Monday, November 24, 2014

We Only Have Time For A Few Of Your Questions Before The Entertainment Part Of Our Show

Good Day, Readers. In today's installment of Ask Nance, we'll be following up on a few previous topics and taking questions on some new ones. We hope you find it informative.

Question: Nance, are you any further along in your Thanksgiving Preparations?
Nanceswer: In addition to the two bags of cranberries in my freezer, I now have my fresh turkey and two bags of fresh cranberries in the basement refrigerator, and the remaining ingredients for Thanksgiving Dinner residing in various cupboards, freezers, refrigerators, and pantry. While it was 64 degrees today, I wisely harvested the last of my sage, rosemary, and parsley. And I grocery-shopped at 8 AM today, which might be the Smartest Move I Have Ever Made.

Q: Does this give you time to consider Decorating for Thanksgiving?
N: This gives me time to dog-proof the house and figure out whether or not I can afford a therapist for Piper once Zydrunas has scared the crap out of him for the day.

Q:  Have you thus far escaped an Appliance Betrayal, unlike in years past when on the Cusp Of A Major Holiday?
N:  Surely you jest.  Just this evening, the stove threw an F1 error code accompanied by an obnoxious beep. Additionally, the oven would not turn off.  Was this sort of occurrence mentioned anyplace at all in the literature that came with the stove?  Of course not.  Rick threw the breaker, waited for a moment, then flipped it back on and went into Cleveland to watch professional basketball.  I will be calling the appliance store tomorrow to beg for a repair slot before Thanksgiving.  And hoping like hell that it doesn't happen again tonight when I'm home alone.

Q: But, are you feeling better?
N: Marginally, and with no thanks to homeopathy and natural cold remedies. Here are the Tree-Hugging Rainbow Methods I tried:
homemade chicken soup; hot water with honey and lemon; hot shower; hot bath; apple cider vinegar and honey; drink plenty of water; Vicks VapOrub on the soles of feet; Vicks VapOrub on the chest; SinusBlast hot pepper nasal spray; resting; keeping warm; megadosing Vitamin C; propping up to sleep.

Finally, I said Screw This. I bought Alka Seltzer Severe Cold and Flu Formula Night And Day (or something) and started knocking that stuff back. Now I can sleep without hacking up Huge Phlegm Wads and choking and gagging like a ten-pack-a-day smoker. Soon, I hope to get My Life back.

Q: Can we salvage November?
N: No. Not this year. It sucks. Ask Buffalo. Ask President Obama. Ask anyone in NEO who wants to listen to FM radio and not hear Christmas music. It's hopeless. I have been hard pressed not to open up the Industrial-Sized Can Of Whoopass on The Politics this month. It's killing me. Did you hear that Lindsey Graham--Lindsey "Senator Old Lady Fussypants" Graham is considering a run for the presidency? Of the United States? OF AMERICA?

Q: Is someone A Little Bit Crabby?
N: Yes. Someone really is. And here's what I'm going to do about it. I'm going to watch this and laugh. Join me.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

A Toast To Toast!

Back in The Olden Days when I was teaching, I often inspired gales of laughter, sneers of disdain, and hoots of disbelief when I identified Toast as being among my favourite foods. Especially memorable was the response of a certain Senior Football Player who leaned back in his ridiculously small chair, folded his arms across his chest, fixed me with an extraordinarily disappointed look, and shook his head. "Now that," he said, "is messed up."

At that time and with that audience, there was no credible defense to be made. None. That was a lasagna, steak, pizza, and crab legs crowd, with maybe a few lobster or barbecued ribs tossed in. Toast? Toast and I took our ball (butter?) and went home.

But since I've been down with this egregious cold, I've renewed my love affair with Toast, and really, isn't Toast simply Lovely? Isn't it just The Best? Honestly, how can you go wrong with Toast? I mean, yes, you absolutely can Go Wrong if you burn it (although I did have a colleague, Fran, who purposefully burned two pieces of wheat toast every single morning in the lounge at The Rock for breakfast, its acrid stench scenting the hall for an entire period because she liked it that way), but beyond that, my goodness! Toast!

My personal favourite for all time has to be a very dark pumpernickel rye toast spread with plenty of Real Butter, lightly toasted so that it still has some of that characteristic chew. If you can slice it yourself, how glorious! Thick--thick as you can without having to use a dangerous butter knife in the toaster slot to free it. (We've all done it at some point in our lives and felt that burr of electric shock. Admit it.)

How comforting is a warm slice of cinnamon toast? That's what I have been nibbling on the past few days. Wheat bread, darkly toasted, buttered, then sprinkled all over with a mix of sugar and homey-smelling cinnamon. I don't drink hot tea, but a mug of hot water with honey and lemon accompanies it just fine.

Apparently, a restaurant in San Francisco has an entire menu devoted to Toast. The average price is about $3.50 for one piece, but they use a thick slice of organic, in-house baked bread and local ingredients for the spreads. (One famous food blogger and cookbook author went there and raved about it.) I thought about it for a little bit: would I pay $3.50 for a big piece of Toast topped with, say, cream cheese and black pepper? Yes. But, looking further at the Menu, I would not pay $16.50 for a 12-ounce cup of coffee to accompany it. And that is the cheapest.

But I don't need Fancy Toast, do you? Decent bread, good butter, pleasantly warm and all with the right balance of crisp and tender. Some people, when there is nothing else to eat, or it is too late to cook, they eat cereal. I eat Toast. In that case, Toast with butter and peanut butter. Perhaps, if I'm really hungry, I'll skip the butter and lay on a slice of cheese instead.

Oh, Toast! You're so versatile and so wonderful. So underrated and unappreciated. I will dedicate my eventual Recovery to you.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Do You Know What You Need To Know? It All Depends On What "Need" Means

Yesterday, we discussed Perspective a little bit, and today, thanks to some troubling puzzling journalism over at, we are continuing in that vein. While I am still Unwell, I am resting and exploring the Vast Reaches Of The Interwebs, and becoming Increasingly Distraught at what passes for The Fifth Estate out there. Let me be more clear.

