Pass the pie, hold the food section
After writing countless Thanksgiving stories over the years, it was nice to celebrate the holiday without the pressure of having to cover it.
Thanksgiving was the holiday that really did me in as a food writer.
Early on in my career, I tackled this feast — well, writing about this feast — with my heart first and my cooking skills second. The truth is that I’d never actually made a Thanksgiving dinner before I took on the food job at the Statesman in 2008.
I was 25 years old and still sitting at the kids table, frustrated at the turmoil I often saw in the kitchen and the tension I experienced around the table.
I had a young child at the time, and we were living in a duplex with no room to host. We usually ended up at a family member’s house in Austin, where chaos was always on the menu.
At that time, we still had several elders in the family who could sink a conversation with snide remark, even as their adult children stressed over creating a holiday dinner that met their expectations.
So it’s no surprise that my first few Thanksgivings as a food writer, I wrote about that stress. They never read my stuff anyway, so I felt like I could write honestly about what I knew to be universal themes of family, hurt feelings and embracing imperfection.
These were the types of columns I’d continue to write each November for the next 13 years.
Every fall, around October, I’d started collecting recipes for our big Thanksgiving food section that I was in charge of for the newspaper, categorizing recipes by theme (desserts, slow cooker, potatoes, bourbon) and writing at least one story focused on turkey.
Coming up with new ways to write about a traditional feast became one of the more frustrating aspects of my job.
I discovered that people think they want something new at Thanksgiving, but they really want what they’ve always had.
This year, I realized that I wanted something different than what I’ve always had.
So, this November, I didn’t write a single article about Thanksgiving. I didn’t host a Friendsgiving so I could have an excuse to take fresh photos for my annual Thanksgiving column. I didn’t write one caption about why this potato dish is *the* potato dish you should serve at your holiday meal. I shared exactly one recipe, for that banana bread I included in a newsletter a couple of weeks ago.
I’m sitting down to write this column the morning after Thanksgiving, where we gathered in Southwest Missouri to have a fairly traditional meal with my mom’s side of the family. Where the tensions aren’t quite so high. And I could serve Paula Deen’s corn casserole, the same one I’ve been making for 6 or 8 years now, and start to forget the same old axioms about pie-making and turkey-roasting that I used to gin up every. Single. Year.
My aunt and uncle, who live in California, rented an AirBnB near Aurora so they could host the extended family even though they don’t live here. They served a turkey breast rubbed with a spice mix and baked in a casserole dish with carrots.
It was lovely.
I do not have the recipe, and I didn’t ask for it.
Because this year, for once, I could enjoy the pie and the turkey as a civilian, not as a food writer. I could think about what this meal means to me now that I’m seeking something different from what I always had.
I could sit in the unknowing of what’s ahead, just like I did when I was freshly out of college and taking on a new job that I felt totally unqualified for.
And if I’ve learned anything over all these years — no matter if I’m writing a 10-page Thanksgiving food section or starting a new career — it’s that I have to take things bird by bird, as Anne Lamott says. Day by day, folks in recovery say. Step by step, as the TV show about blended families from the 1990s reminds us.
I think about all the small steps I’ve taken over the past year to get here. Last fall, I remember thinking last year that it would probably be my last year writing a Thanksgiving food section, but I had no idea what my path out might look like. (Yes, it took another seven months for me to finally leave.)
I wrote the requisite stories about rolls and cranberries and what to do with leftovers, and then I wrote about my dad and those squeaky Styrofoam containers that held the free dinner we had during his last Thanksgiving with us. (Edit: That story came out in 2019. Like countless stories I published over the years, last year’s holiday column is no where to be found online. <insert sad face>)
I’m sure I cried when I wrote that column because I cried when I wrote many of my columns, including the one in June where I said farewell to readers who’d become my constant companions over the years.
I miss writing columns in that space, for those readers, about those subjects that I still hold dear. Not the how-I-cook articles but the how-I-live articles that force me to slow down and see what’s really happening around me.
I don’t miss writing those Thanksgiving food sections, but I’m grateful for them, too, because pulling recipes, coming up with creative ways to present educational food content and encouraging people to try new ingredients and cooking techniques helped me define my identity for more than a decade.
That identity continues to shift, and even though change is hard and sometimes a little sad, that’s what I wanted.
And I think that’s what I needed, too.
RELATED: Finding happiness, no matter what your Thanksgiving looks like
I’m grateful for the folks who’ve jumped over to this platform to continue reading these columns of mine, and for clients who’ve been hiring me to do everything from writing press releases to helping them unpack their family trees.
It’s been a whirlwind trip to Missouri this week, and I’ve got a press trip to Wisconsin slated for next week, so stay tuned to your inboxes for dispatches from The Feminist Kitchen.
I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday week, no matter what you’re celebrating.
P.S. As always, you know you can book tarot/ancestry sessions with me via dontfearthedeathcard.com! I love working with people who have been curious about tarot but haven’t known where to start and folks who simply love talking about their elders and want to put some of that love to use for their future ancestors.
So good to catch up with you via this post! Your writing continues to hold my attention like no newspaper column ever has. So very glad you speak honestly and freely about the family gatherings as well as the rewards for those of us still able to have extended get together with generations of families.