My gravy’s better than your gravy

My column in the November issue of Military Spouse magazine!

We do it every year. We cut out recipes. We make lists. We go to the commissary. We elbow each other out of the way to grab turkeys, cranberries, yams, and mini-marshmallows. We jam enough food into our pantries to feed an Army, or Navy as it were.

Why? Because it’s the holidays, of course!

When our guests politely ask, “What can we bring?” we are faced with an interesting dilemma. On one hand, our brains are about to explode over all the details of hosting, so contributions would be nice. But on the other hand, we have envisioned holiday meals using our own family traditions, and what if our guests bring dishes that are weird and unfamiliar?

I experienced this phenomenon seventeen years ago, when we were stationed at Fort Ord, California. Unable to fly back east to spend the holiday with our relatives, we accepted an invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner at another family’s house on base.

“What can I bring?” I asked the other wife. “Uh, well, um….” she stuttered nervously, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

I fancied myself a pretty darned good cook back in those days (before kids turned my brain to mush and our staple food into mac-n-cheese, mind you) and was looking forward to contributing to the meal. “What? But, but, you’ve got to let me bring something,” I exclaimed. “Well, alright then, how ‘bout you bring frozen corn.”

Frozen corn? Are you kidding me? She wasn’t.

Over the next few days, I hounded the other spouse, offering my Sausage Apple Pecan Cornbread Dressing, my Guiness Gravy, my Swiss Onion Bread, my Waldorf Salad. She resisted, but finally agreed to let me bring a lousy pumpkin pie and a tub of Cool Whip.

I swallowed my disappointment that Thanksgiving — along with her bland stuffing and starchy gravy – and resolved to make what I wanted from then on.

However, year after year, the same dilemma kept cropping up, and I realized something. Whether a military spouse is the host or the guest, military spouses don’t like to give up their holiday traditions.

So, unless we want to spend holiday meals alone, we’d better learn to compromise.

If you are a guest, don’t turn your nose up at your hostess’ jellied cranberry sauce because you only make it from scratch. Don’t judge your host if he doesn’t brine the bird, and then make passive aggressive comments like, “Could you pass the canned gravy? I think I’ve got some meat stuck in my throat.” Don’t be bitter that you weren’t able to show off your Pecan Cheesecake with the Gingersnap Crust. Just eat whatever they serve you and shut your pumpkin pie hole.

If you are hosting, let your guests bring their Tex Mex corn dish even if it might clash with your Ambrosia. Who cares if your friend has a different take on sweet potatoes – surely, no one has ever died from not eating marshmallows. You can give up your stinking Parker House rolls just this once, and let them bring their Gammie’s Poppy Seed Loaf if it makes them feel at home. You’ll survive.

Besides, this is the time of year that we’re supposed to think about all the things we’re thankful for, and isn’t that being able to celebrate the holidays with our family and friends? NOT the Green Bean Casserole, for Pete’s sake.

Think of it this way: good friends and family are the meat and potatoes of life. The food? Well, no matter whether it’s canned, powdered, or slow cooked from the drippings, it’s just the gravy.

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Comments: 71

  1. Bunny Eats Design December 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm Reply

    Being a good host is identifying your guests talents and delegating. I can’t bake so I always offer up dessert to a guest and if someone else wants to bring something a salad is always appreciated. When someone else does the salad, it frees up precious fridge space too 🙂

    • Lisa Smith Molinari December 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm Reply

      And doesn’t it always seem that salads and sandwiches taste better when someone else makes them??

      • Bunny Eats Design December 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm Reply

        Absolutely. If I have to make 5 dishes including a salad, my salad is going to be really basic. But if I’m just given 1 salad to bring to someone else’s spread, I’m going to spend all day and my energy on 1 stunning salad. Win-win.

  2. energywriter November 28, 2012 at 8:47 am Reply

    Loved your article and all the responses. I tried to leave a response, but not sure if it “took.” sd

  3. Sharon November 28, 2012 at 8:44 am Reply

    Great blog, Lisa. Loved the comments too. My family has demoted me to cranberries. My daughter picks the recipe and I cook it. Each receipe is delicious. I guess I’m too old to cook anything more complicated. Of course, as a vegetarian, I refuse to cook the turkey/ham/whatever. No tofurkey for me. I just fill up on everything else, leaving more room for pumpkin pie.
    Hint: to all women who are tired of the wrestling the turkey to get it cleaned properly, stuffed and then needing help to put the heavy thing into the oven – become a vegetarian. Cranberries are much easier to cook.

  4. laurengionet November 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on live to eat and commented:
    The craziness that goes with holiday meals, hosting, and overall control over the food we consume through traditions.

  5. Grumpa Joe November 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm Reply

    It is not just Military families that are prone to keeping their traditions. My deceased wife trained me to accept a Polich cooking tradition. (It wasn’t hard to do, Polish cooks are great). My mother went into apoplexy over that because I compromised some traditional Hungarian dishes.
    Seven years ago, I remarried to an Irish girl. Now I am compromising again, except, I do the cooking and keep on sneaking in my Polish-Hungarian touches and flavors. Her kids eat plain old turkey breast with mashed potatoes and gravy. My kids love turkey with grandma’s egg loaded stuffing along with some polish sausage and kraut topped with pirogi. We serve two sets of dishes. One at each end of the table. It makes for a happier meal. The kids bring what ever they want and the more daring among us taste and share.
    Thanks for a great post,
    P.S. This year I am sneaking some smoked turkey breast into the mix.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 22, 2012 at 10:37 am Reply

      WOW. I’m coming to your house! I LOVE Polish food – went to Poland a couple times while stationed in Germany and the pierogis and soups were pure heaven! Happy cooking!

  6. Jonathan Caswell November 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    My wife doesn’t like gravy at all…but I can have it! Good discussion on the politics of compromise!—Jonathan Caswell

  7. Farah Ng @ Broken Penguins November 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm Reply

    Fantastic post on what counts for the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

  8. notedinnashville November 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm Reply

    It’s funny how life has a way of forcing compromise too. We are headed to my sister-in-law’s house tomorrow, and I’d really like to show off my green bean casserole (made from fresh green beans and NOT canned soup, of course), my cornbread dressing (made from my mom’s cornbread recipe), or at least my sweet potato pie (a recipe passed down for generations). But alas, my oven decided to die and serves me humble pie. Happy Thanksgiving. Terrific post!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm Reply

      I love it — humble pie! We are vacationing at a Navy MWR facility in Key West, so I don’t have any of my normal cooking items, but I love to just make due. We are thinking of making cranberry margaritas, and maybe key lime instead of pumpkin pie!

      • notedinnashville November 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm Reply

        I’d love to hear how the cranberry margaritas turn out.

  9. midnitechef November 21, 2012 at 11:52 am Reply

    My favorite quote “Just eat whatever they serve you and shut your pumpkin pie hole.” Hahahaha!!! Great post my dear 🙂 I’ve had similar issues with Canadian vs Mexican traditions for holiday meals (well any meal really). But now they love my Canuck food so much that the in-laws beg me to come cook for them, but not this year, we’re in the middle of a divorce 🙁 And I’m several thousand miles from my family.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 21, 2012 at 4:28 pm Reply

      Holy cow, what a horrible time to be in the middle of a divorce — the holidays. Bummer. Well, at least you can cook whatever the hell you want, right?

      • midnitechef November 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm Reply

        That’s right 🙂 First time (married and divorce) the kids are handling pretty well, me – not so much. Sorry if I bummed you out! Happy Holidays 🙂

  10. roadwax November 21, 2012 at 9:50 am Reply

    Lisa, your generous and inspiring advice could only come from someone who’s gravy really is better than my gravy…but you are too nice to let on.

    Ironic that people involved in the process of warfare often have the finest ability to be understanding of their fellow humans and tolerant of their weaknesses.

    Me, I’m not in the military but I always have to fight the urge to violently assault my dinner host friends who put flavor enhancer in their gravy. You have made me a wiser and better person.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm Reply

      What a great, thoughtful comment, roadwax! I must look at your blog!

  11. CharmedYogi November 21, 2012 at 8:56 am Reply

    Reblogged this on A Charmed Yogi and commented:
    I love this post by Lisa Smith Molinari on holiday compromises to savor the love of family.

  12. Vania November 21, 2012 at 3:03 am Reply

    GUINNESS gravy? …that sounds amazing! please share 🙂

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm Reply

      Click on the photo of my column in Military Spouse magazine. The gravy recipe is in a little box to the right. Just follow that recipe, but reduce the broth a bit and add guiness to your liking. Delish and nice brown color!

  13. Jeremy Truitt November 20, 2012 at 11:18 pm Reply

    Great post….you have me even more anxious for Thanksgiving!

  14. Ann Kilter November 20, 2012 at 9:48 pm Reply

    Pot luck!

  15. November 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm Reply


  16. fayecooks November 20, 2012 at 8:59 pm Reply

    Haha! Really enjoyed reading your post.

  17. mwalbridge November 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm Reply

    Fascinating perspective! Really wasn’t what I expected to read at first!

  18. becomingcliche November 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm Reply

    Even my own family regards me with displeasure and skepticism when I bring something that isn’t canon.

  19. Nerd With Taste November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm Reply

    AHHHH congrats on the article! I hope you have an very Happy Thanksgiving, and I hate to tell you this, but my gravy is better than your gravy… haha! Thanks,

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm Reply

      You’re lucky I’m a fan of nerds, because I’m going to let that one slide!

  20. legendsofyouth November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Great post, thanks for sharing! I’m REALLY hungry now, thanks 😉 congrats on FP!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm Reply

      Yes, I just got back from the commissary where everyone is buzzing to stock up for the holiday … my mouth is watering already!

  21. Carter International Concierge November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Carter International Concierge and commented:
    TURKEY TALK from some of our Favorite Authors! ENJOY!

  22. CheyenneCharlie November 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Buying Cooking Serving the Best Foods and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  23. segmation November 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm Reply

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your good friends and family! Love you blog! Can’t wait to read more!

  24. espirational November 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm Reply


  25. camdenstables November 20, 2012 at 11:25 am Reply

    Really enjoyed this post (even though WE have Thanksgiving in October).

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 20, 2012 at 11:37 am Reply

      Oh no — I smell a CANADIAN! AHHH!! Just kidding, my sister-in-law is Canadian (Vancouver born) and we bust her chops (pork!) all the time! She’s our family jelly-doughnut eater!

      • camdenstables November 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm Reply

        I am from the opposite coast and at least you did not say I lived in an igloo.

        • Lisa Smith Molinari November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm Reply

          Oh goodness, I’d NEVER say anything like that to a jelly doughnut eater! Kidding!

    • Things You Realize After You Get Married November 20, 2012 at 11:51 am Reply

      Same here! 😀 But this advice is great to remember for Christmas, which is on the same date for Canadians and Americans!

  26. Washington, DC November 20, 2012 at 10:49 am Reply

    You too! I find it incredibly shocking when other folks experience the same thing as myself. Especially when it comes to holiday cooking and hosting. My Thanksgiving story mirrors your story in California. I’m hosting the Thanksgiving dinner and my family INSISTS on ordering desserts and know good and well that I LOVE to bake desserts. And I’m a darn good baker. In my nicest voice…I clear my throat and say well I well just make the banana pudding. And you know I’ve been thinking about baking a pineapple cake…Hah! Tis the season!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 20, 2012 at 11:35 am Reply

      I say bring it anyway! And then when everyone gobbles up your homemade desserts first, you will be vindicated!

  27. Things You Realize After You Get Married November 20, 2012 at 10:42 am Reply

    Great advice that should also be heeded on Christmas!! Congrats on being FP! 🙂

  28. karenspath November 20, 2012 at 10:42 am Reply

    You never know abou the other person’s dishes… you might like them even better. One year I went to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving and of course his wife cooked. I helped her make the dressing with her family recipe. It was very very similar but used chicken broth instead of milk. It was fluffier and didn’t give anyone gas. Now I subsitute broth in for milk on my own recipe. Every year I am grateful I went. So is my husband because she made green bean casserole which is now a staple. I didn’t grow up eating it so I never made it, but now I do and my youngest told me a few days ago she can’t wait for the green bean casserole. =) Happy cooking and congrats on being freshly pressed!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 20, 2012 at 11:34 am Reply

      So true… I used to poo-poo the green bean casserole as low-brow (food snob), but I married my husband who loves the stuff, and now I’ve come around — I consider it an essential part of our meal.

  29. lauriebest November 19, 2012 at 9:40 am Reply

    Very funny take on the holiday! I long ago learned to give up control of festive dinners — when my grown daughter became vegan. I still make the traditional meal for the rest of us, but she brings her own ‘vegan gravy’. Trust me, it’s beyond gross…makes canned gravy look like the height of gourmet eating! Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 19, 2012 at 9:44 am Reply

      Ew, I can’t imagine … does she put her mock turkey gravy (probably made from bean curd or some damned thing) on veggies, or does she prefer Tofurkey?

      I’m thankful I’m a carnivore. Happy TURKEY day Laurie!

      • lauriebest November 19, 2012 at 9:49 am Reply

        Even better. It’s made from–wait for it — nutritional yeast! We tried one year, to show we were open-minded, tofurkey. She wouldn’t eat it, nor would the dog. Don’t ever touch the stuff!

  30. Patrice November 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm Reply

    I know I am thankful you are my friend! The thanksgiving we spent with you in England was still one our favorite memories!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm Reply

      Yes, Patrice, that was one of the best for sure! Good friends sharing dinner in a century-old house in an English village in front of a crackling fire… And I’m thankful for you (and your WHOLE family) too!

      • Mike Farley November 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm Reply

        To share a dinner in a century-old house in an English village in front of a crackling fire: That’s plagiarism. You stole that from my high school yearbook profile.

  31. Grace Cosgriff November 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm Reply

    You are so right? So are you cooking this year?

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm Reply

      We will have Thanksgiving in Key West, so I am wondering how I can incorporate something indigenous into our meal? Conch dressing? Cranberry margaritas? Key lime cheesecake? The possibilities are endless!

  32. Anonymous November 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm Reply

    Been there, done that. Love your take. BTW, I love your cooking, too.

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