According to, these are the "5 Things You Need To Know Wednesday", meaning yesterday. I have no idea how I happened upon this article, but it is likely that the title, stating that I "needed to know" them, made me do it. Anyway, here they are, and be ready to check them off if You Knew Them Wednesday, and feel smug and the better for that Knowledge.

1. The 'Piano Man' receives top music award from the Library of Congress
2. Rev your engines for the LA Auto Show
3. 10th anniversary of the "Malice in the Palace"
4. Say it ain't snow! No, it's definitely snow
5. And the sexiest man alive is…

These are THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW! ON WEDNESDAY! Now, that was yesterday. If you did not know any, or all, of these things, how did that ignorance affect your life? Let me tell all of you, with unabashed honesty, that I knew two of these only, Numbers 4 and 5. And the only reason I knew Number 5 was because all of the Cleveland news outlets made a huge deal of it since he was here filming The Avengers. As to the others, please. Their Necessity Quotient is zero. I am currently at the very tippy-top of all ten teams of our fantasy basketball league. I hold the trophy for highest points two weeks in a row. My basketball knowledge is, therefore, excellent. But even I did not know that ten years ago Wednesday was the day that the huge brawl happened between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons in which Ron Artest climbed into the bleachers and assaulted a fan.  Yet my life is largely the same, and so is my status as Fantastically Crushing All Comers.  And aside from the ten million people who live in Los Angeles County, how many of the 300 million Americans NEED to know about the LA Auto Show? And even then...NEED to know?  Right.

How trivial these Necessaries seem to me! And once I saw that they were for Wednesday, I snorted with derision when I contemplated what the people could deem Necessary That I Know For Thursday. Something about a TLC reality celebrity? Was something sculpted in Spam someplace? Will Ft. Lauderdale have a boat show? Let's take a look:

1. President Obama readies national remarks on overhauling immigration
2. Transgender hate crimes remembered across the country in Day of Remembrance
3. Inside trading schemer reports for nine-year prison sentence
4. Climate change to increase flood, crop insurance losses to trillions
5. American Cancer Society encourages kicking butt for Great American Smokeout



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Which I Am Contrite, Yet Managing A Little Sprightliness In Spite Of Things
After yesterday's Shameful Display of Bitching and Wallowing, I got a good dose of Perspective, courtesy my news addiction. Thanks to NBC Nightly News and the Interwebs, I have been duly Chastised.

Remember last year when my mantra was "Hey! At least my house didn't explode!", referencing my newfound sense of Zen imparted to me by the sudden destruction of a home around the block from me due to a gas leak? Well, I'm trying out a few more New Mantras, and I'd like to see which one you like the best.

1. "Hey! At least an airplane didn't land in my livingroom!" This one is, I know, awfully similar to last year's. But it happened (not in my neighborhood this time), and here is a picture that proves it.

2. "Hey! At least I don't live in Buffalo!" We here in NEO get the phenomenon known as Lake Effect Snow, but Buffalo got it like they were in the middle of the lake. The kind of snow that they got--more than 70 inches in some areas--is beyond snow. It's like having your period, a broken leg, a PAP test, a gall bladder attack, AND a migraine while you're taking thirty-seven toddlers to Chuck E. Cheese for a birthday party before their naps. The governor needs to call in the National Guard of several states and have them bring flamethrowers. Attached to tanks. Because this:
3. "Hey! At least I have butter!" This one might need some work. While I generally feel grateful for the existence of butter overall, I do feel far more smug about the abundance of it on my grocery shelves right now. Because in Japan, according to one news story, there is a massive shortage of butter due to JAPAN'S EXHAUSTED COWS. "The agriculture ministry has blamed the shortage on a brutally hot summer that affected milk production. The high temperatures left dairy cows simply too exhausted to meet their usual milk quotas." The story goes on to remark that bakeries have started using margarine "in the hope that the slightly inferior taste will be more palatable to customers than the inflated price of cakes and loaves made with butter." DAIRY FARMERS OF AMERICA! JAPAN NEEDS YOUR BUTTER! THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! (No one, and I mean NO ONE should ever have to use margarine.)

Koichi Kamoshida/EPA

So!  You pick a mantra while I struggle with my Shame, And I will try to remember the words of Leon Trotsky, revolutionary, who said, "Everything is relative."  He died when an assassin punctured his skull with an ice axe.  Sigh.  Winter....

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: Forget It. November Is On Its Own. I'm Sick, Freezing, And So Over It.

If you could hear me right now, I sound like Demi Moore with laryngitis, that's how badly my throat is damaged from postnasal drip and coughing. And that's not lipliner I'm wearing; my lips are chapped from wiping my nose, which alternately stuffs up, then randomly starts draining like a leaky faucet. So attractive! I'm alternately crusty and sticky, depending if it's nighttime or daytime, respectively. Oh, November, what a Joy you are!

Yesterday, I had to go out early in the morning. November greeted me with this:

That is the view at the very end of my street.  At 7:45 AM.  My poor little Prius did not care for this at all.  "Oh, but it's so pretty!" so many of you are saying.  Yes, it is. It's very pretty.  I'll give you that.

As a matter of fact, the route I had to take was absolutely gorgeous and, thankfully, clear and only wet.  The snow was heavy and, because it was exactly 32 degrees, wet and clingy.  Every single tree branch, wire, and structure was frosted.  It looked like something out of a movie.  This road in particular, was breathtaking.  But I couldn't stop for photography, as much as I wanted to.  I had to be somewhere.  I caught a few breaks thanks to school buses and traffic heading toward the junior college, but pictures don't really capture it.

Later, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped.  The snow froze.  The wind started blowing it off of all of the trees and structures in hard clumps.  I could hear it hitting the house, the road, the deck, all in thuds and clunks.  I worried about some of the more beautiful, aged trees in the city, as well as power lines.

