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The Thanksgiving Story, or The Thanksgiving We Didn't Eat

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And it wasn't for any of the reasons you might be guessing--we spent our day feeding the homeless, we were penniless, we were dieting, we were stuck in an airport, we were making a "statement," we just skipped it. Nope. Four years ago, we decided (oh, okay, BILL decided) that it would be fun to cater Thanksgiving dinner for a family we didn't know who had posted an ad on Craigslist. We had, I think, been watching way too much Food Network and thought: We can do that!

A young husband had posted an ad on Craigslist. Poor Mike had gotten sick of having to do all the cooking and serving every Thanksgiving, and never getting to relax and enjoy the day. He and his wife, a lawyer, had a nice, upscale home in the New Hampshire suburbs, two kids, and a family of 25 who descended on them every year for Thanksgiving. The only caveats were that his dad was lactose intolerant and Aunt Susan was going to bring her famous desserts. So we agreed, and the planning began.

Bill was in heaven! He started digging up recipes weeks in advance, so we printed out a menu for the family's approval and to put at everyone's place at the table. Every bit of it but the rolls was made from scratch. It looked like this, all decked out with fall leaves, ears of corn, and fancy fonts:

Roasted red pepper & sun-dried tomato dipping sauce
Basil aioli dipping sauce
Mixed greens with Parmesan vinaigrette
Crab bisque or Cioppino
Dinner rolls
Southern dill-cheese bread

Roast turkey
Fresh whole-cranberry sauce
Portobello mushroom gravy (one with & one without mushrooms)
Traditional sage dressing
Cornbread dressing
Garlic mashed potatoes
Southwest-style chipotle smashed sweet potatoes
Green bean casserole with panko-breaded onion topping
Oven-roasted stuffed onions
Oven-roasted carrots, squash, broccoli, & asparagus

Champagne sorbet (to cleanse the palate, of course)

Italian love cake, a rich ricotta delight
Granny Smith apple pie with caramel drizzle
Mike's own pumpkin pie
Aunt Susan's lemon cake
Aunt Susan's chocolate cake

The young family was delighted! Never before had they seen such a menu, let alone at their very own house for Thanksgiving, with caterers doing the service and cleanup!

We had no friggin’ idea what we had gotten ourselves into.

I spent the week before Thanksgiving nagging Bill to make sure he had everything organized. I made spreadsheets, timetables, strategies, as if we were planning an assault. He borrowed chafing dishes, pans, and three crock pots from our American Legion and friends. The food shopping took two hours and cost over $200. We spent 17 hours chopping, preparing, and precooking before Thanksgiving morning. The dog and cat ran around crazy. Friends came to watch us for a while and then left, shaking their heads. I never worked so hard in my life. We drank heavily. We came close to blows.

Then, on Thanksgiving morning, we loaded it all, most of it fully cooked, into every available inch of my little car and hit the road, praying that nothing would slide leeward and spill all over everything else. You know how everyone’s house smells at Thanksgiving? My car smelled like that for WEEKS afterward.

We pulled up and started unloading, carrying everything upstairs, from the garage to their kitchen. Mike helped, though he had his wine glass in hand and probably had for some time. Some of the guests were already there, extremely curious about us, and already getting under foot. We also discovered, very soon, that we were “the help.” (I didn't like that part one bit.) Anyway, we get all this stuff piled up on the counters, in an alien kitchen with, of all things, GAS burners, with which I have zero experience. Mike's wife seems to have no recollection of where any of her pots and pans are kept. Why should she, being a lawyer and all? Children are running around shrieking. This is all starting to look like a very bad Food Network Challenge that won't end well, and the worst part is, we're IN it!

Somehow, however, we manage to get everything sorted out and warming up on the stove or in the oven, and lay out the appetizers to keep the already-milling throng at bay. One old lady says, "What's low sodium here?" Instead of bursting into hysterical laughter, I consult the sheaf of recipes we've printed out for just such a situation. Well, NOTHING is really low sodium, but I'm able to fib to her that one of the dips and one of the soups aren't too, too bad. (Thank God there are no vegans here.) And we've made lactose-free versions of many things for Mike’s dad, which is partly why the menu is so vast.

Everyone is seated at a couple of big makeshift tables in the dining room, and this isn't a buffet. So we don our waitstaff hats and begin serving soups and plates of food to order. This is, of course, insanely hectic. I almost lose it when one woman comes into the kitchen and tells me that her husband needs a napkin. (The wish-I'd-said: "Let him get his own flippin' napkin, lady!! We've got a dinner to serve here!")

It all works, though, somehow perfectly. Everyone raves and applauds. The aunts get tiddly on the champagne sorbet. The wife angsts about whether the children should have any of it. I figure there's no danger since the kids are so high on sugar anyway that a little alcohol can only help. My favorite person of the whole day is a large adolescent lad who keeps exclaiming, "This is the best food I've ever had!!" And my second favorite person of the whole day is a five-year-old boy who insists on helping me clean up.

Did I mention that we signed up for cleanup, too? Picture a five-course dinner for 30, one small dishwasher, a tiny sink, a wife who has no idea where her storage containers are nor, once found, where their matching lids might be, and two exhausted chef-waiters-turned-dishwasher
s. At one point, I wasn't being none too neat about how I was shoving the leftovers into their fridge or washing their dishes. Lidless containers, bulging with moist ingredients and covered only with plastic wrap, teetered atop other lidless containers in the same condition. I just didn’t care any more.

