Gustafson: With a side of gratitude

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Cooking is not one of my featured skills, although I can say that I very much enjoy the process that goes into creating a meal.

But when it comes to the elegant art of preparing a meal, I believe it is more befitting for me to hover around the periphery of the kitchen during gatherings. I’m more adept at turkey basting, table setting and wine pouring. It’s not that I don’t enjoy cooking; who doesn’t find appeal in at least some of the sensory experience that goes along with food prep? Still, as a general rule, I’m not the go-to for a gourmet feast.

A few years ago in an effort to prove all the naysayers wrong, I placed myself in charge of the center piece to that classic all-American Thanksgiving feast. Yep, I would prepare the turkey to be served at our extended family celebration and prove my domestic aptitude.

Not having a clue where to start, I went small and local, with a nice sized fresh bird from a local farm. The investment was costly enough for me at the time that I knew I had only one shot to get it right. I had little prior cooking experience beyond scrambling eggs and boiling pasta, and of the many projects I have pursued, few have turned out Pinterest worthy.

Still, with the help of an online housewifing-guru I was sure I could pull it off. In an effort to make an edible meal, I followed the blogged directions of a self-appointed Stepford wife. It wasn’t easy, since my type B personality doesn’t often lead me to consulting cook books. In fact, when it comes to following meticulous directions, well, let’s just say that most of the manuals ­— without pictures — remain at the bottom of the boxes they came in, and my cockeyed coffee table makes a great footrest but remains unsuitable for steam-ware.

Hours passed and my project seemed to be a success. When I pulled the bird out of the oven, it looked beautiful and even edible and smelled almost intoxicatingly delicious. I admit I felt like an accomplished cook.

With my two preschool ages kids in tow, I carried the garnished dish up to the front door of my parents house where all of our relatives had gathered for a feast. I’m not really sure if the bird slid first or if a trip in my step cause me to lose balance, but the next thing I knew, the entire turkey was in flight. As it crash-landed on the welcome mat, it seemed to explode — bones, meat and stuffing splattered all over the front entrance. I could see through the wreckage that the meat was gourmet tender the way it had burst from the bones into a heaping mess of inedible food.

I laugh now looking back, but at that moment I actually cried. Not just because I had been steeped in unearned pride, prepared to receive praise that I probably didn’t deserve for actually successfully cooking a meal. I think I also cried for the genuine waste of food. It seemed almost instinctual to feel devastated over such wasted sustenance, maybe a visceral reaction rooted in survival. Or maybe I was just overwhelmed, a single mom trying to prove I could keep up with all of my successful family members, and then suddenly flushed with the realization that I can’t do it all. It was like a cultural reflection of a faulty iconic American Dream smashed on the welcome mat. Seems trivial in retrospect, but at the time it meant something.

After a moment of despair, with my little kids hovering at my side trying to console me, I managed to push the meat aside and call into the house. When everyone came to see the mess I had made, instead of the annoyance or ridicule I had anticipated, they helped me to salvage some of the food, and their hugs helped salvage my dignity. In that moment I become gratefully aware of the human need to connect and of how connection is more valuable than any other aspect of our celebrations.

It reminded me that there is always something to be thankful for even when the noise in our busy lives drowns out the daily gratitude we feel.

During this season of sharing, eating together, giving of ourselves and the over extension of our time and energy, remembering to celebrate each other keeps us in balance.

It seems like the best way to give back to those who mean the most to us is to express gratitude for what we do have, despite what we may not.

I’ve yet to take on the task of preparing the main dish again, but the gratitude I feel at this time of year is my favorite side dish to share.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at