When Winter sneaks in this quickly, with this much force and cold and snow, it can do a lot of damage.  We still have leaves on some of the oaks and maples here that are slow shedders.  They can hold lots and lots of heavy snow, causing huge limbs to break, downing power lines and crashing into roofs.  Not to mention the sadness of losing the trees themselves, many of them gracious shade-givers or landmarks.  And a lot of residents haven't yet raked up the last of the leaves; the city has not yet come by and vacuumed up the piles along the curb.  If we get a thaw and some rain, which it looks like we will, those leaves will clog up the sewers and cause some flooding.  
By the way, the Tuesday weather is very misleading.  Right now, it is 14, but because of 29 mph winds out of the WSW, it is actually -4.  My furnace has been running since 7:15 AM, struggling to reach 72.  It is now noon, and it is still trying.

November, you've caused a Big Mess.  I hate you a little bit.  Except for Thanksgiving, so far you've brought me nothing but a bad cold, crappy weather, and a bunch of republicans.  After all I've done for you!  

Rick will be the first to tell you that I am Not One To Suffer.  After thirty years in a public school classroom, I honestly feel like Those Days are over for me.  I no longer have to suffer unwillingly. So, this is the end of my Rally.  I'll still post as often as possible this month, but I'm no longer going to try to stick to The Theme.  I'll write whatever the hell I want to.  

So that's that.  I quit you, November, cold turkey.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: November Is An Ungrateful SOB And Someone At Needs A Tutor

Today, Dearest Readers, I am not Feeling It. November is really Letting Me Down, and this after I have championed it to the hilt. I am sitting pitifully defeated in my bigass chair, encased in fleece and self-pity because

1. It is 29 degrees with a windchill of 18 "real feel" degrees.
2. We are expecting 2 MORE inches of snow beyond what is already ON THE GROUND.
3. I am sick.

This is what happens when you help look after two wee relatives who are flinging germy slobber and snot around. Eff.

But thanks to my PBS Insider Email delivery, I can bravely, albeit weakly (sniff), soldier on and today discuss Foods For Which We Are Thankful.

I know. If this isn't the most ridiculous, nonspecific, goofiest topic ever conceived, the opening sentence will firmly cement for you the idea that some poor intern was simply trying to meet his or her deadline and find a way to present/link to previous recipes. Get ready; here is the first sentence:

Many people have favorite ingredients when they are cooking that you don’t know how you could do without them.

Wow, If that is the standard of your writing, you must have some first semester tenth-graders working part-time after school over there. The article then goes on to exclaim that "In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, [they] have compiled a list of ten foods that [they] are thankful for this year", and that they have "included a few suggestions for recipes that you can make with each item on the list." I know you can't wait--neither could I--so let's take a look at those favourite ingredients that we simply cannot do without, according to

1. Eggs
2. Carrots
3. Mini Chocolate Cakes
4. Peppers
5. Sushi
6. Cheesecake
7. Sandwiches
8. Pesto
9. Beef Bourguignon
10. Refreshing Cocktails

I am struggling mightily to come up with a recipe in which Beef Bourguignon is an ingredient. Ditto Sushi, Sandwiches, and Refreshing Cocktails. I suppose you could toss Mini Chocolate Cakes and Cheesecake into ice cream for something, or you could use them in a trifle or parfaits. Let's look at what the accompanying recipes are for Beef Bourguignon right at the source: Coq au Vin and Cream of Asparagus Soup! Why, of course! Duh.

Please don't tell the Fine People at that I have done without all of those "ingredients" for weeks at a time. A dozen eggs even now languish in their carton here in the Dept. fridge. Two dozen, actually. Luckily, they are free-range, Amish farm eggs, and will last until Thanksgiving pie and dressing preparation. And pesto season has been over for aeons now. (Okay, months.) And I refuse to buy someone else's.

So, what are some of My Favourite Ingredients That I Simply Cannot Do Without?

1. Onions
2. Potatoes
3. Real Butter
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5. Balsamic Vinegar
6. Pasta
7. Extra Sharp Cheddar
8. Dried Thyme
9. Wine
10. Chicken on the Bone

Keep me company by hauling out your snark.  You and I both know that PBS can--and should--do better.  And what are your Must-Have Ingredients?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: The Dept. Of Nance Thanksgiving FAQ

Whether you like it or not, turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving, and so much so that Butterball, Foremost Turkey Purveyor, has had a Turkey Hotline for more than thirty years. They have even taken to the Interwebs with this service, and in addition to calling their team of Turkey Experts at 1-800-BUTTERBALL, you can now live chat with them or email them via their website, here.

Not to be outdone, The Washington Post, journalistic bastion of all Beltway News and winner of forty-seven Pulitzer Prizes, has announced that, from now until Thanksgiving, it will be answering "some of the most commonly asked holiday meal questions." You can "E-mail [them]or join [their] weekly live Web chat on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. For complete Turkey Day coverage, visit [their] Thanksgiving Central page."

Well, hell. I feel as if I have a ton of Thanksgiving Expertise to offer, but I don't have an 800 number or a newspaper. I do have this website; however, I don't want to wait around for people to submit questions or possibly ask things I don't want to talk about. So, I'm going to do it the Nance Way. Here, then, is

The Dept. Of Nanceswers, Thanksgiving Edition

Question: Must I serve an organic turkey at my Thanksgiving meal?
Nanceswer: Of course not. If you have a guest who insists upon a free-range, organic, fresh, or bilingual turkey, then politely request that he or she bring it so that it is correctly purchased, stored, and prepared. The same goes for any other special dietary request. Cheerily offer to provide the necessary serving pieces, and say that you look forward to tasting such a wonderful treat.

Q: Is it okay not to include kale, quinoa, or chia seeds in my Thanksgiving menu?
N: Absolutely. These trendy foods will welcome the respite, and butter will be glad for the work.

Q: How long do we have to wait for late guests? Is there a fifteen-minute rule, like for professors?
N: Just as no Fifteen Minute Rule For A Full Professor actually exists, no hard and fast rule for tardy dinner guests does either. But perpetually late guests are always Rude, and this behaviour should not be rewarded year after year. Call their bluff and sit down to a hot dinner. They will catch up and, hopefully, catch on. After all, microwaves were invented so that we could warm plates of food quickly and efficiently. Late guests can do this when they arrive. Greet them warmly, but without fanfare and judgment.

