Barbara Achille Campisi
My husband, Dick, and I were students living 2,000 miles from home. We moved to the Midwest because Dick was in graduate school at Loyola of Chicago. Chicago was a big city, and we knew very few people.
Oh well, I thought, I can do this! As Thanksgiving approached, we invited his brother to come from Omaha so we could show him Chicago and share this memorable holiday meal together. The poor unfortunate bird having been purchased, vegetables and side dishes organized and prepared, table set and “Mister Turkey” was prepared and put in the oven. We went to the airport to fetch Dick’s brother, Dion, and give him the tour of the city. I assumed the bird would take care of itself and just cook as it always seemed to do at mother’s.
Being a beautiful crisp clear day; we drove all over the city showing Dion everything we could. When we arrived home, after we got over the shock of the smell of something burning, we approached the oven. Obviously, the bird was cooked (very cooked) and the drippings were unduly dark in color and very attached to the bottom of the pan. Determined to salvage the situation, I launched into adding water, wine, seasoning, flour, etcetera, to the crusty burned drippings to make “gravy.” Well, that did not work!
Mercifully, my husband never asked me again to make Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas is my holiday.
A lovely fall day: friends arriving, our 15-foot table set with sparkling Venetian glass goblets ready for wine, music playing, wonderful turkey-roasting smells filling the house. A perfect Thanksgiving Day … until it wasn’t.
Most holidays don’t include visiting Roto-Rooters or emergency centerpiece removals, but one year, one did. An inexperienced kitchen volunteer thought we needed even more potatoes (his favorite part of the feast) and offered to peel, dramatically overtaxing the kitchen plumbing. Surprise — but welcome — guests also arrived, a lonely neighbor and an ex-girlfriend; and small pilgrim candles meant to be gifts were set a fire too close to the flowers.
The table was reset, more chairs collected, place cards reassigned, and candles moved for safety. We poured Champagne and toasted the skilled plumber.
My biggest Thanksgiving disaster came 52 years ago, at the first Thanksgiving I shared with my husband. We were living in Cambridge, Mass., in a top-floor apartment with a wood burning fireplace. We invited other friends — newlyweds, too — to join us in a fireside feast. All I had to do was cook the turkey. Well, how was I supposed to know there was stuff inside, some of it in plastic bags, that I was supposed to have removed? I mean, really, any proper lady such as myself would have been repulsed at the thought of sticking her hand into the poor bird’s private parts. A little respect for that avian patriot, please! The next year, we accepted someone else’s invitation.
This holiday is our biggest family fete of the year. My grandmother, a Swedish immigrant, was a professional chef. She taught me how to cook and eventually she passed the Thanksgiving dinner toque to me. One year, in honor of all the Swedes I come from, instead of serving the usual Champagne we love, I made old-fashioned glogg — a traditional boozy drink slow-simmered on the stove, heady with red wine and a good dose of brandy, spiced with cinnamon stick, green cardamom pods, clove, orange peel and sweetened with golden raisins. You can imagine the glorious scent that filled my apartment and greeted my guests — aunts and uncles, cousins, brother and sister, mom, and all our Thanksgiving holiday orphaned friends. Kisses and hugs, and mugs of warm glogg all around. And again, all around. Cheers to us Swedes!
We got so tipsy we forgot to eat dinner! Close to midnight, we finally gathered around the table and our Thanksgiving feast. In the glow of candlelight and the warmth of a grand evening, our late-night dinner of “thanks” with all the trimmings, never tasted better.
As a chef, preparing holiday menus for families celebrating special events such as Thanksgiving is not only exciting, but also intimidating in a way. You want to create the perfect menu to make everyone’s special day, and while doing so, you want to be creative and inspiring, without veering too far from the classics. [One year] I had spent he week before testing and perfecting what I felt would be the perfect menu for that year’s Thanksgiving. Before service begins, I always take a walk through all the cooks’ stations to taste and check their mise en place to make sure it’s on point. As I stepped to check a chef’s station, I pulled out his kitchen drawer, only to have all of the containers, improperly loaded, of prep fall to their demise and splatter all over the floor! There is nothing more hectic on an already busy day than losing a station’s entire prep to gravity! Nevertheless, the team pulled together in a moment’s notice to save the day, but I can tell you: I almost lost it completely!
In 1984 when I was en route to Raton, New Mexico (my hometown), from San Francisco, I had a two-part flight from SFO to Salt Lake City to Albuquerque. I was stranded in Salt Lake City because of a snowstorm and they closed the airport. Not only did I have to sleep in the airport, we left Salt Lake City on Thanksgiving Day, which put me into Albuquerque mid-afternoon. The normal drive from Albuquerque to Raton is 3 1/2 hours but because of snow and road conditions, it took seven hours, putting me in Raton Thanksgiving evening when all the family was headed to bed.
Lori Puccinelli Stern
My first Thanksgiving back from college was one for the books. The Wednesday night before turkey day, my sister Beth and brother Larry and I met up at a local bar to have a reunion with our high school pals. While we were out celebrating, my mother and father, who are excellent cooks, were back home prepping and slaving away in anticipation of 50 guests for Thanksgiving at our house the next day. My parents spent hours assembling the salami, prosciutto, melon, mortadella, cutting the Parmesan perfectly and, of course, making the pot roast, which was the base for the “gravy” for the home-made ravioli. This is no easy task and a time-suck of epic proportions, I assure you. Exhausted, they fell into bed after they stored everything in the refrigerator.
We arrived much later with a gaggle of overserved kids, and before we knew it, within minutes, the refrigerator was emptied. Much of the magnificent table that was already set beautifully was now littered with sauce-soaked linen napkins, along with crystal wine goblets filled with beer. And to make matters worse, we ended up having a bunch of kids spend the night, and they took over every single bathroom in the house for long, hot steaming showers. By the time my mom and dad were ready to get ready, all the hot water was gone. While there was not much laughing that morning, we howl about it now at every Thanksgiving. While everyone is still always welcome, there is now a strict Puccinelli holiday rule: Please keep your hands off the salami until served, and do try to rinse off before you arrive.
Keena & Linda Turner
We don’t love traditional Thanksgiving food — yes, we said it! So, when the family declined to have the gathering at our home (we host every holiday), we quickly learned it was directly related to the menu. Keena’s mom took over — deep-fried turkey, sweet potato pie, greens, potato salad, mac and cheese — and peace was restored. (Mommy dear: The Ryndak/Turner families thank you!)
A few years ago, we hosted Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Because the kitchen was so small, we had to get creative with the space. After dinner, my husband decided to take the dishes out to the garage to clear room for us to serve dessert. Unfortunately, he tripped on a stone step and landed hand first into a pile of antique china plates. The good news is: We had just finished dinner. The bad news is: We missed dessert, and 30 stitches later, we spent the rest of the night in the ER! It is a Thanksgiving our family will never forget.