Liar, Liar Apron on Fire

This Thanksgiving I was betrayed. Deeply, inconsolably betrayed. What makes it worse is that I was undone by my own people. Culinistas.

During the two decades that The One and I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner together, food authors, editors, and writers have been chirping the same saccharine, Pollyanna mantra: “Prep, and all will be well!” Each year, beginning in September, they hammer away their make-ahead message in books, blogs, newspapers, magazines, and on TV, like Glinda the Good Witch repeating, “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!” to Dorothy in that helium-infused bleat of hers. And each year, even though The One and I wanted to believe what they said, we were never organized enough—or, to be honest, humble enough—to think their message applied to us.

Instead we committed the sin of hubris, believing we were far bigger, greater, and savvier than the average 22-pound turkey. We laughed in the face of a never-ending list of guests. We were so confident in our non-existent skills that we didn’t even begin cooking until the night before—and that’s when the gods smote us. Because every single year found us spending Thanksgiving in an overheated kitchen having even more overheated arguments. The bird was usually undercooked, several side dishes went missing because we ran out of time, and 30 minutes before guests were due to arrive, we’d be racing around the bedroom, screaming at each other, “I’ll never do this again!” And we have the burned pots, physical scars, and couples’ therapy bills to prove it.

That’s why I decided to start cooking ahead of time this year.

“We’re going to do it right,” I told The One as we pored over potential menus two weeks before Thanksgiving. Two weeks! Normally I was still finding ways to use up Halloween candy two weeks before Turkey Day. But we finally decided upon a holiday menu to christen our new kitchen.

Our Thanksgiving Menu
Prosciutto-Parmesan Puffs
Carrot-Ginger Soup
Two 12-pound Roasted Turkeys, Portuguese Style
Grandma Costa’s Chouriço Dressing
Potato and Pork Dressing
Homemade Green Bean Casserole
Chestnuts, Onions, and Bacon
Broccoli and Blue-Cheese Gratin
My Euphemistically Killer Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry-Orange Relish
Cranberry Chutney
Pumpkin Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting
Mini Lemon Curd Cakes with Meyer Lemon Curd

I started cooking a full five days before the holiday. That’s 128 hours of potential prep time before 11 guests were scheduled to walk through the front door at 4 p.m. last Thursday. (Do the math—five days x 24 hours a day + 8 hours on Thanksgiving = more than 9 hours per dish.) So the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I set upon the kitchen gladiator-style. I ripped opened three packages of turkey necks and gizzards with my teeth and seared them to a rich Corinthian leather–brown. I sautéed onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms in another pan until equally dark. I deglazed both pots with white wine, combined it all, added water to cover, and made what I was confident was the richest turkey gravy known to man. It was so earthy and lusty, The One and I could have chest-bumped each other, but my bloodied apron was no match for his oatmeal-colored cashmere sweater.

Thanksgiving Baked Goods

To round out the day, I whirred the crust for the pecan pie in the food processor, whipped up the maple–cream cheese frosting in the stand mixer, and measured out the dry ingredients for the pumpkin cake. After that, I fell onto the couch to watch TV and called out, “Wench! Bring me some mead.” To which The One glared at me over his reading glasses with half-lidded eyes and said, “There ain’t no wenches here. And if you want mead, I suggest I kick your ass back to the Middle Ages to get some.” A glass of milk and some store-bought pumpkin pie sufficed.

For the remaining four days, the kitchen ran more efficiently than a Japanese car factory in the ’80s. Sunday saw the gravy, both cranberry dishes, and soup made. Monday I crossed the mashed potatoes off the list. On Tuesday we were dancing around the island and shouting over the music, “We’re in incredible shape! This will be the best Thanksgiving ev-ah!” while I baked off the pumpkin cake layers and whipped up the lemon curd. That afternoon, the turkey hit the brine while The One hit his “jacuz” and I fell onto the bed for a nap. Ah, Lifestyles of the Organized and Pompous. On Wednesday we boasted and bragged to anyone who called about how perfectly everything was going. The One and I often stood in front of the filled fridges (plural, thank you very much) and exchanged glances that just screamed, “Can’t touch this!” MC Hammer–style.

Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes

Thanksgiving morning The One meted out his agenda. He’s a man fond of agendas, and I make believe to listen to and obey him because it’s my pseudo-spousal duty. “Today, let’s finish up the last few things by three,” he said, as he sat down on the couch with me to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “And I want us doing nothing but sipping Prosecco the hour before guests arrived.”

