I've eaten Thanksgiving dinner at the country club for the past seven years (despite not being a member of the club). Now I know what you're thinking: "What kind of family opts to eat food prepared by strangers in a pricey restaurant over spending quality time cooking together at home? Of all days to eat a home-cooked meal, doesn't Thanksgiving rank near the top?" Well, yes and no.
It wasn't always like this. For 21 years, I had Thanksgiving dinner at home with my family. Everyone had a role in the festivities: My mother and my aunt helped my grandmother in the kitchen, my dad carved the turkey, my cousins and I cleaned up after dinner, and my brother brooded on the couch about his latest girlfriend woes.
During those years, Thanksgiving was about much more than a single day of cooking, pigging out and giving thanks. My whole family would travel to North Carolina to spend the holiday together in the two-bedroom house that my dad and my uncle grew up in. We would be greeted by my smiling grandparents and my grandmother's yummy homemade goodies. We were one big happy family stuffed inside a house not at all meant to accommodate 10 people.
Around the time that I graduated from college my grandmother announced with great fanfare that she was no longer responsible for making Thanksgiving dinner. She and my grandfather would come to Atlanta to visit us instead. This threw a wrench into things because no one else in my family actually knows how to cook. We can follow recipes, sure, but our food would never live up to hers (or so she told us those couple of desperate years that we attempted to make dinner ourselves).
After realizing that cooking and cleaning on Turkey Day was creating more tension than joy, my uncle offered a suggestion: We could eat dinner at his country club, which offered a Thanksgiving Day buffet. At first we all laughed at this idea. I envisioned wealthy men drinking out of brandy snifters and women wearing strings of pearls while nibbling on small plates of gelatinous turkey soufflé. But as avid buffet lovers, we embraced the challenge.
It turns out Thanksgiving dinner at a country club isn't as glamorous as I thought it would be. I've even seen a few patrons wearing jeans. True, it's a little odd that each year I receive an email with a menu featuring about 40 items ranging from Pear Salad with Candied Pecans and Danish Blue Cheese to Lobster Newburg and Roasted Salt Crusted Prime Ribs, Au Jus (what ever happened to just serving turkey and two kinds of potatoes?), but I've gotten used to it. In fact, I've grown to look forward to it, despite the fact that we're given a "time slot." (This year, it's 2 p.m., which is way too early if you ask me.)
Home cooking or not, I'm with my family for Thanksgiving dinner and that's all that matters. We can just enjoy each other's company on one of the few days each year that we're all together, minus the preparation headaches. There are no turkey sandwich leftovers and no extended pajama parties, but the concept of giving thanks remains intact. And besides, I discovered I actually like Lobster Newburg. So thanks, country club. I'm already looking forward to the Baked Atlantic Salmon Kulibyaka.
No matter where you're eating Thanksgiving dinner this year, brush up on your toasting skills and be prepared to raise a glass in thanks. And take a pook at Slashfood's wine pairings -- a bottle of wine is a great hostess gift.