Best Eats: Thanksgiving dinner from a friend, and honoring my own absurd tradition


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — When 17 News meteorologist Kevin Charette saw me heating Hot Pockets (more on that later) on Thanksgiving Day, he jumped into action.

After leaving the studio, Charette sent me a message saying he and his family were going to bring me dinner. I told him not to worry, that I was perfectly fine, but he insisted — and I’m glad he did.

He lugged in a bag holding four containers of food: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and candied yams; biscuits, cranberry sauce and an applesauce containing pureed Hot Tamales candies (very good); a slice of pumpkin pie; and an assortment of cookies, fudge and other sweets.

The fact that this photo was taken after I’d already eaten half the dish’s contents gives an idea of just how much food Kevin Charette gave me for Thanksgiving.

I dug into the turkey dinner so quickly I forgot to take a photo until it was half-eaten, but it was a beautiful, bountiful portion of food. The pie was perfect, and also a work of art, with portions of crust cut into acorns and leaves on top. And the cookies, which I had for breakfast Friday morning, were wonderful. I’d be tempted to make cookies for breakfast a habit if they were always this good.

I’m thankful for co-workers like Charette. He’s a caring, generous person and he made a Thanksgiving spent at the office special.

The tradition continues

In November 1995, I decided to stay on campus at Syracuse University instead of going home for the holiday break.

Why, you ask? It partly came as a result of my worrying over a paper I needed to finish, but it mostly had to do with being a stubborn young man enjoying his first time living away from home and thinking he knew it all.

Well, I was a fool (some would argue I still am).

Because it wasn’t an idle threat when the university said the campus would close for the holidays. Everything shut down, not only the buildings where classes were held but also cafeterias, the library and the student center. I had the ability to get in and out of my dormitory, but other than that I was on my own.

Literally on my own, since no one else in the dorm decided to stay. I had no one to talk to but myself.

On Thanksgiving Day, the city of Syracuse also closed. I walked from one place to another, hoping to find a pizza joint open on nearby Marshall Street, but I was out of luck.

As I meandered, I encountered a philosophy professor who, when I told him my predicament, didn’t have to apply his learning to state the obvious: “You didn’t think this through, did you?”

Finally, I found a convenience store with its lights on. I walked in, looked around and made a purchase that has echoed through my life for two-and-a-half decades.

I bought pepperoni and cheese Hot Pockets and an apple.

Steak and cheese Hot Pocket.

Hot Pockets, frozen turnovers containing meat and cheese, probably had their heyday in the 90s but can still be found in many convenience stores and supermarkets.

They’re even the subject of a popular bit by comedian Jim Gaffigan, who, and I’m paraphrasing here, accurately states that when you bite into a Hot Pocket they’re either cold in the middle or the temperature of the sun.

After my purchase, I strolled back to the dorm. Calls came in from family and friends wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving, and we discussed what we were doing. And what we were eating.

I still recall my mother’s laughter when I described my meal.

Eating Hot Pockets for Thanksgiving when I had the opportunity to go home and gorge on turkey with all the trimmings was so ridiculous, such a bad move, that it has since become an ironic part of my holiday tradition.

Do Hot Pockets serve as a special treat, a guilty pleasure? Not for me. They’re OK, but when I’m hungry at night I can’t say I’ve ever craved soggy dough with a thin filling of pepperoni and cheese that is guaranteed to burn the roof of my mouth.

Nevertheless, I buy them once a year as a reminder that I don’t have all the answers, that relying on the wisdom of others is often the better move.

And that it doesn’t take a college education to know eating turkey surrounded by family beats eating a frozen meal in an empty dorm.

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