“Naturally,” I replied, the way those haughty, Valentino-swathed women with names like Sylviana or Theodora who starred in Fellini movies did. As if the idea of doing anything more would be absurd considering how everything is completely under control.

What followed was a master class in physics as we both watched in horror at the slow-motion trajectory of the proverbial shit hitting the fan with gale-force winds. Somehow the simple tasks of basting a turkey and making three simple side dishes eluded us, because by 3:00 p.m., our appointed bubbly time, we were both running around the kitchen in full-blown panic of the Top Chef kind.

“Where’s the [bleeping] broccoli?” The One screamed.

“How the hell do I know? It’s not on my agenda to make the gratin,” I snipped.

“You know, you don’t have to be so pissy,” he said, looking over those damn reading glasses and pointing a finger at me. I contemplated the 10-inch chef’s knife in my hand.

“Well, if a certain someone had started cooking five days before—like I did—perhaps we wouldn’t be in this position,” I slammed right back.

I watched his mouth form a perfect “O” of shock, and, with great delight, I waited for his next volley. I could handle it. After all, until an hour ago, I was Davidicus, the Champion of the Kitchen Arena. But instead he said, “Screw it. Forget the chestnuts, onions, and bacon!”

So, just because he’s buckling under the pressure, I thought, my nuts are the ones to get kicked, culinarily and metaphorically?

But I could see his logic. With fewer than 25 minutes left before guests started arriving, we both shoved pots—dirty and clean—into every available drawer, cabinet, and closet. (I’m still discovering crusted-over Le Creuset pots.)

He ran back to the kitchen and, panting, grabbed my arm. “Go, Love. Go and take a shower,” with that mano-a-mano tone of a brother-in-arms telling a fellow soldier to save himself.

“I can’t leave you,” I said. “You go, I can handle the guests.”

“But you’re the star,” he said. “You’re the one they’re expecting to have done great things, not me.” Well, who was I to argue with a desperate man? So I went up to the bathroom and took what was without a doubt the fastest shower and shave of my life. Then I flew downstairs, only to body-check The One into the wall on his way up. In the kitchen, I spun in place counting burbling pots on the stove and burping casseroles in the oven. My blanched and peeled pearl onions mocked me from a dripping colander on the counter. I opened the coat closet and chucked the colander among our winter coats.

Once again drenched in sweat, I ran out into the frigid backyard to cool down. “I WILL NEVER F%&KING DO THIS AGAIN! DO YOU HEAR ME, GOD? NEVER!!!” I screamed to the battleship gray sky. “NEVER!”

At 3:55 p.m. the doorbell rang. The One pulled me to him and whispered threateningly, “We will never let on to anyone, ever, that we had a problem. You hear me?” I nodded. “No one ever has to know.” And with that one simple request we went from being the victims to the perpetrators of the Great Thanksgiving Lie. So much for Honest Entertaining.


For several days now, I’ve been smelling a foul, rank odor in the basement. I began to wonder if Devil Cat had killed some defenseless creature and left its moldering carcass for me as an early Christmas present. Then this morning—December 16th, exactly 20 days after Thanksgiving—The One came trudging up the basement stairs with the roasting pan we borrowed from our friend Matty in hand.

“Remember the smell downstairs?” he asked. I nodded. “Well…” he said, holding out the pan accusingly. He whipped off the lid with a flourish, and something that smelled as if it came from the bowels of the earth wafted through the kitchen. I peeked inside and there sat a package of pork sausages that was so full of busily noshing bacteria that the square plastic package was the size and shape of a basketball. “You forgot these when we unpacked the groceries for Thanksgiving.” And with that he thrust the pan at me.

I blinked at him. “Really?” I asked. He nodded victoriously.

And then I remembered.

“Or was it when you ran around the kitchen like a madman, hiding everything in sight?” I asked.

I saw the realization ripple across his face.

“Yes, that’s right, my love,” I said. “Those are the sausages I told you to put in the downstairs fridge.” Suddenly his puffed chest reduced a suit size or two, and he headed toward the trash.

“No one ever has to know about this!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Ever!”