Q: How do you feel about The Kids' Table?
N: I am largely against it. Children should sit at the table with adults and learn about conversation; they should try new foods, observe and practice table manners, and be supervised by their parents. Thanksgiving is a great time for kids to sit down and learn how to eat a full meal in a relaxed setting and enjoy company.

Q: What wine do you suggest for Thanksgiving?
N: I've had lots of different wines with turkey, from a dry rose to Beaujolais Nouveau to a rich, oaky Chardonnay. All of them have been lovely. I think you should open a couple of wines that you truly enjoy and do just that, enjoy them. I would stay away from any sweet wine, like a riesling or the simply terrible white zinfandel or the dessert-y moscato. On principle, I'd stay away from those last two entirely, forever. But that's just me.

Q: Should I brine, deep fry, or otherwise do something worky to my turkey?
N: Only if you have nothing else to keep you busy and active. Have you tried crossword puzzles, knitting, or building low-cost housing for feral cats in your area? How about reformatting your laptop? Did you ever put all of your old super8 movies into a digital format? Just checking.

Q: How have you decorated your home for Thanksgiving?
N: I have two bags of cranberries in my freezer.

Q: Can you suggest some creative alternatives for pumpkin pie?
N: Listen. If you don't want pumpkin flavour, then make anything else you want. Make a chocolate cake. Make a pecan pie. Make a huge trifle with raspberries and hunks of pound cake. But if you like pumpkin spice flavour, stick with the pumpkin pie. Why mess with it? Let's face it: pumpkin roll, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins--all that stuff tastes like pumpkin pie and that's why people love it. So, either do the pie or do a 180 and make something else.

Q: Are you a Brussels Sprout Person?
N: Oh, my, yes. I am crazy about them. One of the finest drinks nibblies ever is an appetizer made by the chef at Nemo's restaurant in Avon, a little town near me here in NEO. It's sliced, fried Brussels sprouts with a little bit of bacon, balsamic reduction, and toasted pistachios. Those with a dirty vodka martini...perfection. But I'll take them straight up, steamed with a little butter and salt and pepper, too, and have them fresh on Thanksgiving.

Q: Is it acceptable to have plain vegetables rather than candied, casseroled, au gratined, escalloped or the like?
N: Yes, and I always do. With the abundance of food and gravy and starch like dressing, mashed potatoes, and rolls, I like to have plain vegetables with real butter, seasoned with salt and pepper only.

Q: What should be done regarding cell phones at the Thanksgiving table?
N: Unless someone is a medical doctor, has an aged parent in a Home or hospital, or will be Skyping in a distant relative (such as a member of the armed services overseas or a married child who is giving the in-laws their turn), the cell phones should be put away and silenced. This may be akin to Social Suicide for some tweens and stunted adults, but they will get over it. Slapping offenders is, of course, forbidden; instead, fix them with a stern yet sad look and say, "Why don't you go ahead and take care of your very important business in the other room? We'll make sure that a nice plate is left for you in the fridge." It does no good to force anyone to be someplace he does not want to be. But the rest of the table should not have to be subjected to someone's bowed head attending to an absent third party all during dinner.

Q: What about the crushing guilt if I don't use real whipped cream?
N: Get over it. I know that Cool Whip is a whole bunch of chemicals and grease. I also know that I use it only about twice a year and that it's way easier than making and storing real whipped cream. If your guilt is so strong, buy ReddiWip. It's made with real cream. Wow. Are you Catholic?

Q: What do you suggest regarding the attire for Thanksgiving?
N: Some families like to dress in their Sunday Best for this holiday and make it a very festive, special event. It makes for a lovely scene and, if you are This Type Of Family, some pretty photos. For the Dept., we dress quite casually, and I often consider having Jammies Thanksgiving. For us, it is a holiday of extreme relaxation and togetherness and joy. I think it's a matter of family style and preference. Ideally, generous and stretchy waistbands would be a given.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for all the leftover turkey?
N: Is this really a problem, honestly? Do people A) not know how to figure out how big of a turkey to buy; B) not have a love of turkey sandwiches; C) not have the Interwebs? I rarely have any leftover turkey, and it's a little irritating. When I have a little leftover turkey (or chicken), I like to make a big pot pie, which also uses up any other leftovers like potatoes, veg, and even dressing, which can be cubed up or sliced up and put on the bottom. It all gets mixed up with the leftover gravy, which can be supplemented with some good jarred or canned gravy. I use the turkey carcass and wings for soup, or at least stock.

Q: What about leftover cranberry sauce?
N: Why don't we make this terrific condiment more often? It's delicious with roasted pork, and it's wonderful on buttered toast or a bagel. You can use it with apples in a crisp. Warm it and spoon it over brie, then serve it with baguette or apple and pear slices. If you want to get terrifically worky, buy those little phyllo cups and spoon a little bit of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of each one; add a chunk of brie or a white farmer's cheese, then a walnut half; bake in a 350 oven for about 8 minutes, til the cup is golden, and the cheese is melty. Lovely!

Q: What should we do if we have any more questions?
N: Ask them in Comments.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: Can I See A Menu, Please?

A great deal of American Thanksgiving lore exists, and I did my part in perpetuating much of it, dutifully wearing a construction paper hat or headband in the primary grades as I learned all about how the Indians and Pilgrims sat down together and shared a feast. I crayoned any number of smiling Pilgrim women holding platters bearing huge roasted turkeys at the heads of outdoor tables, around which were seated Indian men and women, also smiling. Imagine my astonishment when I found out--so very much later--that the First Thanksgiving was a far, far different affair than what I had been led to believe.

Basically, though, the sentiments of the Thanksgiving holiday remain the same, regardless of their iteration: Gratitude and Food. Let us give thanks and celebrate the bounty of our harvest/season. I don't have a single quarrel with either one of those, in principle. But let's do talk about The Food.

