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Guyon: Doing The Dinner

(Host) Writer and commentator Annie Guyon has a lot of fond Thanksgiving memories... as well as a few that are downright laughable.

(Guyon) For a holiday that's based on happy feelings like gratitude, Thanksgiving sure seems to produce a lot of anxiety, for a lot of people. For me, Turkey Day stress has usually come not in the form of tense family dynamics but more likely the occasional culinary tragedy.

Take Thanksgiving 1991. I'd just moved into a tiny flat in San Francisco and had proudly told my family that I would be doing Thanksgiving that year. That morning, after turning on the Thanksgiving Day parade, I went in the kitchen to turn on the oven. But being more focused on career than cooking, in those days, I hadn't noticed the oven was one of those compact ones, the kind in dingy motel kitchenettes, and that there was no way a 20-lb bird was going to fit in it.

I envisioned cheerfully announcing to everyone, It's a vegetarian Thanksgiving this year! when I remembered that my boyfriend's barbecue grill was out back on the cement square I called a garden. We fired up the coals, put the turkey in, and everything was going great... til it started raining, hard.Six hours later, when I lowered a platter bearing what looked like a soggy meteorite down onto the center of the table, everyone was very polite. I believe someone even commented on the interesting Cajun flavor.

Then there was the first Thanksgiving I spent with my new in-laws. I'd told them I'd contribute my famous scalloped potatoes. My husband and I were just about to head over to the gathering, where I'd be meeting his entire huge family, and I added the finishing touch to the potatoes - a light dusting of paprika. But as I was lowering the dish into a portable carrier, I noticed something. Well, a lot of things... tiny things... moving... on the potatoes. I dropped the dish, gasping, grabbed the jar of paprika and peered at its contents. It was churning... with critters. Perhaps that was an omen. He's my former husband now.

One of my less traumatizing T-Day memories - well, less traumatizing for me, anyway - was after a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at the home of my brother Stewart and his wife Kristy. We were all watching a movie and Stewart went to get a piece of pie. He didn't turn on the kitchen light, and after fumbling around for a few minutes, came back into the living room with his pie. But upon taking a bite, he raced back to the kitchen, spewing muffled expletives all the way to the sink where he guzzled water from the faucet.

What he'd thought was whipped cream in the leftovers-crammed fridge was in fact another light-colored, smushy substance, but it wasn't a dessert topping. It was gravy. Cold, congealed, turkey-gravy, with which he had copiously adorned his slice of chocolate cream pie.

Hopefully, this Thanksgiving won't turn into a cautionary tale, but at least... my oven's a normal size... my paprika is fresh... and, hmm, maybe I'll get whipped cream in a can this year.

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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