Thanksgiving Dinner Lessons from The Blind Side (or Why a Pre-Made Thanksgiving Can Be the Best Thanksgiving)

Last night I went to see The Blind Side. In case you’ve missed the many tissue-worthy promos for this movie, it’s the story of Michael Oher, an athletically gifted boy from the poorest area of Memphis who is almost lost to the world of drugs and poverty. Through a series of events which from my perspective could only have been guided by a higher power, he is found and adopted by the Tuohy’s, a wealthy family of Ol’ Miss graduates. Leigh Anne Tuohy is a woman with a huge heart, a strong will, and seemingly endless courage. She knows what she wants and always seems to get it. With the Tuohy’s love and support, Michael graduates high school, goes on to play football at Ol’ Miss, and was drafted in the first round of last year’s NFL draft. He now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Even if you don’t know much about football, or don’t care too, you should see this movie. It’s a good reminder of what’s most important in this world: family.

The first weekend that Michael spends with the Tuohy’s is Thanksgiving weekend. The family’s Thanksgiving tradition is to eat a turkey dinner that Leigh Anne buys instead of cooks. In one particularly funny scene, Sean Tuohy says “Kids, thank your mother for picking up Thanksgiving dinner”. The family’s usual tradition is to sit in the living room watching football on not one, but two TVs while they enjoy dinner. The family is a Southern football-lovin’ family, so this suits them just fine. Michael, who has never had a reliable source of anything in his life, much less a family Thanksgiving dinner, goes into the formal dining room to eat. While the movie doesn’t say it explicitly, you get the feeling that eating Thanksgiving around a family table is something he’s longed for his entire life. Leigh Anne sees Michael at the table alone, turns off the TV (much to the chagrin of the family), and herds them into the dining room to eat around the table. They all join hands, say grace, and (unknowingly) start their journey toward becoming a family that includes Michael.

Yup, I was a big fat mess right around then.

Thanksgiving Doesn’t Have to be About Cooking

As I reflected on the movie this morning and that scene in particular, I realized that it’s an important reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about: feeding our souls. Sure, the food is good and there’s usually a lot of it, but we join around a table to give thanks for the lives we have and the friends and family with whom we share those lives. When I wrote the other day about Thanksgiving wine, I postulated that the wine really takes a back seat to the food. I want to postulate now that cooking can take a back seat to the meal. It’s not about how many hours you spend in the kitchen trying to get dinner just right, it’s about the hours you spend with your family around the table, in the living room, and yes, in front of the TV watching football, that are really the heart and soul of Thanksgiving.

I cook for Thanksgiving (and really for just about any other occasion) because the act of cooking and feeding others feeds my soul as much, as if not more, as the food. Cooking brings me sheer joy not only because it is my best creative outlet, but because I’m being of service to those that are the most important to me. There’s nothing more satisfying than to see people around my table enjoying themselves, each other, and a meal. At Thanksgiving, the communal act of cooking further connects me to my roots and my extended family. When I’m making dressing I think of my grandmother. My mother and daughter are, as I write this, in the kitchen making pies galore, a tradition I hope to continue with my grandchildren one day. For me, the planning and execution of such a huge meal is exhilarating and so very, very satisfying.

I am however not necessarily normal.

What’s Most Important to You?

For many, Thanksgiving is a big stressor. A typical thanksgiving menu is tricky to pull off because the oven is occupied by the turkey for most of the day yet sides like dressing and roasted vegetables need extended oven time as well. Most traditional sides need to be served piping hot all at the same time, and the typical Thanksgiving menu is not small so there are many dishes competing for your attention. Thanksgiving is as much of an exercise in planning as it is cooking and because we only have one meal like it a year, it’s not like we’re well-practiced at putting together such a beast of menu. I’ve watched friends’ anxiety levels rise rapidly as Thanksgiving approaches, and by the time they get dinner on the table, they are so mentally and physically worn out that they can’t enjoy the meal or the company. And that just plain ol’ defeats the purpose of Thanksgiving.

I think Leigh Anne was on to something – she had an inherent understanding of what her family needed most at Thanksgiving and a home-cooked meal wasn’t on the list. Michael’s first Thanksgiving with the Tuohy’s wasn’t diminished one bit because it wasn’t made in their kitchen. All that mattered that Thursday was that he was with family. Leigh Anne didn’t need to feed her soul by hand-making her family’s dinner, she fed it by bringing them together and, on that Thanksgiving, extending their family circle to include Michael. She understood her priorities and served them in her own way, without apology. I’d recommend that you do the same.

For many of us, the satisfaction of cooking Thanksgiving is a priority. However, f the thought of preparing Thanksgiving dinner is just more than you even want to consider, or if you’re stressed out already on this Monday about how you’ll get dinner on the table this Thursday, consider taking a page out of Leigh Anne’s playbook and ordering your Thanksgiving dinner pre-made. Remember, it’s not about how the food gets to the table, it’s about the friends and family that gather round the table.

Austin Foodie Bits: Thanksgiving Edition

For my friends living in Austin, you still have time to order a pre-made Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll need to get on the ball and order today or early tomorrow, but there’s still time. I’ve investigated two options and trust that they will serve you well:

  • Central Market offers complete turkey dinners for any size group. Their menu includes oven-roasted turkey, gravy, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry-orange sauce, and brioche rolls. Pies and other dessert are available as add-ons, and if you have other things you’d like to purchase such as cheese and crackers for appetizers or bottles of wine, they will gladly bundle it all together so you can pick everything up in one easy trip. They provide re-heating directions for all of the food so it’s an almost foolproof meal. Dinner for 4-6 is $99.99 and dinner for 6-8 is $129.99. Order by Monday, November 23 to get dinner for Thanksgiving Day.
  • Whole Foods offers a basic turkey dinner that includes mashed potatoes, gravy, relish and rolls. You can then add on a la carte side dishes like herb or cornbread stuffing, Brussels sprouts, potatoe cakes, and more. A basic dinner for 4 is $59.99 and for $6-8 is $79.99. You can also upgrade your turkey to smoke or organic at an additional cost. Whole Foods doesn’t fully cook their turkey, so you have to finish it off in your own oven and then reheat the sides. Even so, the heavy lifting is done for you so this is still a pretty easy approach to Thanksgiving dinner.

I’ve had long talks with the folks at both Central Market and Whole Foods and I’m confident that they can work with you to plan a Thanksgiving meal that will fit your needs. I would recommend getting on the phone with them today though.

The Last Word

No matter who makes your Thanksgiving dinner, I hope that you have a heart-warming, soul-satisfying day with your friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours.

1 Comment

  1. Great, thoughtful, blog Natanya. I know for me, Thanksgiving is all about the EATIN! I normally make pie but this year got a coupon for a free pie from HEB and I used it. While it won’t taste quite as yummy, it was nice to just kick back and relax this year. Hope you are having a great day!