Thanksgiving Dinner's menu is, at least in my family, Untouchable and Fraught With Tradition. One year, I happened to think out loud about trying my sister Patti's recipe for turkey dressing (stuffing) which calls for sausage and apples. Things got Dark in a hurry, and I thought Jared would have to be placed in restraints. As a result, I don't mess with the main menu, but I've streamlined it and eschewed quite a few things thought of as Traditional and almost Required.

Spurred on by Dear Reader fauxprof, who suggested this sort of Food Topic, I've asked Jared to team up with me for this post about

Thanksgiving Foods That Need To Go


Not all Thanksgiving foods are created equally. Here are some that I am done with forever because they are stupid and terrible and not great or good. Also, Thanksgiving should not be referred to as “Turkey Day”. Ever. Unless you are some sort of child, hillbilly, vagrant, or pervert.

1. Cranberry Jelly Thing – The hell do we need this for? It wiggles, it jiggles, it sort of…melts(?) in your mouth in an unpleasant way. Cranberry relish is the Elite Thanksgiving Fruit Related Dish. If you want to ruin something, add some of this stuff to it. Brutal.

2. In-The-Bird Stuffing – Turkey, and sometimes a roasting chicken, are literally the only times in our culture where it is acceptable to stuff stale bread into the ass end of something and then eat it A WHOLE DAY LATER. You guys, say that out loud. Go on. I’ll wait. See? Just make “dressing” (which is an awful name for that). Nice, neat, delicious little hunks of glory. Line them up in a pan, slap them in the oven. Better yet? They’re delicious cold the next day. “I’m going to eat this cold buttstuffing for a snack. What’s that? No. No. I put this in the turkey’s rear about 36 hours ago.” 36 hour old buttstuffing? Uh…Pass.

3. Green Bean Casserole – “BUT JARED MY FAMILY LOVES THIS!” I’m positive that they do. Hell, I enjoy it just as much as the next guy. “BUT JARED IT'S SO EASY TO MAKE!” All right. My thing here is this: you can basically make it in 15 minutes any of the other 364 days of the year. I feel like Thanksgiving should be reserved for Elite Level Occasional Foods. I know that not everyone is a gourmet or whatever, but I think that anything that can be made in two steps with ingredients that can exclusively come from cans needs to be eliminated from the equation. I don’t know. Just seems sort of…generic. It is not an indictment on the folks that make, serve, or love this dish. It is an indictment – nay, a condemnation - of this dish’s presence at otherwise decadent food affairs such as holidays.


1. Casseroles. I understand that, in many cases, people are bringing food to large gatherings. It's easy to toss together a broccoli-rice-cheese thing or a scalloped corn thing. But casseroles are usually heavy and full of filler stuff like breadcrumbs and condensed soup and starches. They are also great at drying out, looking ugly, and sometimes being The Dreaded Green Bean Casserole or, worse,...

2. Candied Sweet Potatoes. I have to second fauxprof on this one. What sad, thwarted Inner Child invented the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole? It is called a SWEET potato already. (And please, restrain yourselves from delivering the sweet potato vs. yam lesson. It simply is not germane here.) It is a neverending source of bewilderment to me that restaurants all over the USA serve brown sugar with sweet potatoes as it is. Or cinnamon, even!   What on earth is next? Will there be a sweet potato bar with butterscotch chips and caramel sauce? Maple syrup and toffee pieces? This has to stop. Good heavens, if you even dare, look at this. My teeth hurt.

3. Jello. You know, I've just about eliminated all Jello from my life, and I have not missed it one bit. It hasn't been a part of my personal Thanksgiving, but it's often a part of big family Thanksgivings. When I was a little kid, I had several aunts who brought Jello dishes: one rather nice cranberry walnut sort and another not-so-nice orange one with shreds of lettuce and carrots in it that I still cannot understand to this day. Every once in a while, I get a craving for a lime Jello concoction that has cream cheese and pineapple in it, but I wait for it to pass since I am the only one who likes it.

4. Pies Other Than Pumpkin.   My love of pie is well known, but Truth be told, I do not like pumpkin pie. I make two of them, however, because when else do you make/eat pumpkin pie? Plus, everyone else likes it, so I just don't eat pie at Thanksgiving. There is no reason to make a lot of other pies and desserts and slave away. If no one liked pumpkin pie, then okay, I'd make something else. Sometimes, I just grab the whipped cream and have that with a little chocolate syrup. Or I eat someone's crust. "Nance, why not make pumpkin cheesecake?" you may ask. I don't like cheesecake, and Jared would hurt himself if there were no pie.

Basically, I'm fine as long as there is turkey (dark meat), plenty of gravy, and mashed potatoes. I'd even give up rolls--actually, I have, even when I haven't forgotten them--even though they are a great vehicle for two fine Thanksgiving accoutrements, butter and gravy.

Let's hear from the rest of you, Dear Readers.  What about all that food?


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: Dream Home Thanksgiving Planner

By now, so many of you are thinking, 'Nance, your series is not so aptly named. It should be titled Rally For November since you have yet to bring us any valuable Tips For Thanksgiving or truly Thanksgiving-themed posts.' Probably there are some of you nervously wringing your hands and downing anxiety medications, wondering when I'm going to start helping you manage your Thanksgiving preparations. For those of you in the latter group, I sincerely hope that you have not, in your jangled state, stumbled upon this frightening article provided by PBS Food. Innocently headed Thanksgiving Planning Checklist, it instead sets an agenda that assumes all of us are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner which will not only be featured in Gracious Living magazine, but televised on the Martha Stewart Network and attended by Heads of State, The Royal Family, and quite possibly, The Cleavers.

According to this article, I am already too late by several days to help you with some preparations, for we should have already at three weeks out:
1. Invited guests
2. Ordered our organic turkey
3. Set our budget
4. Started checking our local grocery ads
5. Planned our menu
6. Pulled out our decorations
7. Purchased additional decorations

Allow me to make all of you feel better when I tell you that I have done Exactly Zero of these things. Furthermore, I can tell you that I will do Exactly Zero of these things. Not only is the menu the same every year, but so are the guest list and the decorations, the latter being nonexistent. Once all of the food is on the table, there is no room for decoration. Besides, the boys would probably try to eat it.

