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A Farr-out Thanksgiving

I wasn’t sure I was going to do it until that moment. I’d been thinking about it all day, the idea simmering in the back of my head, braising like a chicken thigh. I stared down the sweet potato puree drenched with brown sugar and pecans, eyed the corn casserole composed of 21 crushed saltine crackers and creamed canned corn, and took in the big ceramic bowl of mashed potatoes waiting to be microwaved. My throat constricted as I imagined loading my plate with these various forms of vegetable mush. I imagined the weight of that plate as I carried it to the table and, soon after, the weight of the sludge languishing on my tongue. I shuddered, nearly gagging at the mental picture I’d drawn.

It was too much. All of it.

When my dad turned his head away from the giblet-heavy gravy he was readying on the burner, I bolted to the cabinet for the box of farro I’d brought down to my parents’ house from my apartment in Los Angeles. While my dad checked on the turkey on the barbecue outside, I snuck a small saucepan onto the back burner, behind the pan for my warm Brussels sprouts salad. With one eye affixed to the back door, I quickly began sautéing some shallots. Within minutes, the farro was discreetly simmering away. I busied myself with the Brussels sprouts, praying that no one would notice that I was also chopping some celery and parsley for no apparent reason.

I kept waiting for someone to ask me what I was doing, for someone to see the pan and shriek, “What, is our food not good enough for you?” But nobody said anything. My mom was nervously watching the sweet potato casserole baking in the oven, my eldest brother was busy searching for another bottle of wine to uncork and my dad was forcing spoonfuls of gravy upon anyone who walked by.

“Does it need more pepper?” he asked my other brother while I threw a handful of dried cranberries into the farro. I snapped the lid on again and continued attending to the sprouts as though it was my only care in the kitchen.

“Five minutes!” I jumped at the sound of my mom’s voice. She slammed the oven door shut and began microwaving the loathed mashed potatoes. My brothers armed themselves with plates and began circling the turkey like vultures, while my dad shimmied his whisk through the gravy, not letting his eyes stray from the pan. I took advantage of their inattention, pulling my farro from the burner and quickly stirring in the parsley and celery to finish. I lifted it onto the bar behind the stove, and breathed a sigh of relief. Now all I had to do was get it on my plate without anyone seeing.

“I’m cutting the turkey!” my dad called out to no one in particular, finally leaving his post at the stove to take on the bird at the other end of the kitchen. I loaded my plate with Brussels sprouts, two hefty slices of turkey and gravy, and then snatched my secret stash of farro off the bar. While everyone happily crammed the various forms of mush onto their plates, I unloaded the farro into a heap next to my turkey. The celery-speckled, dun-colored grain could almost pass for stuffing, I thought. Surely I was home free now.

After we’d all assumed our positions around the dining room table, I finally let myself relax. I took a long cleansing gulp of wine and began to dig into the feast on my plate, but as I lifted that first bite of farro to my lips, my mom leaned over to whisper something in my ear.

“I know what you did,” she said.

I looked over with alarm, my fork still poised in mid-air, but the glint in her eye assured me my Thanksgiving secret was safe with her. She nodded toward her plate of untouched mush and with a sly smile asked, “Can I have some too?”