at streamlining Christmas. Instead of having a big meal, we now have a lovely and tasty selection of appetizers, all of which can be made in advance. Clean-up is a snap, and everyone, even the hostess, has a good time. I bet you’ll miss your daughter!

      1. I know. We miss our children so much when they can’t be with us for special days. My youngest daughter lives in North Carolina, very far from Maine. Fortunately, she and her husband always come home for Christmas.

  8. My son’s girlfriend is of Italian descent and pasta is part of their T-day tradition, so why not? Every year you could try another country…Thai, Brazilian, French? America is a melting pot after all. 🙂 Enjoy your feast!

  9. Bravo for you! Thanksgiving is for joining with friends and family and sharing a meal…whatever that may be! Thankful for the food before us, the friends beside us and the love between us…. no reason at all why baked ziti can’t be a part of that! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Laurie. I’ll be cooking a ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner here in Ireland for my Irish pals….just so happy to be sharing!

  10. For years I stressed and sweated over Christmas in the way you describe – I have many horrific Christmas stories – turned hilarious with the blessed passage of time. For about 12 years now I only ‘do’ Christmas every other year, on those years we only give presents to the children in the family, my daughter and d-i-l take it in turns to host with each of us contrubuting an aspect of the meal. On the alternate years I escape and have an adventure, my kids go to their in-laws. It works for us!
    If only the concept of Thanksgiving could be about a sense of nations sitting down together planning equality and a peaceable way forward.

  11. I am completely, totally, 100% in agreement with you about the traditional meal! My family is quite flexible about such things and sometimes we do a big Mexican extravaganza or Italian or whatever. The only thing I really like about the traditional meal is the stuffing . . . (and the red wine . . .)

    1. I, too, really like stuffing. For our quasi Thanksgiving meal, I bought Pepperidge Farm stuffing, and believe it or not, it’s pretty darned good.

  12. Well, you can give thanks for no turkey this year! A break from tradition will be liberating–holidays shouldn’t be a chore. I happen to adore traditional Thanksgiving food, but have the dinner pared down to just the favorites and do as much as possible ahead of time. Have a wonderful day Laurie.

    1. I think part of the problem for me is that, unlike you, I don’t adore traditional Thanksgiving food. But for those who do, it’s a grand tradition.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  13. An open, creative mind is a beautiful thing. That’s what it takes to take ingrained traditions and make them work for you. Enjoy your meal and your time together.

  14. Non-traditional holiday meals have always worked well here, in addition to having a spouse who likes to do the cooking, and shares the cleanup! I consider myself blessed! This year we had a quiet dinner, just the two of us and the cats, no dinner guests. Those times can be very special, too. We drank sparkling Lacrima di Morro wine, also non-traditional. It is made from the obscure and rare grape Lacrima di Morro d’Alba from the Marches region in Italy. The cats drank water. 🙂

  15. My favourite Christmas dinner was avocado and prawns followed by bread and butter pudding in my bachelor days. Some of my favourite food and not much cooking. When we had kids they used to complain if we didn’t have the traditional turkey. They still do. 😦

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