At two weeks out, we must:
1. Check our linens
2. Plan our centerpiece and table decor
3. Buy our frozen turkey (if we are doing so to save money)
4. Check our kitchen supplies and tools
5. Finalize what dishes our guests will bring
6. If deep frying a turkey, double-check the fire extinguisher

We are safely within Two Week Territory, so I'm sure we can all zip into our Linen Closets to do an inspection. I have not yet purchased a turkey, but I have thought about it several times. And my kitchen tools are in a constant state of inventory because I cook all year. Period. Number Five continues to make me chuckle because the day that Jared and Sam and Kait bring something to my home for dinner is going to be a fascinating day indeed. This year, it may well be Blue Buffalo dog food, and it won't be for the table.

At one week out, we rent Downton Abbey (the actual place, not the series), and proceed to:
1. Order flowers
2. Polish the silver
3. Buy wine
4. Plan activities for the children
5. Check our seating
6. Finalize our shopping plan

I think someone is on a whole different Plane Of Existence when she can advise this about polishing silver: "It's probably the least enjoyable task to prepare for any holiday. (Suggestion: Turn it into a game or competition for your kids.) We recommend doing it leisurely with a glass of wine over a night or two the week before Thanksgiving, as opposed to fitting it in to the stress of Thanksgiving week." (Italics are mine. I also had to add the apostrophe in It's.) By the way, I have a silver casserole dish that I got as a wedding present thirty-three years ago. It's still in its original wrapping. Free to a good home, except for shipping costs.

From there the checklist moves to chores that should be done on Saturday/Sunday, then on each day leading up to Thanksgiving. Most notable are three more shopping trips including one to a farmer's market to "swing by to pick up perishable items you need." Also interesting is the quite bossy and judgy observation that the weekend before Thanksgiving is the "perfect time to thoroughly clean your house for entertaining. If you take care of the deep cleaning now, you will only need to tidy up a bit next week. (Unless of course you have small children, in which case you probably basically clean the house every single day.)" And, one last Suzy Homemaker salvo: "Prep your pies on Monday, bake them on Wednesday and warm them on Thursday. Some prefer to bake an apple pie during dinner, but really you just need to warm it." Don't you love the implied wink wink, nudge nudge, only we girls will know?

This article is enough to make me stop donating money to PBS. Is everyone over there crazy, insanely wealthy, drunk, or somehow lost in another decade? Did some poor peon find an old scan of a page from Godey's Lady's Book and retype it?  Did Miss Piggy stage a coup?

What a fantastic lot of bullshit.  If I submitted to you My Thanksgiving Checklist, it would start at One Week Out.  Actually, it can start Right Now:
1.  I have two bags of cranberries.
2.  They are in my freezer from last year.

And how are your preparations going?


Friday, November 07, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: Something Romantic

In college I studied the great British writers. My area of specialization was Nineteenth Century, and I took a wonderful class in Romantic poetry from delightful Dr. Wolfe, whom I have written about here before. It wasn't long before I fell madly and profoundly in love with John Keats, both the man and his works.

Dr. Wolfe was sympathetically tolerant of my disdain for Wordsworth and my impatience with Byron. I was oddly singular in my staunch defense of Keats, and I'm not entirely certain that it wasn't with me in mind that my professor engaged a certain talented speaker for class one day, a young actor who was performing a one-man show as John Keats over the weekend in nearby Toledo.

The day John Keats arrived in class, I was transfixed. Dr. Wolfe had not said a word about the visit beforehand, so we were all taken completely by surprise. Of course, his dress and his accent were authentic, and he was in command of the finer details of Keats' life and sad death. He gave the class what was likely a relatively practiced lecture/show, an abbreviated but more academic version of his stage play. But one of the things I remembered so well was his voice, especially as he recited for us Keats' Ode to Autumn.

It was a golden, bright day in November, and our classroom had a whole back wall of windows overlooking the courtyard. Every time a breeze blew, a cascade of yellow leaves fluttered down. The dry leaves on the walkways skittered and rustled, and the soft brown smell of Fall was in the air. As John Keats recited the poem, his voice was like a purring cat on a warm lap. "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,/Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun...". I was lost; for the remainder of the class, I was in the nineteenth century, and John Keats was my companion.

When the time was over, I was incredibly sad. Hoping to prolong it somehow, I stayed behind for a little while, and I walked with the actor, asking a few more questions and getting the name of a great Keats biographer. He was enthusiastic, friendly, and very nice.

Stepping out into the glorious November day, I lifted my face to the obliging sun. Romantic Poetry was my favourite class of the day, and it was such a gorgeous day! I pulled my textbook out of my backpack and sat down on the steps to read, once more, while that voice was still strong in my mind.

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

image credit

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: The Best Medicine

Today, November tried its hardest to give me a Melville Day. (See yesterday's post for a full explanation.) The sun had apparently worn itself out after its extended engagement earlier in the week, and we also had rain, that cold, ugly rain that greys up the sky, the day, and the soul. Had I not had a quick morning checkup with My Hero, the neurologist, I probably would have spent the whole day trying to justify remaining in my jammies and fleece robe, doing just enough Domestic Goddessing to stave off Guilt while intermittently chatting and playing Words With Friends via the Interwebs (on my phone, as I said I would never, ever do, for those of you scoring at home).

Instead, I got dressed and coaxed my short short hair (still growing out) into yet another new iteration and grabbed a bottle of dry riesling and headed out to see my doctor.

Yes, I took wine to my doctor's appointment. Dr. B. is another reason I like November.

My original neurologist, whose name I don't remember, was a Filipino gentleman and was kindly and sweet. He was tiny and smiled all the time, and he was quite thorough and methodical. When he decided to retire, his practice was referred to Dr. B., a Cleveland Clinic neurologist whose examining rooms were outfitted with laptops. My first appointment was memorable in that he complimented me on not misspelling "mycin" when I wrote that I was allergic to mycin drugs. "Most people spell it with an a, as in myacin," he said brusquely. "I find that very irritating." I looked up at him and smiled. "I teach English," I said. "I'm very careful about spelling."

