The Thanksgiving in question began like any other.
JK—it started with a pounding in my head so extreme, it felt like a backwoods mountain man with terrible aim was attempting to split my noggin with a dull hatchet. Also making an appearance that morning was the mouth taste that only comes from drinking an entire wedding party's worth of champagne—the one where your tongue feels like it's wearing an acrylic sweater that's been doused with cheap vinegar and lit ablaze.
As I desperately tried to put the previous night's pieces together, the reality of the day ahead came into microscopic focus with the intensity of a blinding migraine. Today was the day I had slated to prep an elaborate, multi-coursed Thanksgiving meal for 19 close friends. In typical fashion, I had left it all for the very last possible minute (save for the custom blend gin I had made a few weeks prior by passing a bottle of cheap vodka through a Brita filter three times and infusing it with fresh juniper and some New Age-y twigs I bought at a Hocus Pocus store). That was the extent of my planning ahead. YOU. IDIOT.
But before I paint myself in an even more disparaging light, let me confirm that I did indeed have a purpose for staying out past my conservative bedtime, sipping the night away, as it were. At the time, I was waitressing at a busy restaurant and the manager had promised me that I could borrow plates and silverware to take home for my holiday feast. There was one catch: I would have to wait until midnight when the restaurant's kitchen was closed. No one goes out to eat the night before the night before Thanksgiving, so my shift ended ridiculously early and I saddled up to the bar with my post-shift drink in hand, waiting out the rest of the night. The rest is a blur. I wish I could say I had been roofied but … no such luck.
You'd think a meteor was hurtling towards earth and an autumnal DIY cornucopia was the only thing to stop it.
My original plan for prep day was to hit the ground running, bright and early at the Union Square farmer's market with a Tracy Flick-like efficiency, but with this drunken setback I more closely resembled Pig-Pen from Peanuts with a hefty dash of light-sensitive schizophrenia. To spare the two brain cells I had left, I threw on what I had worn the night before and trekked into the city.
It goes without saying that the day before Thanksgiving in a city like New York can bring out the worst in all of us. Hand to God, I have witnessed full-on, "SHE NEEDS HER BUSY BEE"-level meltdowns over something as seemingly chill as a foldable conference table laden with gourds. You'd think a meteor was hurtling towards earth and an autumnal DIY cornucopia was the only thing to stop it.
Normally immune to this heightened state of holiday panic, all bets were off when I slipped my hand into the pocket of my fur vest to find … NO WALLET. With the most abundant dread, I just knew: my wallet, along with my iPod and two weeks worth of cash tips (i.e. rent due the following week) were as good as Gone, Girl. (Note to servers everywhere: don't be a doofus like me—deposit that shit, tout de suite).
As I silently began vomiting inside my brain, I scanned the frantic crowd for my boyfriend who had graciously volunteered, seeing-eye-dog style, to be my shepherd during this overly ambitious mission. Instead of my sweet, heroic co-pilot, my eyes locked with a very put-together, motherly looking woman who was giving me that vague half-smile and somewhat robotic wide-eyed gaze (I think Tyra Banks calls it "smizing"). For those of you who aren't familiar, picture the gentle yet fairly intense look you give when you recognize someone you are fond of. I managed to smize back at this nurturing face, a welcoming port in an emotional storm, as she started to confidently approach me. As my lips parted to say "Hi there…?" she reached out her liver-spotted (yet elegant) hand to stroke my fur vest and like a clap of lightning, her open palm became a gnarled pterodactyl claw that she jabbed firmly into my breast bone and without any inhibition shouted for all of neurotic New York to hear, "I HOPE YOU DIE A PAINFUL AND HORRIBLE DEATH LIKE THAT ANIMAL YOU'RE WEARING……..FREAK!" With added high-pitched, theatrical emphasis on the word "FREAK."
There is nothing quite like an abrasive altercation with a PETA pocket disguised as a human woman to kick your engine into high gear and clear the fog of a hangover from hell.
I stood there, shocked and stripped down as though a passerby had just performed the ALS ice bucket challenge on me without any explanation or warning. Other shoppers shot me looks like I had just audibly farted in a crowded elevator. It is worth noting that for weeks afterwards, I would replay this incident over and over in my mind, each time firing back with a different (and admittedly, sometimes violent) retort. "It's possum fur—from Australia. Where they are considered an intolerable nuisance. I am wearing this as a civic duty. As a favor to the people of Australia." For example.
Thoroughly embalmed with self-loathing, I had to get the fuck out of there, lickety split. Luckily, there is nothing quite like an abrasive altercation with a PETA pocket disguised as a human woman to kick your engine into high gear and clear the fog of a hangover from hell. I was in and out in less then 20, obligatory totes stuffed with a literal harvest bounty. And by the grace of a pitying higher power, within 24 hours, I was back on Planet Functional, setting the table and mashing taters with all the fervor and determination of a whirling dervish.
I wish I could recall all of the culinary hits of that night. Due to the aforementioned bathtub gin (which surprisingly didn't kill any of us), I am left only with some mere tidbits. The turkey was brined before being roasted; that was tasty-as-fuh and is now a tradition I go the extra mile for each year since. We definitely went to town on some bubbly, creamy cauliflower gratin, which is also a family fave. My friend Chad made some sinfully addictive pecan-chocolate crack-cocaine dessert something or other that I did not trust my fiendish sweet tooth to be home alone with for the weeks following.
Perhaps the sweetest victory, however, was that in spite of the "bad comedy" nature of the previous day, the vibe that evening was overwhelmingly festive and warm, and not entirely due to the fact that 19 people were crammed around one table in my Brooklyn apartment with all four stove burners working overtime.
The vegetarian (nay—VEGAN!) recipe I have shared is dedicated to my sassy, unabashedly expressive "friend" from the farmer's market who I am hoping will appreciate it's meatless virtuosity. In exchange, Madam, you will forever remain in my thoughts as I run cool water over all the turkey giblets, and the turkey penisy-thing (which I've come to find out is actually just the neck, disappointingly enough) and set it on a low simmer to later become the most cherished holiday tradition of all: my great-grandma Ninny's gravy.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.