This has been a turkey of a year. Not in the sense of tasting good, but in the sense of being a disappointment.

I feel like I’ve been dozing through the last few months in a Tryptophan-fueled daze, half awake but unable to accomplish much worthwhile. I did pry myself off the couch to mow the lawn, clean the gutters and vote, but that was about it for 2020.

The whole year has behaved like that distant cousin who shows up at the Thanksgiving family gathering and spends the entire afternoon grumbling about the food, the football score, the weather and everyone else in attendance. We’ll all be glad when 2020 slams the door in a huff and pulls out of the driveway. Then maybe we can breathe a sigh of relief, lean back in our recliners and watch the rest of the game in peace.

Thanksgiving is coming up, but our annual family get-together will be severely pared back this year, to just my wife and I and our two sons. I give thanks daily for the continued health of myself and my loved ones, near and far. That’s a bright spot for which I’m grateful.

My wife and I have been talking about the menu for Thanksgiving Day.

We may serve turkey, but we may substitute pork or beef. Mashed potatoes certainly will be on the table, though — they are a comfort food like no other, and we need some bland relief from this year’s mental strife. Our brains may be stressed, but our stomachs can find solace in the comfortable potato.

To spice up the meal, I may make a batch of my mother’s famous cranberry gelatin salad. I call it my mom’s creation, but I think I once heard her admit she copied the recipe off the back of a Jell-O box sometime back in the 1960s.

I struggle to consider this a “salad” because lettuce is conspicuously absent. But celery is in there, so I twist the definition.

Celery is light and offers a satisfying crunch — totally unlike the year 2020, which continues to weigh heavily in our collective gut and has offered a distinctly unpleasant mushy texture.

I just read a report about one California farm’s celery harvest. The crop is looking good.

Russ Widerburg of Boskovich Farms Inc., in Oxnard, California, said in a release that celery production began in the company’s fields there about two weeks ago.

Production is beginning this week in the company’s fields in Coachella (28 miles from Palm Springs and home of the famous Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival) and Yuma, Arizona.

“In the last three to four days, demand has really kicked in,” said Widerburg. “Michigan is done and everything is out here. East Coast demand is better and retailers have their pre-books on the books for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is also a stay-at-home holiday for people and it sounds like more people will eat at home, so retail looks strong for the holiday.”

There is no doubt that more of America will dine at home this Thanksgiving. The pandemic has put a major crimp in travel habits.

America’s eating habits also have changed in the last few months. Restaurants still are adapting to COVID-19 restrictions. Most in the Traverse City area appear to be hanging on to clientele, though, and hoping for better days to come.

But Thanksgiving — for many of us — will be a stay-at-home holiday in 2020.

Despite years of practice, I’m still not very good at roasting turkey. But I am pretty good at cranking out my mom’s cranberry gelatin salad. I sometimes cook a double batch, because leftovers make a festive holiday snack even when Turkey Day is past.

Here’s the recipe:

Cranberry gelatin salad


3 cups cranberries (a 12-ounce bag)

1½ cups sugar

2 cups water

1 large (6 ounce) package of cherry gelatin

1¼ cups diced celery

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp. salt


Put cranberries (pick out any stray stems) and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil.

Add sugar. Boil about 5 minutes (until most of the berries have split open), stirring occasionally. This part can be messy.

Dump the dry gelatin mix in a baking pan, which also functions as the serving dish. Carefully pour the boiling mixture over the gelatin powder. Stir until all the gelatin is dissolved (could take five minutes).

Place in refrigerator and chill until it begins to set, 3 or 4 hours.

Cut celery into 1/2-inch pieces.

Chop walnuts.

Stir in celery, walnuts and salt until evenly distributed. Wipe gelatin splashes off the edges of the dish so it’ll look nice for your guests. (Alternatively, you could pour the mixture into a Jell-O mold, but I’m not that ambitious.)

Chill overnight.

The dish offers an interesting combination of tart and sweet, crunchy and chewy.

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