From that moment on, we had a great deal to talk about, and sometimes now it is difficult to squeeze in my migraine condition. We have discussed literature, education, language, oh, all sorts of things. And because it is a migraine trigger for me as well as our shared passion, we often discuss wine. As it happens, Dr. B. is a former resident of Toronto, so he is quite familiar with my favourite wine regions. "I'm bringing you a bottle of a truly extraordinary dry riesling," I said to him last May. "It's from the Bench region, and you will love it. It's an award winner; it's balanced and not too sweet, but there's not a lot of minerality." He looked at me out of the corners of his eyes as he poked savagely at the keyboard, summarizing my office visit. "I like the German style. I need a little sweetness. I can barely go off-dry. Did we try magnesium, once a day, 250 milligrams?"

Today, I set the bottle of Vineland 2009 Dry Riesling, (Gold Medal Winner) right in front of that poor keyboard and waited for him to sweep into the room. (Truth be told, I feel equally sorry for the hinges on the doors.) "So," he said, with emphasis. "How have you been? How many headaches?" He looked up from the folder to me, then noticed the bottle on the computer table. "Is this for me?" He smiled, then looked at the label. "Vineland? Is that...New Jersey?" I shook my head and laughed. "No, Dr. B.! Canada, remember?" He rolled his eyes. "Of course," he said. "Niagara. But, you do know about Vineland in New Jersey, don't you? It's the largest city in New Jersey by area. It's huge, but there's nothing there. It has only about sixty thousand people." And that's all it took. From there, we talked about New Jersey being the Garden State, his attendance at a German dinner at a local restaurant, raising his kids to speak Ukrainian in the home, ESL instruction, wine, weather, and about a dozen other things, including my migraines. When it was time for me to leave, I had thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and so had he. He thanked me again for the wine, walked me to the front desk, chatted some more, then put on and zipped up his jacket. "I'll be back at two," he said and sauntered out the back door.

"Was I his last appointment of the morning?" I asked. The receptionist smiled. "Yep! He was actually supposed to have been gone about twenty minutes ago."

On my way home I noticed how, because of the rain, the tree trunks were black, providing a dramatic contrast for the remaining autumn leaves. The crimson, gold, and cinnamon foliage looked even more brilliant against this darkness and the steely sky.  My windshield wipers swept across to clear away the raindrops every now and then.

wine doctor image

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Rally For Thanksgiving: I Need A November Attitude Adjustment

When October blazes away in a brilliance of red maples, I greet the arrival of November with dread. November, as my son Jared would say, is the start of "some serious shit." It's obvious that I need to Adjust My November Attitude in order for my Rally/Rescue Mission to be successful. What, exactly, is my November Problem? It's made up of several parts.

I. Weather. November in NEO represents the messy end of Autumn and the beginning of Winter. There are tons of days in November when I feel...I feel...well, here; let me quote Herman Melville: --"myself growing grim about the mouth;... a damp, drizzly November in my soul;... myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially... my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off...". But there are lots of days--like yesterday's 64-degree and sunny one!--where November is gorgeous and Autumnal with no hint of the winter to come. November is a little schizophrenic in NEO, and because I know that winter means less freedom for me, I make November pay for that.

II. The Holidays. In October when the Christmas stuff starts appearing in stores and even on television, I can still merely grouse and be outraged. "Walgreens has its giftwrap out already, and it's only October 14th," I can huffnpuff to Rick over a glass of Chardonnay while he watches Dr. Phil and pretends to commiserate. But in November, I have to reckon with the fact that while it's irritating and pushy, it's not so far out of the realm of retail etiquette. After all, it is November! Even I have to think about ordering my turkey and come to terms with figuring out how we will accommodate Zydrunas (the granddog) this year with regard to all of the holidays. As all Women Out There know, once November hits, the Holiday Juggernaut is launched, and our Management Hormones go into overdrive.

III. The End Of Farmstand Produce. This one is probably making you laugh, but honestly, I really do actively mourn the closing of my favourite farmstands and the availability of fresh, homegrown tomatoes, corn, peppers, berries, and all of the other summer and early fall crops. Not a single place is open now. No more yellow squash! Not even butternut or acorn! Just apples, apples, apples, and soon, those will be gone, too, except for bin apples. No rhubarb, either! Why didn't I freeze a bunch of this stuff? Sigh. Thankfully, the Amish stand is open near the lakehouse, and I can still grab a few lingering goodies there along with my free-range eggs and home-churned butter.

IV. Time Change. Can we chuck the whole Daylight Saving Time construct entirely and be done with this once and for all? It seems silly and archaic, and there are still enormous parts of the population who can't even say it correctly, adding an S to Saving. How insane that we all move clocks forward and backward twice a year. All I know is that when Jared and Sam were little, it played hell with bedtime and awakening. With Piper and Marlowe, it means I get nagged way early for cat food. And I want my jammies by four PM. Wait...that's not so different.

You know, I need to Get Over It. November needs me! And it can be beautiful in its Own Way. So:

I. Adjustment: Weather. It was 64 yesterday and it is 50 today. The sun is shining warmly, and my little Japanese maples are fiery red. I had windows opened up yesterday for a good airing-out, and my furnace was turned off, yet the house still registered a toasty 73. I live in NEO, for heaven's sake, and November usually delivers precious little snow.

II. Adjustment: The Holidays. I can do this, and I have done this. Hell, last November, I wrote every day about how To Do This. I'm no cupcake and this ain't my first rodeo, mixed metaphor notwithstanding. Besides, my wine cellar is well-stocked. That can get all of us through anything.

