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I'm excited about dinner this Thursday. I'm really looking forward to it. It may seem a little silly to be this excited over one meal, but this Thnaksgiving is special. You see, this Thanksgiving, for the first time in 9 years, I'll actually get to eat a meal I will enjoy. Yes, for the first time since I met my wife, we'll be cooking our own Thanksgiving turkey instead of going to her mother's house.

Now, I'm not one of those guys who attacks his mother-in-law. I like my in-laws and they like me. That doesn't mean, however, that they have any idea at all how to cook. Last year's Thanksgiving celebration was the straw that broke the camel's back.

You see, my in-laws have been married for almost 50 years. They have used every minute of those 50 years developing their own peculiar system for interacting with each other. For the most part, their system is to annoy each other by giving each other unsolicited and unwanted advice on everything from how to drive to how to dress to what to watch on TV. Now that's fine, and I'm sure it helps them pass the time in their retirement, but it really isn't the best system for cooking a dinner, especially when you're going to force your entire family to eat it.

This story is presented without exxageration of any kind, I assure you.

So there we were, last Thanksgiving at my in-laws house...

As we walked into the house, we could hear a discussion going on between my father-in-law (hereafter FIL) and my mother-in-law (hereafter MIL) in the kitchen. They were preparing the vegetables. FIL cut up the potatoes and the squash and plopped them into pots of water for boiling. Half way through the boiling process, MIL came back into the room.

"FIL", she said, "Don't forget to add the spices to the squash as you mash it up, and remember to put the light cream and pepper in the potatoes."

"How many of these dinners have I cooked?", replied FIL.

"Yes dear", said MIL, "And how many times have you forgotten the spices and the cream?"

"Fine!", replied FIL, "You do it then, you know so much."

"Oh, no", said MIL, "you take care of it. I'm sure it will be fine"

The end result - nobody touched the potatoes or the squash throughout the rest of the preparation. In fact, the squash and the potatoes were served exactly as they were cooked - big chunks of each, with no flavoring of any kind. Well, at lest we didn't have to worry about getting all the lumps out.

Next came the stuffing. As it turned out, MIL was supposed to pick up stuffing ingredients, but she had forgotten. Rather than face the inevitable lecture from FIL, she claimed she had gotten ingredients to make her special signature stuffing. Now, it may have been special, but I don't think any rational person would want to put their signature on it. The ingredient list was as follows:

2 pounds ground beef - Yes, I'm not kidding. She was going to stuff a turkey with ground beef.
1 chopped onion
a couple stalks of celery
assorted spices

Okay, so like I said, I'm not a chef, but it looked to me like she was planning on stuffing a turkey with a meatloaf. I left the kitchen to go figure out the time and distance to the nearest McDonalds, hoping that the Dunkin Donuts bagel I ate for breakfast on the way down would be enough to hold me over.

Anyway, FIL didn't come back into the kitchen during the stuffing preparation, and I certainly wasn't going to get involved, so into the turkey went the meatloaf.

Now, I'm no chef, but it was 10:00 AM and we were supposed to eat at 1:00 PM - there was no way a 25 pound turkey was going to cook in 3 hours. FIL came back into the room to relay that tidbit of information and to make a few helpful suggestions to help speed the preparation process. A furious debate ensued. Now since it was a) not getting any earlier, and b) apparent that neither MIL and FIL were going to start cooking the turkey until one or the other of them backed down, I took matters into my own hands. I sent my 3 year old in to ask grammy to help her color. Grammy left the kitchen. Glowing with victory, FIL popped the turkey into the oven. Of course, he was worried about time now as well, since he had just won a battle where he insisted he could cook a 25 pound turkey in a couple of hours. He decided to make up for lost time by turning up the heat from 350 to 500 degrees. I started to tell him that that wasn't going to work, but my wife waved me off. No point in getting in the middle of a 50 year old ritual...

Okay, so next came the rolls. FIL had mercifully bought "ready to bake" Pillsbury dinner rolls, so we were spared eating his "signature bread recipe". The only issue was that his house only has one oven, and that oven was currently set to "inferno" to help speed the turkey along. He figured he could pop the rolls in anyway and just shorten the cooking time. This time, I tried to intercede. Things were getting out of hand and somebody needed to be the voice of reason.

What I learned was that my wife was right in the first place. By making an unsolicited suggestion ("Hey, George, you really can't double the heat to halve the cooking time - it doesn't work that way), I immediately went from trusted accomplice to unwanted interloper. A curt "You want to do this?..." from FIL later, I was banished to the living room with the women and children.

The smell of something burning brought us all back into the kitchen a few minutes later. It seems I was right that you can't cook bread faster by raising the heat. The rolls were pulled from the oven, black as pitch on the bottom and decidedly doughy in the center. FIL insisted that they would be fine and added that with a little butter you wouldn't even know the difference. Umm, right...

It was 12:30 and FIL pulled the turkey out of the oven to let it cool (did it ever even get hot?) and so that MIL could make the gravy. The juice from the turkey was brown and greasy. Remember the meatloaf MIL snuck in as the stuffing? Well, the juice from the beef had mixed with the juice from the turkey and make a disgusting mess. When FIL saw it, a new round of fighting began.

"What did you do to the gravy?", asked FIL.

"It's looks fine", said MIL. "What do you mean?"

"It's dark brown", replied FIL.

"Do you want to do this?", asked MIL.

"Oh no dear", replied FIL, "I'm sure you know what you're doing"

"What's that supposed to mean?", asked MIL, "If you have a better idea, you make the gravy."

MIL left the kitchen in a huff. FIL studiously ignored the gravy. The net result - turkey au jus.

Okay, so the time for the meal was at hand. My brothers-in-law and sister-in-law showed up at the house with their kids. Having grown up in this house, and having a much shorter drive than us, they knew better than to get there too early. My MIL began to lay out the spread. Let's recap. For dinner we had:

Turkey done Pittsburg style - burned on the outside, but delightfully pink in the center
big chunks of squash
big chunks of potato
rolls that were burned on the outside and raw in the middle
ground beef stuffing
turkey/beef au jus

Each part of the meal was a small tragedy in it's own light, but seeing it laid out as a whole, it was almost too much to take. I wanted to laugh right out loud. Even funnier was how we all attempted to choke it down to maintain the illusion that we were one big happy family celebrating our good fortune with a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. The only one who escaped the carnage was my 3 year old daughter. I made up some excuse about how she didn't really like turkey and filled her up on stuff we had brought with us.

In the end, something good did come out of the Thanksgiving dinner. On the drive back to my house, my wife promised me that we would never have to go to her parents house for Thanksgiving dinner again.

Hearing that almost made last year's dinner worth it.

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