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Takeout: It's for the Cheater in All of Us


NEW YORK — By the time you read this, I'll be lying on the couch with a book or a magazine or maybe I'll just be staring off into space. I'm exhausted. I'm always exhausted.

It is early Thanksgiving morning and my husband and 2-year-old son are at the big parade, squeezed in somewhere along Central Park West hoping to get a glimpse of an airborne Bert or Ernie. I am here and not there because allegedly--and that's a big allegedly--I am home preparing dinner for our family plus my two sisters, their husbands and six kids. Actually, I'm quite comfortable splayed here waiting to buzz up the people delivering an 18-pound cooked turkey, country vegetable stuffing, string beans Provencal, candied sweet potatoes and one quart of cranberry sauce. My oldest sister is bringing dessert.

Last night I did set the table and make a raspberry Jell-O mold, adding half a cup of sour cream and a can of pineapple chunks. Disgusting as it sounds, the mold is an ode to my late parents, particularly my mom, who, while not the world's worst cook, never really got beyond a few specialties--that Jell-O mold and Broccoli Parmesan and Noodle Pudding Americana. In fact, all her recipes came from one cookbook put together by the Jewish ladies of our local temple. I remember that the only time I smiled on the day of her funeral was when I realized that all the kids I grew up with had endured the same gross Jell-O mold, Broccoli Parmesan and Noodle Pudding Americana because our dining room table was covered with multiple versions of these dishes brought by Mom's friends.

But back to me, the cheater.

You see, I've done Thanksgiving. I've gotten up at dawn on the Wednesday to shop, gone to work, raced home early, stayed up late in the kitchen and then dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to put the bird in and start cooking like a crazy woman. I've done it many times. Most women have done it many times and we all know the secret: It's not worth it. You work like a dog for days and in a matter of 14 minutes it's over; you're left with a mountain of dirty dishes and a carcass that dies a second time for soup that nobody will touch.

So this time I got smart. I ordered out. Which, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, thank you very much, is becoming increasingly common. And not just in New York City, the takeout mecca of America, but all over. We are exhausted, all of us. I, for one, worked yesterday and I'm working tomorrow.

That's not to say I'm expending no effort on this meal. After all, after I pay for the delivery person ($150, ouch) I'll rush into the kitchen, put everything in my own pots and pans, and then casually fling a string bean or two on the floor, some potatoes in the sink and grease on the counter near the stove.

I don't want to be found out. Why? I'm not too exhausted to feel twinges of pride, guilt or shame.

Certainly, my husband won't notice that anything is awry. I married the right man for a lot of reasons but none more obvious than his indiscriminate palate. This is a man who as a New York City kid looked forward to eating in the public school cafeteria. He had me clutching my stomach with his loving description of the hot lunch that came with a mound of whipped potatoes with a little dent on top filled with gravy. Poor Mike.

He also still believes this awful lie I told when we were first dating. He had said he loved homemade pies but his mom never made them. So on our first holiday together I gave him an apple pie with that perfect crisscross pastry top. Of course, I had bought it but told him I had made it. He nearly passed out he was so moved. It was a clincher moment in our relationship, and I should be ashamed but I'm not. I could make that crust if I put my mind to it.

My view of cooking has always been if you can read you can cook. In fact, I've always seen myself as being like Audrey Hepburn (sort of) in the 1954 version of "Sabrina." Send me to a fancy cooking school in Paris and not only will I come home with a better haircut, but I'll be able to crack an egg with one hand. It's all in the wrist.

So not only am I a cheater but I'm a guiltless one.

My older sisters probably won't sense anything wrong today, either. Meredith, a lawyer who runs a big business and a busy household, is a decent cook who has more or less adopted Mom's style: to broil, boil and burn. Faith, a slim architect and non-meat eater, is hopeless: Her idea of gourmet cooking is chips with two kinds of salsa.

The one person who must never know about my faux Thanksgiving is my dear friend Liz. Not only does she have two kids, a full-time job and a second career as an author, but a week after she moved into her new house in the suburbs it was camera-ready for Architectural Digest.

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