"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Dear Sister-in-law: How we Do Thanksgiving at our House…

by Julie on November 8, 2012

in Holiday Hell

Dear Hiromi-chan:

So it’s fallen on you this year to make Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sorry. But you’ve got the space, and the littlest kids and the biggest backyard, and most everyone is up that way, anyway.

But it’s occurred to me, sister-in-law, that maybe you’re not totally clear on what sort of things you’ll be asked to bring to the table, so to speak, having been born and raised in Japan.

So I thought I’d write you this quick letter, and go down the list of expected delicacies, and also what you can expect from this most American of traditions.

One of the very few memories I have of my mom in the kitchen is that of her rising before dawn to get the bird in the oven.  “The Bird” is what we jokingly call the turkey. I don’t know why we think it’s funny, but we do. Play along.

Now, there are lots of fancy ways to cook a bird, but your best bet is to stick to the tried and true. In other words, let my brother figure it out.  Just make sure it gets the appropriate time in the oven at the appropriate temperature so we don’t all die horrible deaths from botulism or something. Again, I’m joking. Mostly.

There is equipment involved: a giant roasting pan and a turkey baster and a big spikey thermometer we shank the bird’s thigh with.  I can bring these things to you, along with an electric turkey carver that we will again be letting my brother handle. It’s a man’s job to cut the turkey. It’s just one of those things.

Oh, don’t be alarmed to find a little bag of organs (giblets) tucked inside the turkey. Set these aside because I think we can use them to flavor soup or something like that. We can look it up on the internet later…

  • Stuffing. This used to be made inside the turkey (meaning, you stuffed it into the bird and it cooked from within.) Your better bet is a box or two of Trader Joe’s stuffing. Your niece loves it. In fact, everyone loves stuffing, which is sort of like savory, well-seasoned bread pudding. Buy three boxes.
  • Cranberry stuff. Although growing up we enjoyed the horrific loll of cranberry sauce right out of the can (and sliced into attractive…slices!), feel free to troll the internets and find something a little more palatable.
  • Mashed potatoes. I have taught myself how to make them from scratch. They usually turn out. Mom will try to bring instant. Nod happily and then switch those out with mine when she’s not looking.
  • Gravy. Yes, you could get fancy pants and make it yourself. I’ve always meant to, but the once or twice I’ve tried the results have been … unappetizing. It takes some time and technique. And remember that you’ve married into a family that has very little problem with the pre-made stuff. I could tell you that this year I’m going to give it another try…but who are we kidding? Just buy the shit and we promise not to tell anyone…

These are sort of the very basic side dishes you are expected to have at the Thanksgiving table. We can go ahead and add things like soups, salads, and a plate of cold vegetables which must include tiny gerkin pickles and the kinds of olives you can wear on your fingers.

Why do we wear olives on our fingers? Because it’s a tradition.

You should know that today, for whatever reason, “dinner” starts at about 3 p.m. and is over by 4, at which time, the men will migrate en masse to the living room to watch sports on TV while we start drinking wine and preparing dessert.

Ah yes, dessert: that would be pies. Pumpkin, apple and mince. I don’t really know what mince is, myself. People say it’s nice.

In the years before children, I was known to actually make apple pies from scratch.


(I will be buying pies this year.)

What else? Ah, there is the divvying up of the leftovers and the starting of the turkey soup. I suggest we let Mom take over these tasks, as she’s been doing it for years and it will make her feel useful.

You’ll have more turkey leftovers than you will know what to do with. Fortunately, as you probably already know, having been married to my brother for a decade, is that he does like his turkey sammies.

OK, Hiromi-Chan. I hope this answered some questions for you. Only a couple of weeks until T-day. That’s short for Thanksgiving Day. Deep breath!

Oh, and whatever else you do, DON’T forget the wine!
See you soon!



{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria November 8, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I love olive fingers!


Gina November 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm

order from Bristol Farms and have plenty of wine. Love, Sista Gina


JulieR November 13, 2012 at 2:33 am


Make the gravy, make the gravy, make the gravy. When that’s all you have to do , it’s great (with a glass of red to sip) and realy meditative amidst the craziness. And people love it.

Come on, give it a go! I’ll be with you in spirit!


Julie November 13, 2012 at 7:46 am

I dunno….although yeah, think of the blog fodder….Miss you!!


Laura Zinn Fromm November 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Julie, I’m with you on using boxed (or bagged) stuffing. I buy the Whole Foods brand and everyone loves it. I think they love it more than the other stuff I slave over. Also, I too used to make apple pies from scratch, with cheddar cheese in the homemade dough, back when we were still at Business Week, What were we thinking? Happy T-day to you and yours and good luck to your sister-in-law! If I were her, I’d serve sushi and be done with it xo


Hiromi November 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Hi Julie
Thanks for the tips for the T-day. very very helpful.
I will go to Trader Joe’s to get thoes boxes tomorrow!


Aunt Dorene November 23, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Very, very cute. You are very talented. Is Hiromi really going to do Turkey Day?
Say “hi” to your mom from me. Never hear from her.
We’re going to have to get together.
Happy Thanksgiving ! ? ?


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