In a few days I will be making a facebook post that reads something like this, “We will be having Thanksgiving at our house, you all are very welcome to come. We’ll eat around 2:00, though you can come earlier and later. Everyone is invited, family, friends, and strangers. No need to RSPV, we’d love to have you.”
“How can you do that?”, someone always asks. “How can you cook for all those people if you don’t even know who many are coming?”
But really, how can I not?
Dale and I have not been married long, just four or five years now, so I have not have a great deal of experience at hosting events. I have learned some of the basics though, and it’s not about the food, or table setting.
The single most essential aspect of a successful party/gathering/feast, is a calm and welcoming hostess. Panic is not an emotion that nurtures a welcoming, loving atmosphere. A hostess stressed and scurrying about inadvertently says to her guests “your presence here as distressed me.” Take it all in stride, even the accidents.
Last year I warned everyone up front when I sent out the invitation. “The food will be served at 2:00 (or probably later since I’m cooking it).” Sure enough, we ate around 4:00.
Two years before that I, in resignation to my husband’s heritage, made a bowl of oyster stuffing by following a recipe on the internet which called for two whole cans of oysters, juice included. It had to be served on the porch.
The year after that I burned the sweet potatoes black. So black. In front of everyone. “I guess we just won’t have sweet taters this year.”
“No,” they replied. “They’re not that bad, we’ll just eat them upside down.” So I flipped them over and we ate them upside down.
Don’t worry about the food, it’ll work itself out.
In all honesty I’m never sure we’ll have enough food, but if we run low we’ll just send the kids out to catch one of last year’s layers and throw her in the pressure canner. Instant mini-turkey.
Hosting isn’t performance art. Your house and table setting don’t have to look like they came out of a Southern Living magazine. If you burn the turkey who really cares? Most people don’t like it anyway. What matters is your heart. If you’re quiet, cheerful, and truly thrilled just to be there with everyone then all the rest will fall where it ought.
To help encourage a calm heart on the day, I make some preparations. I have just finished planning our meal, it’s all sketched out. I have a list of what food we will have, what ingredients I need for it, and what dish it will go in, with which serving utensil. Next I’ll write in my planner what day I will prepare the components of each dish so that on actual Thanksgiving day I will have a minimal amount to do.
Then, either the day before, or the morning of, Thanksgiving I will go deliver a baby. At least that is what has happened for the last two years. In light of this, every prepped dish will have a sticky note with instructions on it, and a copy of the meal plan will be on the fridge door. That way when my husband and friends have to actually start cooking the meal it won’t be too much on them.
Which brings me to the next point. Don’t do it all on your own. I never host anything completely on my own. Not only do I have my husband, but I have my family and friends too. Let them help you. My wonderful friends know their way around my kitchen as well (or sometimes better) than I do. They will be over the day before to help with the cooking, and even though I’ll tell them not to, I know they’ll be there at the end of the evening washing dishes right alongside me. I won’t know where my children are all the time, but the other mothers there will have eyes on them when I can’t, and I’ll keep track of their’s when they can’t.
Finally, let the art go. I really admire an elegant table setting, beautiful china, polished silver, but people matter more. If you don’t have a Wedgwood china crowd coming, just leave the china in the hutch. I don’t have enough china for the number of people coming, but even if I did I wouldn’t use it. Using it would mean our guests would have to worry about their children breaking or chipping it, and even if I don’t care it just adds stress. If pretty china isn’t going to add to the fun the just skip it. We’ll be serving on paper plates, with plastic silverware, red solo cups, and decorative paper napkins. Everyone will be happy, and toward evening we’ll have kindling for a bonfire.
Thanksgiving isn’t supposed to be a grand act of culinary martyrdom, it’s about loving those you’re with (whoever they may be) with what you’ve got.