At the end of the day, we made all of $150 profit. Mike was very good to us, considering that we WAY underestimated how much the whole thing would cost. Oh, and of course they kept all the leftovers, and the help got none, because the family had paid for it all.

The next year Mike begged us to come back and do it all over again.

We did NOT.

And every Thanksgiving since has seemed like a breeze in comparison.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
PHEBESS 12/5/2013 3:59AM

    OH that is the BEST story of the year!!!!! Truly wonderful! And you two totally outdid yourselves!

Plus I love the two kids - the teen, who loved all the food, and the little one who helped with clean up - gotta love the kids!

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MAREE1953 12/5/2013 3:06AM


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4A-HEALTHY-BMI 12/3/2013 9:43PM

    My favorite quote in here:

"I figure there's no danger since the kids are so high on sugar anyway that a little alcohol can only help."



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WATERMELLEN 12/3/2013 9:39PM

    This is sooooooo hilarious. I cannot believe that you didn't waltz out the door at the first "help" innuendo!! A way better woman than I am! (And yup, I'm a lawyer: but I know where my pots and pans are. And my storage containers. And their lids!!)

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SLENDERELLA61 12/3/2013 8:24PM

    What an incredible story! You were very brave to tackle such an undertaking. Loved this blog. Thanks for writing it!!

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TINAJANE76 12/3/2013 2:56PM

    That's AWESOME! What a fun way to spend Thanksgiving, even if it was stressful.

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KIMBERLY_Y 12/3/2013 12:45PM

    Oh my goodness! You were crazy! But what a great story forever!!! Thanks for sharing. emoticon

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DIANNEMT 12/3/2013 11:12AM

    You were nuts! LOL

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HIPPICHICK1 11/22/2012 9:31AM

    What a great story!
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_UMAMI_ 11/21/2012 9:22AM

    Having catered weddings and fashion shows (as wait staff), I can completely understand the chaos and exhaustion you felt.

And it's kind of like a bad vacation---what a great story it makes!
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Happy Thanksgiving!

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CELIAMINER 11/21/2012 8:43AM

    Wonderful story! You should submit it to a magazine.

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GABY1948 11/21/2012 7:59AM

    I LOVED this could have been an I LOVE Lucy story easily! emoticon You deserve a great Thanksgiving this year and ALL years! This is the best story I have heard in a LONG time! emoticon

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MORTICIAADDAMS 11/20/2012 11:18PM

    Quite an adventure and one that I would never try to attempt. It would be quite a feather in one's cap to have this on a resume. I used to entertain a lot and somehow broke myself of it. LOL. I'm not sure what I was thinking. That I was Martha Stewart? LOL.

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CARTOONB 11/20/2012 9:23PM

    Love this story!

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MERRYMARY42 11/20/2012 8:25PM

    Great story, loved it all, and you write a complete description, I could picture it all. and actually that is something to look back on and smile if not laugh. Thanks for sharing
Happy Thanksgiving emoticon

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JANEDOE12345 11/20/2012 7:43PM

    You do not emphasize that you two took on this project for pay, but it was not planned to be an act of generosity as far as I can tell, rather, an effort to earn money via Craig's list opportunity. Well, when they turned you into servants -- well, not the best of all worlds as I think you expected a seat at the table. You two were good sports about it, judging by your tone. Madcap and slightly goofy, but always kind. Underpaid at only $150 for sure.

Happy T'giving and you sound like you are feeling better today, good!


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Comment edited on: 11/20/2012 7:44:28 PM

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JOYINKY 11/20/2012 7:28PM

    Love the story; feel your pain! But, isn't it nice to be "wanted"? Almost as sweet as being able to say no! Thanks for the smiles.

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DDHEART 11/20/2012 6:27PM

    Sounds a bit like what our job on the railcar was but I learn more slowly than you, we kept going back! LOL Well, the difference is that we got to eat and drink, last seating but still I did get my turn at it and often at the end of a trip I ended up coming home with "stuff" that would either be thrown out or otherwise wasted.

I'm thinking about GIVING THANKS that we no longer do that....Oh, and on one charter, as I had pulled the beef tenderloin out to rest and was working on the bread, salad and sides, one of the guests came into the kitchen saying it smelled wonderful what was on the menu? When I told him he announced...oh, my girlfriend won't eat any of that. Turns out she was vegan....mind you prior to the trip I had broached the usual...any dietary requirements, allergies etc. And the answer to all questions as well as my request for any special requests or desires was No, no issues, no requests, whatever you make is fine.....Let me tell you, I had to do some very quick thinking about what I could produce that the young woman would/could eat and produce it during the rest time of the tenderloin besides....sheesh!

Oh Well, Happy Thanksgiving!

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BROOKLYN_BORN 11/20/2012 5:41PM

    I'm glad I got to hear the whole story. How amazing that you were able to accomplish this.

Comment edited on: 11/20/2012 5:42:50 PM

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GEORGE815 11/20/2012 5:30PM

    Good deal. Thanks for sharing.

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PEZMOM1 11/20/2012 5:10PM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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DMF2012 11/20/2012 5:06PM

    What a great story - you two were very brave.

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MEADSBAY 11/20/2012 4:45PM

Now that was a Thanksgiving you will never forget.
Makes you grateful for what you have, doesn't it?
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DR1939 11/20/2012 3:22PM


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BETHGILLIGAN 11/20/2012 3:17PM

    I love this story!!

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BARBARASDIET 11/20/2012 3:10PM

    Insane. But a funny story!

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CHUM48 11/20/2012 2:53PM

    What a fabulous way to celebrate Thanksgiving! Thank you for you generosity

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