Probable Gobble

an unsolicited tour through my holiday dinner

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

My dad occasionally shoots turkeys, but I’ve never eaten one of them. I’m not against eating wild turkey, I’ve just never been at the house when they’ve cooked one. Turkey hunting is something my dad took up well after I’d left home, so I’ve never tried it. He’s got the big tail feathers up on the wall in the sun room, though, near his deer heads and one of his big fish – frozen in space, mouth agape, curving away from the wall as if it were suddenly changing direction to swim into the kitchen.

The Thanksgiving bird eaten by my family – and my wife’s family – usually comes from one of those huge open-top coolers at the grocery store, not the wild woods and fields of northern Wisconsin. And it’s always good. Our mothers have been managing Thanksgiving dinner long enough to have eradicated the guesswork. They can be their own worst critics, commenting on dryness and whatnot, but I can’t remember the last time I had a bad bite of turkey.

Full Disclosure: I eat most of my Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce, a little dab on each bite, because I like it that way. Deal with it.

But enough about poultry. Get a load of this: My mother-in-law does not like potatoes. I’m reasonably sure she’s not insane. And she seems absolutely in control of her facilities apart from a thoroughly baffling aversion to spuds. She enjoys the occasional potato chip, and will steal your thin, super-crunchy french fries when you’re not looking, but that’s it. At family dinners, my wife usually handles the mashed potatoes. Because her mother clearly suffered from some kind of potato-related childhood trauma of which we do not speak.

I’m assuming this recipe was discovered in a Betty Crocker cookbook from around 1956, or perhaps one of those old, spiral-bound church cookbooks featuring hundreds of ways to concoct a meatloaf.

Speaking of odd holiday dinner preferences, a standard side dish produced by my mother-in-law’s kitchen consists of pineapple bits, cheddar cheese, and crushed Ritz crackers. I’m assuming this recipe was discovered in a Betty Crocker cookbook from around 1956, or perhaps one of those old, spiral-bound church cookbooks featuring hundreds of ways to concoct a meatloaf.

Hold on. I’ll google it.

Ah yes. A few seconds of searching (literally seconds) has revealed pages of results for the lacklusterly named “Pineapple Casserole.” I even found a list entitled “10 Best Baked Pineapple With Ritz Crackers Recipes.” Hint: all of them are made with pineapple, cheddar cheese, and crushed Ritz crackers.

I’ll be honest with you. Despite my initial confusion at the dish, I’ve grown to love it. And thus I’ve decided to bestow a more fitting name upon it: Chedda-Razza-Dazzle. I also considered “Pineapple Spectacular,” but I figured people are more likely to put it in their mouth if there’s a cheese-like word right in the title.

One Thanksgiving a few years back I stepped across some kind of childhood threshold when I realized that I actually like sweet potatoes. Without marshmallows. Keep ’em salty, keep ’em orange, and keep ’em coming, that’s what I always say. Just kidding, I’ve never said that ever. But seriously, that’s how I like them, and if you could make an extra dish for me sans the sugary goo, I’ll squeeze you in the manliest of bear hugs.

Green bean casserole? It’s not bad. But it’s not my favorite. It takes up room I’d rather stuff with another homemade dinner roll. Did I mention my wife makes homemade dinner rolls? She does, and they’re crazy good. Not “my mother-in-law doesn’t like potatoes” crazy, but “my wife was a professional baker before we had kids” crazy good. I like to make tiny Thanksgiving sandwiches out of them, incorporating a tiny sample of every single thing on my plate like I’m some kind of gluttonous Dr. Frankenstein. Because it’s awesome.

Anyway, this Thanksgiving I plan on giving thanks for the food I’m lucky enough to have and lucky enough to share with the people I love – especially the lovely people who cook it with such care. And I hope that you’re lucky enough to do the same.

Full Disclosure #2: I had originally intended to write about my father and his walls full of hunting trophies. Honestly, I did. But then I got hungry. Deal with it.

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