The word "David" written in script.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. I must be part Portuguese. 😉 There is a sink in the garage, and an additional fridge, freezers, food dehydrator, FoodSaver…let me think…the giant microwave is going out there, too. LOL! The current kitchen has a stovetop, one of those glass ones. When I redo, I’m probably going to go for a stove instead. You can bet the stovetop is going to be installed along with the cabinets. I’m getting one of those weird plastic strips things that hang from the ceiling to cordon off the food area, like they have in places that store food, and an exhaust fan, too. It helps that the cars aren’t allowed in the garage. 😉 Now if I could just find room for a merchandiser, life, at least food storage-wise, would be perfect.

  2. FL: I have 50+ coming for a “stand-up” dinner of sorts this Friday. I was awake at 4:20 AM pondering which Leite’s Culinaria recipes could bail me out and keep me from the usual General Quarters routine a la Flaming Apron. Is it too soon to start brandishing the flamethrower and hiding the electric knives? Or should I restack those kitchen appliance crates in the garage so I can hide the evidence behind them?

    I appreciate any suggestions.


    1. I’m getting lightheaded just thinking about it. I’ll defer to both Renee and Beth here, but I think dishes that 1.) can be made ahead, 2.) served in toto (casseroles) 3.) don’t required futzing around with (individual hors d’oeuvres), and 4.) can be sliced and served by the guests (think a roast, ham, etc.). I would DEFINITELY have a storing and cleaning strategy. If it means the garage, it means the garage. No one would fault you. You must hire servers who clean. The last thing you want is to be faced with mountains of dishes after all have made merry and left. And last, please, see a professional. Shrink, that is. Fifty plus??

      1. Definitely a ham or two, Karen. Soooo easy and can be served warm, room temperature, or cold. It also allows you to decant several different sorts of accompaniments—mustard, chutney, cranberry relish, and so forth—into pretty little dishes that’ll sparkle like jewels in candlelight and make everything seem quite abundant with very little effort. You’ll want another main course or two—perhaps a turkey or roast? And biscuits or rolls, lots of ’em, to help fill folks up. Bake them in advance, freeze them, and reheat them in a warm oven just before setting them out or just buy them (shhhhhh). As for sides, we’ve got a slew of recipes you can make in advance. And as for setting things out, buffet-style, surely items like mashed potato and even sliced ham or turkey could be kept warm, if you wanted, in slow cookers on the counter? It’s not silver platters, but it beats cold spuds. Perhaps you can borrow some cookers from friends and family? If alcohol will be involved, I suggest sticking with just wines—some red, some white, some sparkling—because you’re certainly not going to have time to mix drinks. Or if you want a cocktail, consider having just one house cocktail for the event—or even put out a bowl of punch or fill one of those slow cookers with a batch (or three) of mulled wine. Yes, as David says, by all means, throw the dirty dishes in the garage. Finally, darling, consider, if you haven’t already, enlisting two friends or family members to help you work the party—folks you can delegate to and rely on to help you get stuff done.

        1. Karen, if you have multiple crock pots, you can set them up with soups or chili, stuff that needs to keep warm. This time of year, that’s always a hit. A basket of breads and rolls, and that’s something that can take care of itself.

  3. Just your typical holiday fun, eh, Davidicus? Speaking of whom, he looks like he’s been moonlighting changing oil at the local JiffyLube. No wonder The One sent you to take a shower. 😉 Pity about the chestnuts, they sounded delish. I took it totally easy this year and only missed the madness a little bit. 😉

    As always, I love your way with a story. BTW, when I redo my kitchen, I’m having the old cabinets installed along the garage walls. The perfect place to stash things until the guests have gone. Or, hey, I just thought…there’s this thing called a garage gorilla or something*. It’s a platform that you put stuff on, then press a button and a motor pulls it up toward the garage ceiling! Out of sight, out of mind. What a place for the dirty dishes. LOL!

    * Huh. There’s the Gorilla and a Gator both. Handy things, though, as long as your garage ceiling is high enough.

    1. ruthie, we had all the old kitchen cabinets and counters installed in the basement. But they’re taken up with hiding all the junk we’ve collected the past 20 years together and the stuff The One won’t let go of from the 34 years before we met. I am planning on installing more units, though, because we finally repaired the basement, and it’s no longer damp or smelly. Wonder of wonders. Now if he would just let me be a TRUE Portuguese and add a sink, stove, oven, and fridge to the basement, I’d be in heaven. My people have a knack for cooking in cellars….