III. Adjustment: The End Of Farmstand Produce. In the words of my friend Leanne, who can find for every occasion a quote by Agador from the film The Birdcage, "It's gonna pass." Besides, I went out to my herb garden and found this:
My photography was hampered by the presence of workmen next door, but I have two jalapeno plants, and they are both full of jazzy red  and green peppers and showing no ill effects from the fluctuating temperatures.  And see that parsley on the right?  It actually looks more like this:

That stuff is Out Of Control.  It's about three feet around and about fifteen inches high.  And yes, I'll have fresh sage for my turkey, barring any November Nastiness:

(I see you, Oregano and Chives!  Thanks for sticking around; hang in there.)

IV.  Adjustment:  Time Change.  Who am I kidding?  No one loves cocooning more than I do.  And getting up earlier in the morning means fewer crowds at the grocery store or wherever I need to be.  Big deal.  I'm affected very little, really. And the S Thing?  Please.  How long have I endured the Plural Apostrophe?  The mangled saying, "I could care less"?  The rampant misuse of your, you're, its, it's, their, they're and their?  It's a nothing.

Gosh, I feel better.  And as I was poking around the Interwebs looking for that Melville quote, I came across a favourite song of mine in a particularly lovely version.  September Song, despite its title, always makes me think of November.  Here is the only recording I could find of it, which is sad because it is entirely stupid.  Just close your eyes, however, and listen, or go here and read the lyrics as it plays.  Here's to twenty-five more days of a Beautiful November.  (Yes, twenty-five.  Remember:  "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November.  All the rest have thirty-one....")

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

I Need Your Help To Save November

Holy crap, it's November already! Of course, all of you knew this because as soon as Halloween candy began showing up on the shelves, Christmas doodads also insinuated themselves, their tinseled tentacles surreptitiously slithering along behind the fun-sized Snickers and the M&M Share-Paks. Now they've grabbed a bright and shiny hold and exploded into full-blown displays of giftwrap, Santas, tree-trimming shoppes, and Heaven Help Us, my Plain Dealer had The Toys R Us Big Toybook inserted into itself this past Sunday.

November has lost its personality. It is a month with an Identity Crisis. Think about it: September is still associated with the beginning of Autumn, the start of the school year, Labor Day, and the end of white shoes (no matter what the New Fashion Mavens may say). October is all about the orange and golden side of Fall, the gladiators on the gridirons, apple cider and cinnamon spice, and Halloween with its attendant ghosts and ghouls. We all know about December's personality: it's defined by Christmas or Hanukkah for most of us; it's festive and full of holiday spirit. It means decoration and colour and sparkle and snowy scenes and indulgence. It means, too, shopping and gifts and ribbons and wrapping. In a less commercial way, it can also mean music and family and togetherness and travels.

When I was a little gradeschooler, we always had a huge chartpaper calendar for every month, and every month had a picture or two on it that the teacher had cut out of construction paper. September had an apple and a ruler for back-to-school and maybe our county's bumper autumn crop. October had a jack-o-lantern. I loved February, which had a big red heart, and two silhouettes in cameo of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. (I think I was in love with President Lincoln even then.) For November the chartpaper calendar had a cutout of a big brown turkey. And we all made those construction paper turkeys by tracing our hands and then adding colored paper feathers with that crummy school paste that never held once it dried. (I never knew any paste-eaters, for the record. I wonder if that's an Urban Legend.)

But back to my point, and I do have one.

We need to Rally For Thanksgiving. This is a Holiday that has become lost along the way, obliterated by The Christmas Deathstar. And in that wake, November has become lost as well, also destroyed by The Politics, because aside from Thanksgiving (aka "That Day We Can Start Christmas Shopping For Reals!"), the only thing poor November is known for is dark money ads and Two-Party System Mudslinging.

I want to metaphorically paste a big ol' brown turkey back onto November and I want to save Thanksgiving. Will you help me? Will you Do Your Part? Because this is a Big Mission, and it will take All Of Us.

If you will, if you agree, Step One is to Take The Vow:

VOW: I will Honour Thanksgiving and keep it pure for all the month, not pushing it aside for Christmastime or Christmas Things.
(You can affirm your Vow in Comments.)

Step Two: You can join me in supporting the following retail establishments who will not be open for business on Thanksgiving Day:

1. DSW
2. Costco
3. Nordstrom
4. Dillard's
5. BJ's Wholesale Club
6. REI
7. Burlington Coat Factory
8. American Girl
9. Crate & Barrel
10. Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts
11. TJ Maxx
12. Marshalls
13. Pier 1 Imports
14. Publix
15. Sierra Trading Post
16. Radio Shack
17. Barnes & Noble
18. Home Depot
19. Sam's Club
20. Patagonia
21. GameStop

If you know of others, please let me know. I will add them to this list. As you know, I don't have The TwitFace, but many of you do. Use that account for The Purpose Of Goodness and thank these establishments for Honouring Thanksgiving and all it represents. I'll be pegging away in the Olde Fashionde Waye (emaile) to let them know my thoughts. There's nothing like a little slacktivism to satisfy the soul. When it finally comes time to shop for gifts, I'll happily shop at many of these places first.

Step Three: Revel in the Pure Joy Of Thanksgiving. How lovely a holiday is when it commemorates things for which we are grateful! It asks for nothing other than that we celebrate our blessings, no matter if they are great or small. We can do it in our own homes or gather at the homes of loved ones, whether they are friends, family, or both. If the table is bountiful, so much the better! And let's not forget the fact that there is no gift shopping or gift giving or gift wrapping or gift angst. And there is gravy, beautiful turkey gravy, which is the Pinnacle Of Gravy Achievement.

Step Four: This step is primarily mine. I'm going to try my darndest to write something Novembery/Thanksgivingy here every day. I'm not entirely certain what it will be, and don't worry--it won't be an endless month of Syrupy Happy Thankful For Puffy Clouds And Cute Kitties And Look! Here Is A Pretty Leaf! If you have a topic or a request, certainly speak right up.

I think that's it. Four steps. Let's Rally For Thanksgiving! Slow this bullet train called The Holidays right the hell down. November deserves its due, and Thanksgiving certainly does. Oh. I thought of one more thing. Please, out of deference to President Lincoln, who set Thanksgiving as an Official American Holiday in 1863, can we please stop referring to it as the so much less dignified "Turkey Day"? Thank You.

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