A Holiday Season Like No Other

I woke at 2:30 this morning unable to shut my brain off. With Giftmas quickly approaching I began thinking of all the things I have yet to do, but this holiday season is like no other. I haven’t baked a single pie, I’ve made exactly one batch of cookies, and I haven’t hosted a single gathering. The holidays are incredibly different this year.

Like many others, I always anticipate the holiday season for several reasons. The parties, the fellowship, the camaraderie, and of course the food. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the entire year and I truly enjoy cooking that meal. Christmas is one of three days on the calendar when I don’t cook. By this time I have usually scoured all the casino restaurants’ menus and made a reservation for dinner, but I didn’t do that this year. This year is unlike any other since we got married.

“Island of Lost Toys” Thanksgiving

For more than 30 years my husband and I have hosted the “Island of Lost Toys” Thanksgiving. It started when we were overseas. We couldn’t fly home for the holiday, so we invited our friends from the barracks and the childless couples we knew and enjoyed “chosen family”. When we moved back to the states, the tradition continued. With my kitchen in shambles because of the renovation (no sink, no workspace, or countertops) we hosted no one. To say it was weird is an understatement. I was literally bereft. I cried (in the shower like I always do so no one can see me or hear me) because I didn’t want to be alone. Yes, I’d have my devoted husband, my darling offspring, and my sib from another crib, but what about everyone else?

Then I got to thinking. Many of the people we have hosted over the past decade are no longer in our circle of friends for one reason or another. Some have left the area; some have moved on in other ways, and the boundaries I have learned to set for myself have forced me to tighten my circle as well. But what of the others? My mom brought it up – No one thought to invite us to join their table when they knew I couldn’t cook a true Thanksgiving meal.

New Neighbors to the Rescue

Our new neighbors came to the rescue! After helping friend Kim cull her turkeys (yes, I mean slaughter and butcher them), she kindly invited us to join her Thanksgiving tradition of yakitori. I had never done that before. Chinese food on Christmas? SURE! But Japanese on Thanksgiving? My brain couldn’t compute it. Oddly, it was just what I needed. Helping man the grill with other invitees, casually hanging around and noshing instead of loading a plate and being seated was a perfect antidote to my Thanksgiving ennui. It was like the best cocktail party you ever went to. Interesting people, fun conversation, tasty small bites of food, and wandering around meeting new people. I walked in a nervous wreck and left lighter and happier. It was just what I needed but didn’t know it.

We then proceeded to Esther’s Kitchen where Chef James Trees had kindly invited us to join him, his family, and staff for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Because I was raised to never show up empty handed, I brought the aforementioned batch of cookies and Deez Nuts. This gathering was exactly what I needed too. Again, surrounded by loads of people, eating delicious food, and feeling like I was part of something bigger than myself. I was honored and humbled to be included. I think I thanked him profusely to the point of embarrassment, both mine and his. And I wept on the way home.

Home for the Holiday…just not MY home

And now, on the precipice of yet another holiday, things are different again. For the first time in ages, I won’t be in my own home for Christmas. The last time this happened was when we skipped Christmas and went to Mexico. This year we are spending the holiday with my sisters in law. The Hubs’ sister Bonnie and her wife Gretchen live in San Francisco and we are braving air travel during the holiday season to join them. I am excited and a little nervous at the same time. New traditions will be embraced, and I am sure joy will be had with people we love, but I won’t be “home for the holidays”. It just feels weird.

The most entertaining thing (for me) about the plans for this trip was a text convo with Gretchen about Christmas dinner. She wanted to know what I wanted to make and was a little shocked by my response. I told her I don’t cook on Christmas and whatever she decided to do was fine. I will be sous chef this year. Because I was warned there will be shucking in my future, my oyster knife will be packed.

When we moved into this home in April, I had every intention of a holiday housewarming party. I had plans for decorating and a mental menu of the food and drinks I would serve. The guest list was all compiled in an Excel spreadsheet. Construction delays forced me to embrace a new timeline; one I am not at all happy about. I dislike uncertainty and frequently have trouble “going with the flow” unless I am on vacation. So maybe the housewarming will be in the spring? Who the hell knows!?

Hug your people, bring them in close and tell them you love them. That’s the most important thing about the holiday isn’t it?

Closed for Thanksgiving

My favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving. In 29 years of marriage, John and I have only had Thanksgiving with extended family a handful of times. As a military family, it just wasn’t possible financially or logistically, but that has been changing in the past few years. My cousin Christine and my SILs from San Francisco have made the trip a few times and for me, it makes the holiday all the brighter.

There are a few friends who I wish would join us for Thanksgiving

We usually have about 20 for Thanksgiving, but last year got out of control. We had 42 people for dinner. Three turkeys and all that goes with it, wine, desserts. Basically The Works. It was too much even for me. I didn’t really get to visit with ANYONE because I was so busy visiting with everyone for a few minutes at a time. We have decided never to repeat that and have trimmed everything back to the 20 again. A few will drop in for drinks and apps and a few will show up for dessert. There are some friends who I wish would join us for the holiday. Several can’t because they host their own “Friendsgiving”, a few can’t because of family obligations and a few won’t because we have a “no football” policy. The TV goes on for the Macy’s  Parade and then it is off for the rest of the day. It is all about music and laughter and conversation. IMHO, you can stare at the TV any other day of the year.

Don’t you think EVERYONE should be able to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones?

Because I feel so strongly about Thanksgiving being a “family” day, whether you spend it with bio-family or chosen family, I encourage you to NOT shop on Thanksgiving. Of course there is the inevitable, “Oh shit! I forgot the cranberries!” “Dammit! I was supposed to bring wine with me!” “For fuck’s sake! Who ate all of the stuff for the antipasto?” And off to the grocery store you must run. I am not talking about that. I am talking about SHOPPING. The so called Black Friday sales start ON Thanksgiving now. WHY? Isn’t spending time with your loved ones more important than the few dollars you save by shopping on Thanksgiving? Don’t you think EVERYONE should be able to spend the day with their loved ones? I do, and that’s why I encourage all of you to stay home. If folks stop showing up, the stores will stay closed and allow their employees to enjoy the day with their peeps before the mad holiday shopping season rush.

To that end, here is a list of retailers honoring family traditions and staying closed on Thanksgiving. Show them a little love this shopping season when you are choosing where to spend your hard earned dollars. For the record, I will be at Dillard’s at 8 am on Friday to show them some love! Thanks to Forbes online for the graphic and info. These are just he national chains and bog box stores. Of course, most of the Mom & Pop shops will be closed and you can show them the love on Small Business SaturdayClosed for Thanksgiving

So here’s my game plan:

  • Watch the Macy’s Parade (even though they are open on Thanksgiving) while I am doing prep
  • Eat, drink and be merry with friends, music, laughter and maybe some games
  • Black Friday Shopping with my pal Lynn – Dillard’s always has the best handbags on sale!
  • Shop Local on Saturday
  • Sleep on Sunday

Years ago, we started “adopting” Airmen from the dorms to our Thanksgiving table and thus the “Island of Lost Toys Thanksgiving” was born. When I look back and think of everyone sitting on the floor, couches and any place they could perch to eat, I chuckle. It was probably one of the craziest ideas I ever had. We didn’t have a table big enough, we only had a four top table and because I have always done Thanksgiving buffet style, that’s where the food went! I know each and every Airman that has joined us has loved it. I know as humble as my home was and is, it is better than any chow hall on the planet, plus there is camaraderie from others they don’t know. If you want to “adopt” a service member to your Thanksgiving celebration, contact your local military installation.

War on Thanksgiving – Updated

I know everyone keeps bitching about a “War on Christmas”, but I can assure you there is not. Even before the Halloween decorations were down, the Christmas stuff started going up. How in the hell is that a war against a holiday? To promote it so vividly and early constitutes an act of war? It has been getting earlier and earlier; in fact I saw the first candies on the shelf when back-to-school stuff was on display. I applaud and honor Nordstrom’s who stated in a press release that their holiday deco wouldn’t be on display until Black Friday.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I love Hanukkah, Kwanza, Yule, Festivus, Human Light Day and Saturnalia. I will celebrate anything if you teach me how. The real holiday with a war on is Thanksgiving (here after Tgiving for brevity and because I suck at typing).

Have you ever noticed that the Halloween (Hween) commercials magically morph into Christmas (Xmas) commercials seemingly overnight? Immediately following Hween there are about 2 minutes of specifically Tgiving commercials before we start seeing the Xmas and holiday commercials. It’s almost like folks forget about Tgiving; like it’s an afterthought or “that holiday between Hween and Xmas”. Now true, Tgiving is based on religious separatists being given safe harbor from a completely different culture (Puritans and Native Americans respectively) after a treacherous journey (aka refugees) and taught how to live in their new land. And maybe some folks conveniently forget that, but I don’t. It is a celebration of acceptance, friendship, and abundance. It’s my favorite holiday of the year and there is a war going on people!

I never thought I would be one of those people who would say, “When I was younger…” but I do. When I was younger everything was closed on Tgiving except gas stations, hotels and the grocery store that closed at 2 pm so EVERYONE was able to spend the holiday with their loved ones. Then more than hotel restaurants started being open to accommodate travelers. And now retailers are open. As a former retail employee I can assure you if I had to work on Tgiving I would be livid and in tears at the same time. Why is it that our lowest paid population doesn’t deserve to spend a day off with their loved ones before things get REALLY crazy?

So here, I beg you, DO NOT SHOP ON THANKSGIVING! If the people don’t shop, the retailers won’t be open and EVERYONE gets to spend a day with their loved ones. Stay home, eat seconds and watch f-ball if you must, but don’t go shopping! Don’t skip dessert to spend money. If you HAVE to shop, do it online or Black Friday or Cyber Monday when the sales will be different, but just as good. I can promise you I will be out early on Black Friday with Thursday’s make up on! Do you REALLY NEED those towels that are on sale? Is the small amount of savings worth it to you to have someone work when they SHOULD be home spending it with loved ones? Trust me, retailers will get your money, but you might not get back the time you miss with loved ones. Being a military family, we have spent Tgiving with bio-family 4 times in 28 years. If I could have Tgiving with my Grandmother one more time and sit at the “kids table”, I would skip a LOT.

And if you REALLY want to make a difference in someone’s day, invite a dorm resident from your local military installation to YOUR Tgiving celebration (search “adopt an airman/soldier/sailor and the name of your closest military installation to find out how). They are away from home and the chow hall isn’t as welcoming as YOUR table. FYI – our Island of Lost Toys Tgiving started in JUST that way! And to make a BIGGER impact, donate what you would have spent shopping on Tgiving to your local food bank and help provide meals to people in need in YOUR neighborhood.

These retailers won’t be open on Tgiving – show them some love on Black Friday and be sure to support your LOCAL businesses by shopping with them on Small Business Saturday.

So Here’s the Thing…

I really enjoy writing this blog for all of you, but no one pays me to do it (yet).  So you need to know when I get paid to do my job – event management and coordination – I won’t be writing much. So you now know why I haven’t been posting as normal.

In November I had the pleasure and good fortune to work with Yummie Nation on the first FOOD Blogger Conference, Food Fight Write, in conjunction with World Food Championships. It was a test of my skills, strength and stamina and barring one mistake leading to a major screw up, it all went pretty well.  Keep in mind this was a first time event, constructed from the ground up this year, and hiccups were to be expected. Next year’s event in Orlando is sure to be a bigger, more bad ass event!

Lesson learned from this job? Never, EVER expect that anyone other than you knows how to do their fucking job.  No matter how big a company they are. No matter how long they have been in business. ALWAYS follow up and make sure they are doing what they have been contracted to do. My major failing was that I didn’t follow up. Yeah. That.

A few pics from the Conference and surrounding events:

The lovely Emily Ellyn and I at FFW luncheon

The lovely Emily Ellyn and I at FFW luncheon

Beauties and the Feast at Inspire - the Beauties with Mike McCloud of World Food Championships

Beauties and the Feast at Inspire – the Beauties with Mike McCloud of World Food Championships

Pals Melvin and Beni getting ready to compete in the Ultimate Chef Challenge

Pals Melvin and Beni getting ready to compete in the Ultimate Chef Challenge

Jelly Queen Donna Collins, Dr. BBQ Ray Lampe and Yummie Nation's Beth Peterson.

Jelly Queen Donna Collins, Dr. BBQ Ray Lampe and Yummie Nation’s Beth Peterson.

Dr. BBQ and I at the Big Green Egg sponsored luncheon.

Dr. BBQ and I at the Big Green Egg sponsored luncheon.

A panel of experts!  Great info and real talk.

A panel of experts! Great info and real talk.

Nikki Miller-Ka, Emily Ellyn and Pal Vic Vegas.

Nikki Miller-Ka, Emily Ellyn and Pal Vic Vegas.

And then there was Tgiving – I host a BIG gathering every year – 25 in attendance this year – and some friends from High School flew in to enjoy the day with us. The Boy was home and there was much rejoicing.

Son Jack, me and Ryan ice skating at the Cosmo - it was 80 degrees!

Son Jack, me and Ryan ice skating at the Cosmo – it was 80 degrees!

Friends from High School came to join in for the Tgiving shenanigans!  Luca on the left, Mike (Minstry of Happiness) on the right.

Friends from High School came to join in for the Tgiving shenanigans! Luca on the left, Mike (Ministry of Happiness) on the right.

And then the debut of Late Knife Chef Fight – Congrats to pal Jolene Mannina for turning a passion project into a TV event!  WAHOO!

Jolene Mannina of Relish and the creator of Late Knife Chef Fight at the viewing party with friends at The Bunkhouse

Jolene Mannina of Relish and the creator of Late Knife Chef Fight at the viewing party with friends at The Bunkhouse

Friends Lynn, Christian (Cutthroat Culinary) and Jesikuh at Late Knife Chef FIght viewing party.

Friends Lynn, Christian (Cutthroat Culinary) and Jesikuh at Late Knife Chef FIght viewing party.


December brings all the usual challenges and stressors. I feel like I should be doing more, handling everything, making an appearance at every party and hosting a few of my own. When I don’t do all of that I internally feel like a failure, even if I am doing more than expected.

Here’s what’s on tap for the near future:

  • Best things I ate this year
  • Gift Guide – what to give the foodie in your life – both extravagant and not
  • New Resto Openings in Vegas…Yardbird and Latin Fish
  • Xmas dinner out on the town
  • LeAnne-uary (the month when I celebrate my birth) – the Half Century Version

On a completely different note – lately culinary peeps here in town have been sharing “secrets” with me and I am flattered that they trust me with those tidbits of info. I have been sitting on several pieces of info since September and can’t divulge ANY of it because I was told “off the record”. Some have been made public and some have not.  It is my sincere hope that one day I will get the honor of BREAKING a story and get to publish first.

You can follow along with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to see what else I am up to by searching Good for Spooning. And this month I am doing the “31 Days of Vegas Cheer” photo challenge promoted by the City of Las Vegas. Watch for the pics on Instagram and Twitter.


This year marked the 25th Anniversary of the “Island of Lost Toys” Thanksgiving. It is something we have done for years. It started when we lived in Spain. Most of us could not afford to fly to The States for Thanksgiving, so we invited all the “Dorm Rats” to our house (we did it for Xmas too – but have stopped that). We had no dining room table and the world’s smallest oven (Moment of Truth – to roast the turkey we had to wrap the entire thing in foil and shove it into the oven DIAGONALLY and rotate it every half hour). People came and sat on the floor, the couch, any place that was available and we had a BLAST. Now of course with John having retired from military service, we don’t have the “Dorm Rats”, but we do have friends in Vegas who have no family here (Or don’t want to spend the whole day with their family for whatever reason) and we all come together to enjoy food and spirits.

In all of my married years I have never had Thanksgiving with my Mom. I have had five Thanksgiving holidays with my Dad. We lived closer to one another and he and Nettie drove to be with me and my family. I have only had one Thanksgiving with any of my siblings. Our military life required that we live where John’s assignment was and we simply could not afford to fly all over the place on the busiest travel weekend of the year. So we have always done our own thing and made meals with our “chosen family” of dear friends.

That ONE tradition of joining together with friends continues

During a phone call with Friend John M, he said, “I thought we weren’t going to make it this year. I hate to break with tradition, so I am glad plans changed.” It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving with the Morrises was a TRADITION until he said that. It was just a meal we had with friends. I think this was the 8th Thanksgiving we have spent with the Morrises! That ONE tradition of joining together with friends continues, but components of the menu change every year and the people have changed throughout the years. We now fry our turkeys (yes plural). I make Southern dishes because I like them better than Yankee dishes (don’t judge) and this year will be the first year that I actually have a dining room table. Now that we are permanently in one place our guest list includes The Usual Suspects and new people as we meet them. It’s an eclectic mix of artists, teachers, military members, health care professionals, cooks and non cooks.

I just read an article in Bon Appetit about traditions. The writer says his mom didn’t have traditions that she passed down to her family and that he and his gal are making their own traditions. John and I have done that too. While both of our Moms handed down traditions, we thought it was important to keep some of those and toss others out and make our own as we went along (like dinner at home for Valentine’s Day, dinner out for Xmas, shopping on our Anniversary and eating Chinese food for lunch on Boxing Day).

If the people, food and setting aren’t the same from year to year, can it really be called a “tradition”? I think so. What makes it a tradition is the communal meal, regardless of who is there and what is being served. It is a family gathering of sorts, but instead of blood relatives, it is the family we have chosen to be part of our lives. Would I like a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner with all the family? Sure! But let’s face it, that’s probably never going to happen. In the meantime I will continue with the TRADITIONS we have created.

Holly, Anna, Laurie


The laden table

Small Business Saturday Bazaar at the El Cortez

Food Memories this week include dinner and drinks with friends all day long on Thanksgiving, Black Friday Mexican food with assorted Moonens (so glad I got to meet them), Small Biz Saturday dining and shopping with my two guys, leftovers and Turkey Tetrazzini for my favorite college student.

The famous Tetrazzini…

Until next week, go out and make your OWN Food Memories!