Cafe Reviews

Misfit Thanksgiving: Four New Times Writers Recall Their Most Memorable Turkey Days

Editor's note: As a holiday gift to you, dear readers, we asked some of our favorite writers to regale us with tales from the Thanksgiving table. Enjoy.

Laura Hahnefeld's Fantasy Thanksgiving

For most adults, running away from family commitments and responsibilities, especially on major holidays, is merely a fantasy — conjured up in the mind to escape the realities of impending personality clashes, expectations of joy that never will be realized, and someone's sorry excuse for a dish to pass.

On the first Thanksgiving after we were married, my husband and I, being childless and adult children ourselves, made a snap decision to play out the dream of family-free holiday freedom by ignoring all invitations to Turkey Day dinners and hightailing it to San Diego with little more than the clothes on our backs and a pack of Red Vines on the dashboard. When we arrived, the eighth-largest city in the United States was a mere ghost town, its inhabitants no doubt giving up a day of perfect outdoor weather to exercise their holiday rights of tryptophan, television, and two-hours-later leftovers.

We scored a sweet room at the downtown Westin on Thanksgiving Eve and, for a few hours, kept the skeleton staff busy by ordering room-service hot fudge sundaes and running back and forth from the pool to the hot tub to our room, and in reverse order, until the sugar rush wore off and the management stopped calling to see if we were okay.

Logically, our next stop was the San Diego Zoo, which also was mostly devoid of humans, but happily, still had all its animals on hand, most of whom were enjoying some Thanksgiving Day treats of their own. With a front-row seat to all attractions, we watched with delight as brown bears chowed down on giant bones, giant tortoises ate salads of lettuce, and petting zoo goats and sheep ate kibble from our hands along with a portion of my camera strap.

The San Diego sunset came sooner than we expected and we found ourselves suddenly hungry and trolling the Gaslamp Quarter in search of a Thanksgiving Day meal from the sea. With few options, we settled on a seafood bistro whose staff couldn't wait to leave and whose food was both expensive and forgettable, but we gorged ourselves nonetheless, drinking enough wine to fuel our windy walk to the waterfront, where we listened to the waves and tried not to think about what our families might be up to, or what we would tell them when we returned.

Laura Hahnefeld is the restaurant critic for New Times and still doesn't know where she's spending Thanksgiving.

Laurie Notaro's Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Wine-Free, Fun-Free Vegan Thanksgiving

Last year, when my neighbor Louise asked us whether we'd like to join them for Thanksgiving, I almost kissed her on the lips. But I had to get some vital information before I started to pucker.

"Is butter allowed?" I asked.

"Yes . . .?" she replied, looking a little puzzled.

"Are the rolls made out of rice flour?" I queried.

"Eww! God, no!" she answered.

"Are other carnivores coming?"

"Of course!" she laughed. "Me!"

It was a huge relief, mainly because after the previous Thanksgiving, I was shell-shocked. Actually, that was putting it mildly. I was so wounded that I couldn't pass sliced turkey in the deli at Safeway without getting a little shaky.

The previous year wasn't the first Thanksgiving I had hosted; I was a veteran at getting a huge dinner together for the orphaned and lonely graduate students and colleagues of my husband who made up our circle of friends in Oregon. But as we all counted down the years we had lived in Eugene, strange things began to happen. Things began to change.

At one happy hour, a friend ordered a gardenburger. During a bowling excursion, someone refused the community cheese fries and then made a frowny face, shook his head and rubbed his belly. Another friend looked at the pizza that had just arrived at our table during a birthday celebration and said simply to the waitress, "I can't eat that! Can I just get a side of olives?"

This is what happens when you drink too much at social gatherings; you don't put the pieces of the puzzle together until you start inviting people to break turkey with you, and you find out who it is they've become. At first, a couple of them converted to vegetarianism, which is fine, because there's no meat in pumpkin pie and I just made more green beans. Then came the confession of intolerance. And in Eugene, that means no dairy, no gluten (also known as no joy in life, and it shows). Then the ultimate, which almost felt like a complete betrayal: "We are vegan, and that's with a capital V, thank you very much, pet eater."

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