I’m an expert on ruining Thanksgiving dinner.
By that, I don’t mean the cooking of it. Oh, I’ve produced the occasional overcooked turkey and gummy pumpkin pie, but generally, practice pays off. After 20 years of testing Thanksgiving recipes, I could probably turn out a Rockwell-looking feast without much more than a Scout knife and a can of Sterno.
No, my target for spoiling Thanksgiving is conversation. I can bring a table to dead silence like a maestro tapping on a podium.
All I have to do is sit down and start a cheerful conversation about how long that turkey can sit at room temperature before bacteria have multiplied into an invading horde of foodborne illness.
Or I toss out a bon mot about the sodium in canned chicken broth. Even better: I share trivia about what the pilgrims actually ate (mmm, eel pie) along with a demonstration of how they ate it before the invention of forks.
It only took a couple of years to figure out that my work was best left at the office.
Instead, I learned better ways to start Thanksgiving conversations.
Good way: Pick out the oldest person at the table and ask how they got their name. Heart-warming, guaranteed.
Better: Pick out the youngest person at the table and ask them which dish is the ickiest and why. Moms just love it when you do that.
Best: Call on a teenager and ask them to explain the term “meme” without using “like” or “awesome.” Extra points if they can show you how to dance like that guy on “Gangnam Style” in the 5 minutes left before the meme goes mum.
Good way: Ask a Panthers fan to explain that whole chest-pawing thing that Cam Newton does. Does stadium turf make him itchy? I guess I haven’t seen him do it often enough to figure it out.
Better: Start a lively guessing game on how much the turkey would have cost at Whole Foods. No fair starting with triple digits.
Best: Ask the Trader Joe’s fans at the table to show the bruises on their shins from trying to score a single box of Peppermint Jo-Jo’s. Suggest they share tips with Cam on how to run with the ball.
Good way: See if anyone is up for a post-dinner game of counting the cars at the mall.
Better : Take a survey of the best ways your brother can use up those Twinkies he rushed out to buy.
Best: Forget “Black Friday” shopping, elections, fiscal cliffs, Panthers, Bobcats, Tarheels and the whole issue of trans fats.
Just give thanks for a good meal, a roof over your head and a room full of people you love.
Seriously. Happy Thanksgiving.