Turkey Troubles

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By Andrea Goto

I really like Thanksgiving dinner. And if you’re cooking one, I’d appreciate an invitation-otherwise it’s Wang’s Chinese for my family.

It’s not that I can’t cook—I just don’t do it very well. I realized this the other day when I overheard my five-year-old daughter assure her friend that I can cook “lots of things,” such as—and this is a complete list—“hog dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese, tomato soup and chicken nuggets.”

There’s just so much pressure to make Thanksgiving dinner something out of the ordinary. This is a fancy meal, disguised as a holiday. Mashed potatoes get garlicked and rosemarried, cranberries get jellied and turkeys get dressed (yet somehow remain completely naked). And then there’s all that stress about burning the biscuits or giving Aunt Edna salmonella, when really that’s the only thing that’s going to stop her from telling pilgrim-themed knock-knock jokes.

Here’s what I know: Holidays + Food + Family = The Perfect Storm. Something will inevitably go wrong. For my grandma, it wasn’t just “something”; it was everything my mom cooked. The turkey was dry, the Jell-O salad wasn’t set, and the gravy would alternate between too hot or cold, lumpy or runny. I actually liked everything my mom made with the exception of her stuffing. (I do not want to eat anything cooked in the chest cavity of a turkey, least of all stale bread.) Grandma herself wasn’t exactly an Iron Chef. The only things I remember her making me were deviled ham sandwiches—a.k.a. Satan’s cat food. But the way she criticized my mother’s cooking would make Gordon Ramsey blush. It made Mom cry. It made Dad mad. He took it out on the turkey with an electric carving knife, hacking and sawing like a madman. Bits of turkey flew around the room like meat confetti.

“I told you it’s too dry,” Grandma said.

As I plucked turkey shrapnel from my hair, Grandma sipped a glass of wine and eventually forgot about the gravy—at least until next year. We sat down together as a family and enjoyed a wonderful feast.

And so went Thanksgiving for most of my childhood.

I wouldn’t trade those holidays for anything. They taught me to take the holidays in stride. My friend teared up when she set fire to her sweet potato casserole, but I assured her that I like my marshmallows well done. I happily ate it, carcinogens and all. See, I’ve slurped up mom’s un-set Jell-O salad and I’ve moisturized dried-up turkey in a gravy bath. I’ve seen it all. A sweet potato pie that tasted more potato than sweet. A turkey frying turned turkey mummification. I don’t care if your pre-made crust is burnt or if your canned corn is chewy. I only care that I get my Thanksgiving dinner—and that I don’t have to make it.

I know you all have Thanksgiving horror stories tucked away like your favorite pair of granny panties you can’t part with because however embarrassing they may look, they are comfortable. Familiar. Yours.

So I encourage you to share your stories here—wear those granny panties with pride. Maybe doing so will keep us from taking Thanksgiving—and ourselves—too seriously.

Andrea Goto swore that she would not let her child watch SpongeBob, take ballet, or consume food with Red Dye #40. Of course, that all changed when her daughter was actually born. Five years later, Andrea blogs about her revised approach to childrearing, which she likes to call Real-World Parenting. Her “technique” is based on commonsense and topped with a big dose of humor. Andrea is a regular contributor to PaulaDeen.com.
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I loved your article. Oh, by the way, I burnt the bottom of the rolls yesterday, cut them off and went ahead with dinner.

By Maggie on November 25, 2011


I love cooking Thanksgiving Dinner... I get to take a day off of work and spend all day in the kitchen doing something I love,experimenting with recipes that |"usually" turn out pretty good. Best of all, someone else usually does the dishes! Don't get me wrong, I still burn the rolls from time to time, end up with a jello mold that flops out onto the serving platter, but I've had my share of true disasters. My very first Thanksgiving dinner involved me not realizing there was a bag of goodies inside of the turkey that we fortunately caught in time. And, there was the now infamous mashed potatoe incident that makes my arms sore just thinking of it. Its amazing how little I paid attention to what was going on with the meal prep before I attempted to serve my entire family one. After struggling for what seemed like an eternity to get those potatoes mashed, I finally asked my dad what I was doing wrong. What do you mean I need to put milk and butter in? Really? He is still amused by this event and brings it up every year. Guaranteed that as I'm now using my professional grade mixer to whip up some garlic mashed potatoes, he will yell out, "hey sis' you need some milk and butter" and then go on to tell everyone for probably the 20th year now the story of my first attempt at mashed potatoes!

By Trish on November 15, 2011


Your story made me sad and touched my heart both. Sad for the way your mother was treated for trying to cook for her family and touched me because of the way you took all that in but still have fond memories of the holiday. My very 1st Thanksgiving meal I prepared was the year I was pregnant - not a time to start such a tradition. Between getting sick from all the smells and the stress of making everything just so - I did not enjoy it much. I have a nice schedule made out now - what I need to do each day the few days before the holiday and it all gets done.

By Ellen Renee on November 15, 2011


I have made a Thanksgiving dinner or two...probably more like 30. All came with laughs, disasters, and much praise. This year my husband and I are going with our best friends to another friend's house, where there will be about 20-30 people. What to do? What to take? It's way out of my comfort zone to let someone else have control of the turkey, gravy, and sides. Hope I don't have a panic attack! (just kidding) I need to talk with the hostess soon to see what her menu includes, so I know what to take. Possibilities are endless. On the upside, if you are really in a dilemma about dinner, check with your local grocery store - most are offering complete meals for Thanksgiving, including all of the trimmings. That way you could still have some leftovers to enjoy. Good luck!

By Lisa Dever on November 15, 2011


Rarely does a Thanksgiving go by without a mishap or horror. Here's a few of mine: 1. My grandfather died at the hospital WHILE we were having Thanksgiving dinner at home. (The worst of horrors) 2. My electric service shorted out DURING the cooking of the meal and I couldn't get an electrician immediately so a friend 'hot-wired' (or jumped or whatever) my electricity outside and turned it back on. (I'm sure that wasn't legal, but we had dinner) 3. I'm not a good cook and my first attempt at turkey gravy could have been used as mortar. My brother was making fun of me and actually flipped the gravy in the pan like a huge flapjack. He missed the catch and it landed on the floor with a big PLOP! We actually used a putty knife to scrape it up because it stuck so well to the tile. 4. My mom was pulling out the homemade pecan pie from the oven and she either burned herself a little or lost her balance and dropped the pie on the open oven door. Murphy must have been hanging around that day because it fell topside down :( (and pecan pie is my favorite, of course) That's just 4 out of my top 10. Nuff said....

By Shell on November 15, 2011


One year while planning to have thanksgiving at my mother in laws we had a big wind storm. Her power went out so we changed it to my sister in laws. A little while later, her power went out. Now it's up to me. We had a very large family and they all came to my house. Trouble is, my power went out. Everyone started scrambling to get things together. I put the turkey on a gas grill outside. It was pretty crazy seeing everyone run around trying to make it work. Between that and the microwave it all came together. The funny thing was it was the best turkey ever and we all laughed about it later.

By Patty on November 15, 2011

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm