If you are one of the 785,000 people who follow Eli Rallo on TikTok, you likely know that her first book, a guide to love and dating titled I Didn’t Know I Needed This, will be out December 12. You may not know that, because she grew up in a New Jersey restaurant family, Thanksgiving is a very big deal for her family (almost as important as Sunday Feasts). However, this year Rallo spent it in Houston with her boyfriend’s family before making it back to Jersey City for some much needed (and homemade) spicy vodka sauce.
Thursday, November 23
I’d gone out to a bar in my boyfriend’s hometown of Houston to celebrate “Blackout Wednesday.” I did not black out, but I did meet two really great dogs and eventually rejoiced at the idea of leaving, ordering McDonald’s, and watching The Kardashians — until they messed up my order (M& M’s McFlurry, add caramel) and instead delivered a frappé. I assume the ice-cream machine was broken. It wasn’t very good.
Every Thanksgiving morning, I will (1) go for a run, and (2) eat a good breakfast. Typically, I go home for the holiday, but I had been in L.A., and it was just not going to work for me to get from California to Jersey. My family usually does a Turkey Trot, and we like to do it up. It’s around 30 people and we have fake prizes and all, but there wasn’t one this year because I wasn’t there, and everybody says that I’m the one that organizes it. So I organized my own little Turkey Trot in Texas. I honored my tradition with my boyfriend’s best friend. Post-run (and post realizing I was very out of running shape), I had two hard-boiled eggs and a bowl of fruit.
While I was getting ready, my boyfriend, whose name is Avery, made me a coffee with almond milk and sugar (made with love, according to him). If I had made the coffee myself, I would’ve gone for regular milk. I’m kind of a freak in that I don’t have one dedicated coffee order. I change the order by the hour. I’m so indecisive (despite having no Libra placements in my birth chart), and I kind of like everything.
We had Thanksgiving at Avery’s aunt and uncle’s house, and immediately upon entry, I was handed the “specialty drink” — the Red Rooster — which I can only describe as half-slush (I ate it with a spoon). The Red Rooster is equal parts lemon vodka, orange liqueur, orange juice, and cranberry juice with shaved ice. After one, I pivoted to drinking wine because I could not handle the Red Rooster.
I’m allergic to gluten and so is my boyfriend’s brother. My family makes options for me, but my dad is an Italian chef, so gluten-free items are not prioritized in my house. I don’t like to inconvenience people, but it was kind of nice to be catered to with lots of options, because my boyfriend’s brother was diagnosed with celiac when he was 2 years old. I had turkey, canned cranberry sauce (better than the homemade kind), mashed potatoes (with gravy), gluten-free cornbread, and Brussels sprout salad.
We left around six o’clock. When we got back, we opened five bottles of wine and played a ruthless game of Psych (an addictive iPhone game, much like Pictionary). This was my first Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family, and playing the game, I was like, “They definitely are comfortable with me.”
Once we were thoroughly tipsy, we made macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza, and gluten-free mozzarella sticks — we also threw a bunch of leftovers in the microwave. Seven of us stood in the kitchen silently and ate. We were all kind of drunk. Leftovers, frozen food, five bottles of wine, and a family game that toes (but does not cross) the line is actually my ideal evening.
Friday, November 24
I woke up sans hangover (shocking) and had two cups of Keurig coffee with milk and sugar while I read a book on the couch. A bunch of family came over for brunch, and I had a piece of gluten-free banana bread, two hard-boiled eggs, and a bowl of fruit. I like to start my day with fruit because it’s colorful and sweet. I’d been craving an uninterrupted stint of reading, so I enjoyed my breakfast and the morning with 100 pages of Tom Lake by Ann Patchett.
We went to the gym, where I walked on the treadmill for an hour and played on my phone. We followed this with some Black Friday shopping in pursuit of new sweaters but wound up with Williams Sonoma peppermint bark (which we opened in the car) instead.
We went to Stella’s Wine Bar for a little afternoon lunch date. We each had a glass of Barolo and built our own cheese board: goat cheese, prosciutto, bresaola, cornichons, pecans, figs. Cheese-board consumption — and creation — is a religious experience for me. I’m very picky about my cheese boards. This one was pretty good. After finishing the board (and emptying our glasses), we were still hungry. One reason I love my boyfriend is that he’s always down to treat himself — so we got caviar and potato chips, which is my favorite food. We don’t do this often. He just knows it makes me happy, and I also have a Ph.D. in treating myself.
We sort of overstayed our welcome at the wine bar, so we rushed home for dinner — peppermint bark in tow. We arrived to steak fajitas on the grill, A Star Is Born on the soundtrack, and red wine poured into glasses. After the fajitas, we lit a fire and snacked on peppermint bark. Despite it being 50 degrees outside, the vibe was giving white Christmas.
Saturday, November 25
I never pay attention to football except for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when Michigan plays Ohio State. I went to Michigan, and my family is incredibly passionate about Michigan football, so I’m not completely useless when it comes to following the sport.
We got up at the crack of dawn to make it to Avery’s family’s ranch before the game started and stopped at the gigantic, obnoxious Texas gas-station chain Buc-ee’s. They sell everything; it’s terrifying. Imagine a Wawa but legitimately as big as a Target. They sell fudge and brisket and sandwiches, but they also have your standard Slurpees and sodas and whatever. There’s also a whole area of merch and trinkets and tchotchkes. Randomly, they’re known for having the cleanest bathrooms. I got an iced coffee with almond milk and pumpkin creamer, hard-boiled eggs (again, it’s nicer than a normal gas station, I swear), and a fruit cup. I also got peanut-butter fudge for later.
Once at the ranch, we made mimosas and watched Michigan beat Ohio State. During the game, I snacked on salt-and-vinegar chips — which would never have been my first chip choice, but it was what we had available. At one point, Avery made me a sandwich (gluten-free bread, avocado, lettuce, oil, and vinegar). Despite his best efforts, the gluten-free bread fell apart (par for the course) and it was a little crumby but still good.
We drove 20 minutes down pitch-black dirt roads to go to dinner in the countryside at Vbar, a restaurant in this members-only country club development in New Ulm. This is the one restaurant that’s open to the public, and it’s the only place in the area. The nearest grocery store is at least 15 minutes away from their ranch. I always wonder what we would do in case someone needed a hospital; it’s far away.
I ordered an espresso martini with tequila and a wedge salad as an appetizer. I felt overdue for a vegetable, and wedge salads are (controversially) one of my favorite foods. I feel empathy toward stinky cheeses and other foods society commonly hates.
I got a cheeseburger with no bun (medium rare, cheddar cheese with sautéed onions), and we got a gluten-free pizza for the table, so I had a slice of that as well. We all ended up eating off one another’s plates, and at that moment, I was grateful not to feel like a stranger (but like a family member) with Avery’s brothers and parents.
Afterward, we went to a literal western saloon, where I met another great dog (a standard poodle named Bonnie) and had a glass of red wine. Before bed, I had some of my gas-station fudge.
Sunday, November 26
We had to rush to the airport, but our flight was delayed during the drive over, so we stopped at Buc-ee’s yet again and I had an iced coffee with half-and-half and sugar.
Despite the slight delay, we made it to our gate with just enough time to grab a water bottle and a snack. I’m sort of neurotic when it comes to air travel. I am obsessed with those peanut-butter skinny-dipped almonds.
Sunday is my favorite day of the week, mostly because, as a child, my parents really looked forward to Sundays. My dad owns and operates three restaurants in Monmouth County and one in Staten Island. Sunday is the only day he takes off, so we always had uninterrupted time with him. Not only that, but being Italian and Jewish, my dad lives for a good party — and is an excellent host. Sundays at my house had an open-door policy, enough food to feed the entire town, enough wine to drown the entire state. This Sunday, as I was arriving home to Jersey City, my brother sent me a video of my mom standing on their kitchen table serenading my dad, my brother, my brother’s boyfriend, and a gaggle of their friends with a rendition of “Mean” by Taylor Swift.
I always see Sunday as a day to really enjoy my dinner. I call it Sunday Feast, even if it’s just my boyfriend and me or even when I’m alone. I make sure to eat a delicious meal that I really love, drink a fabulous beverage, and surround myself with good energy and company (even if that company is Sex and the City season two).
Cooking was off the table for this Sunday, however. We ordered Chipotle while we waited at the Newark Airport baggage claim. My classic order is white rice, double steak, cheese, romaine lettuce with a side of sour cream, guacamole, and pico de gallo. I also got a side order of chips, and then I scoop the proper amount of guac, sour cream, and pico onto each chip before adorning said chip with rice, cheese, steak, and lettuce. I am all about the perfect bite.
Monday, November 27
I woke up and immediately chugged an ice water. We hadn’t had time to go to the grocery store on Sunday, so I made breakfast out of what we had — instant oats, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and a dream.
I made coffee with my Nespresso (my firstborn child) and added some creamer. I take great pride in my mugs. This morning, I used my “Mama Claus” mug.
After Pilates, I went to Whole Foods. They just opened one in Jersey City, and it’s amazing. Despite coming from a family of chefs and restaurateurs, I’m not the best cook. I’m far better than average, but compared to my dad and brothers, I’m a major work in progress. Growing up, I also never had to learn to cook, and the women in my family did not belong in the kitchen. I do enjoy cooking, though, and I’m trying to get better at it. I got ingredients to make Baked by Melissa’s Green Goddess Salad, which is like a crunchy slaw with a creamy basil dressing that you eat with chips or crackers. I really like having a vessel for my greens, so I make this recipe a lot.
When I got back, I made gluten-free dumplings and some stir-fried veggies, and we both took a second away from work to have lunch together. My boyfriend rarely works from our apartment, so this was a nice treat. I hate cleaning, and he hates cooking, so we have a pretty good thing going.
Of course, my brother — a professional chef — had to drop a picture of his own homemade spicy vodka pasta in the family group chat a mere 15 minutes before I’d finished cooking my own spicy vodka pasta. I went live on TikTok while I cooked and talked about my breast reduction, my book tour, and why I’m an Ariana Grande apologist.
Cooking feels like a bit of a homecoming to me. I suppose it’s because it’s in my blood. My pasta was a little too al dente (I got impatient) but otherwise very good.