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  • Writer's pictureHannah Pearson and Susannah Powers Stengel

Spanksgiving: Our Great Flit-ish Bake Off


Spoilers For: Our Personal Hopes and Failures

Hannah Giving Spanks:

If you polled my friends about how many siblings I have you’d get varying answers. Five? Or are there five of them? No, it’s six now. But like definitely no less than four?

The answer is an eyebrow-raising amount and one that really puts my parent’s judgement into question. Just normal weekday dinners of my childhood involved hours of prep and cleanup. On the holidays you throw in extended family, significant others, and a sprinkling of drag-along friends, and you end up with a small army that needs to be fed. Cooking for many is a relaxing hobby, when you cook for many it’s an obstacle course. When I think of Thanksgivings of the past, I think of love and chaos.

It’s hard to please everyone when dealing with such volume (Fun Fact: a herd of Pearsons is called a Ruckus) one way to prevent rioting is by making enough dishes that everyone gets what they want and avoiding a TV remote melee turn on Food Network.

Everyone enjoys cooking shows, it’s a universal truth like everyone has to eat, and everyone prefers the cranberry sauce in a can.

Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa is a top choice to maintain harmony in the living room, while things heat up in the kitchen. Garten’s blend of classic fancy, with the permission to go store-bought sans guilt, set to a calming New England background, is the chef’s kiss of Food Network.

This year is another year of pandemic purgatory so my holiday guest list is a lot shorter. Instead of a Ruckus of brothers to feed, I only have one picky, and vocal, toddler. There is still a lot of love but measurably less chaos. It’s actually delightful if I’m being honest. I’m embracing the simplicity that the holidays can be and I’ve never known. I get to make only the dishes I like, splurge on quality over quantity, and I’m the master of my remote. Okay, not that last one. Unless anyone thinks I’m super into Paw Patrol these days (but like Zuma is the best, right?)

To celebrate the simple, I flipped the bird to the idea of roasting a turkey. First, it’s too much for my tiny crew and second, it’s gross. Go ahead and make the stuffing… and then throw out the turkey.

Instead, I opted for a roast chicken. No one does roast chicken like Ina Garten, she’s the Michael Jordan of good trussing.

I went with this video of an easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy… and garlic recipe.

It was so straightforward that I could confidently allow my sous-chef to give me an extra hand. She’s great but she has only three years of experience because she’s only been alive for three years.

The final results were satisfactory. The greatest compliment to a mom chef is when something doesn’t end up being drowned in ketchup. I paired it with some mashed potatoes and the real MVP of the Thanksgiving table, Green Bean Casserole, et Viola! A simple, yet delicious, Thanksgiving meal.

And a quick shout out to the things I am most grateful for this year: My sous-chef, TV controller controller, and all-around amazing daughter. My family that I hope to enjoy a chaotic holiday with soon. And all the other things that keep my dopamine flowing…

Susannah Giving Spanks:

Enter my much less skilled Thanksgiving fantasy. Raised by a WASPy kitchen witch, I was always underfoot, and was kindly asked to leave or wash dishes. And so I grew a mostly guileless culinary loafer until circa twenty-three when my freezer dining slowly evolved into minimal experimentation.

Due to my low effort cuisine past, I always got dithering nervous around ex-boyfriends in the kitchen. My current excellent partnership with a Louisiana man who crushes a deep reservoir of recipes began no differently by the stove--apologetic, awkward, and beta as fuck. But my kitchen confidence blossoms with every year of sincere self-love and strong partnership.

Food TV helps me expand--the ferocity of Top Chef, the whimsy of Good Eats--but nothing provokes my nascent curiosity better than The Great British Bake Off.

My Turkey Day 2021 bakes echo the series of tasks Bake Off judges lob at their bakers--a signature, technical, and showstopper challenge. Guys, I tried.

Signature Challenge:

STUFFING. NOT DRESSING (catch me outside).

I considered trying Marcel Vigneron’s (of Top Chef Season 2 bad boy fame) stuffing recipe:

But I settled instead for something that still stretched the bulk of my skills, and forced me to chop with all my white belt prowess:

My result (a few helpings in):

Definitely no Hollywood handshakes would have been offered here, but plenty of fresh herbs and lots of good uses of the MegaChopper my mom gifted to me at my college graduation. I’ll shake my own dawn hand for that.

Technical Challenge:

One of your friends is vegan. And first, you hate them, naturally. Then, phase two: you seek to give them something actually delicious when you bake for them. Here we go.

Freya of current Bake Off fame ( would have been proud of my effort, but surely, she shan’t have offered gluten free gold stars for my result.

Turns out, when you use this perfectly reasonable Vegan Lemon Bar recipe (, but you only have 5 tbsps of cornstarch but the recipe calls for 6, you should not beat the bottom of your cornstarch tin ceaselessly until you tire out and give in. Because if you do, you’ll get a little something like this:

And if I’m being more honest, it really looks like this:

WOMP WOMP. I can feel Mary Berry’s lips pursuing now.

And, even as I failed, I got to enjoy my partner’s much more successful vegan brownies. So who cares that I made a pile of brown goo? Not I. Not you.

Showstopper Challenge:

Nothing ornate or audacious here, but I did successfully use my Sunbeam mixer and made something well above average:

My partner and my friend ate it with relish, complimented it quickly, and filled me with authentic pride as they ate. That’s all the showstopper this sloppy novice needs.

My festive challenges were unspectacular--with results ranging from repellent to downright yummy. However, I felt at peace and connected in the kitchen this year, and my food was infused with the flavor of that love.

Ultra corny, show stopping Thanksgiving shout out to: all my wonderful family and chosen family who loves me--anyway. In spite of my worst Vegan Lemon Bars and because of my best spicy conversation.

Fear neither greatness or failure in the kitchen this holiday season, tellyfishes. Find new recipes.



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