For what seemed like weeks, I read stories about the stress of making Thanksgiving dinner. Recipes promised to ease the pain: Three-ingredient turkey! No-fail stuffing! Easy twists on classic desserts! Newspapers published lists of restaurants that were serving the feast, letting you and yours off the hook altogether.

All morning long on the day itself, I listened on public radio to a stream of interviews about the stress of the holiday. Not merely the stress of cooking. Also, the inevitable obnoxious relative and the conversational minefields in the Age of Trump; even football, the talking heads said, was no longer a safe topic.

I seemed to be the only person in America who felt supremely serene, even superior, as I chopped onions, blanched vegetables, whisked salad dressing and shaped dinner rolls. “What’s the big deal?” I thought to myself smugly. “It’s just dinner.”

Around noon, my sister and her sweetheart rolled in from Vermont. The clock ticked.

Still, we felt so relaxed, we headed out for a walk circling Back Cove in Portland. As we finished the 31/2-mile loop, I glanced down at my phone, noticed the late hour, and felt a tinge of anxiety. I hotfooted it home ahead of Carolyn and Dan and switched the oven on to 350 degrees.

It was now 3:30 p.m. Guests were due at 5:30. My remaining to-do list was tight but manageable. At my sister’s request, we were having a vegetarian Thanksgiving. The butternut squash-chestnut-mushroom lasagna she’d brought needed 40 minutes or so in the oven to warm. The grapes for the salad needed roasting, as did the squash for the squash-feta-honey dip, which would require a second spell in the oven inside its adorable squash bowl. The rolls needed to rise and bake.

The oven read 100 degrees, its default setting when it goes on. At 3:35, it still read 100 degrees. And at 3:39 and 3:45. It occurred to me I hadn’t heard the whooshing sound the gas normally makes as the oven ignites. I turned it off and turned it on again, which is what I do when my computer gives me error messages. When it comes to troubleshooting – the computer, the car, the household appliances, the damp basement – I fall squarely between incompetent and inept. The oven was silent and cold.

My sister and her partner came home. I was feeling a little less serene. They looked at the oven. They turned it on. Nothing. They turned it off. We wondered about pilot lights and ignition switches. We wondered if we’d blow ourselves up if we messed with the gas. It was closing in on 4:15 p.m. The chance of getting a repairman on Thanksgiving Day seemed remote, at best.

Thankfully, there was no half-cooked bird in the oven. Thankfully, the burners still worked. Thankfully, one of the guests, Charmaine, lived nearby and had a working oven. More than that she was home when I phoned her to say, my voice tight, “Portland, we have a problem.”

The story gets no more dramatic than that. Charmaine donated the use of her oven. Dan drove me over. We loaded up the car with two trays of unbaked rolls, one loaf of unbaked bread, a Kuri squash, a hunk of feta cheese, a jar of local honey, a handsome lasagna, two cloves of garlic, one container of chopped thyme and another of egg wash, a Tupperware container filled with grapes that had been rolled around in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I wore an unbecoming yellow apron (emblazoned “Emeril. Bam!”), and I carried a rasp.

I loaded the first round of items into the oven and sipped wine with Charmaine, her grown son and her beau. I nibbled on cranberry-blueberry sauce and homemade applesauce, two items they’d be bringing over. I loaded round two and round three into the oven. I admired Charmaine’s beautiful pies, another Thanksgiving contribution. The house was warm and smelled of baking bread. The company was good.

Some two hours later, Dan and I did the commute in reverse. This time, we wrapped the lasagna in blankets, hoping it’d still be warm by the time we sat down to eat it. Charmaine and her gang followed a few minutes later. We ate the appetizers, salad and entree in one go, so our food wouldn’t get cold. We didn’t get to warm the pies either. None of this mattered.

An abbreviated list of the things I felt grateful for this Thanksgiving: my fella, my health, my parents (still going strong at 89 and 91), my cat, my sweet bungalow, my sister’s excellent lasagna and – not the least – the friends and family who kept Thanksgiving stress at bay, preventing a mishap from rising to a calamity.


I’ve wanted to bake this bread for Thanksgiving for years, as its spicing suits the holiday. But with stuffing, not to mention sweet potatoes, bread has always seemed redundant. This year, though, we served no turkey, hence no stuffing, so I added the bread to our holiday table. I clipped this recipe out of a magazine some three decades ago; I’ve no idea which, but thanks to them for coming up with it, as I’ve loved this loaf for years. I’ve adapted it slightly and suggest using good Maine flour.

Yields 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 12 rolls

1   1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon honey

2 envelopes active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1   1/2 tablespoons ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, generous

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, generous

Grated rind from 1 orange

3   1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3   1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour

Heat the milk, butter and 1/2 cup honey in a saucepan or the microwave until the butter is almost melted. Cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water (105-110 degrees, it’ll feel warm but not hot to the touch). Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon honey. Let stand for 10 minutes until bubbly. (With most of the yeast you buy today, assuming it’s not old, this “proofing” step is no longer necessary. But I’ve a certain nostalgia for the step, which feels apt for Thanksgiving, and I like the look of the foaming yeast so I often do it anyway.)

Stir the milk mixture into the yeast. Add 2 of the eggs, the salt, the spices and the orange rind. Combine. Add 3 cups of the whole wheat flour. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or by hand for 200 strokes.

Gradually stir in as much as the remaining flour as you need to make a dough that holds together and pulls away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. The dough will be soft. You will get a workout.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turning it to bring the greased side up. Cover. Let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour, in a warm place away from any drafts – a turned-off oven or on top of the refrigerator are often good.

Gently punch the dough down. Turn out onto the floured surface, knead a few times to press out any air bubbles. Let the dough rest 10 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. (I usually weigh it to get even portions, but you can eyeball it if you’re less fussy.) Grease 2 (9 by 5 by 3 inch) loaf pans or 1 loaf pan and 12 muffin cups. Shape the dough into loaves or rolls. For the rolls, divide the half portion of dough into 12 portions, then divide each of the 12 portions into 3, shaping them into balls. Place 3 balls into each muffin cup.

Let the shaped bread rise again until almost double, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining 1 egg lightly with a fork. Brush the loaves and/or rolls with egg wash and bake them. The loaves will take about 45 minutes, the rolls 15-20 minutes. Browning equals flavor, so let them get good color. That said, don’t let them burn. Turn the loaves and rolls out of their pans onto a cooling rack to cool.

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