It’s almost Thanksgiving, the time of year where I just lose my mind. It is a collective crazy around my house, as you will see, but I am the only one who gets fat and nutty over it.
When my husband and I moved away from Kentucky over 30 years ago, we felt especially homesick at the holidays. We were living in L.A. back then, and decided we would cook for all of our friends who didn’t have family around. Turns out a lot of people in LA grew up elsewhere. We started calling our event “Thanksgiving for the Homeless and the Shut Ins,” and our friends loved it and our numbers grew.
We continued the tradition when we moved to Las Vegas and bought our first house. Turns out not everyone was raised in the south, not everyone knows how to cook, or has matching dishes or -gasp- even owns an apron. I know how to do all of those things. I can put Thanksgiving dinner on the table for 50 people with candles and matching dishes and sparkling wine glasses and fresh pressed cloth napkins. I got a lot of kudos for this over the years and I liked that. What I don’t like is working for weeks ahead of time, and weeks after, getting the house ready, multiple trips to the store, trying to make everything perfect for endless house guests – one year we had 14 people stay with us.
There was the Thanksgiving right after I had my daughter when I mulled over the idea of using paper plates. My husband must have been distressed, because he mentioned it to his brother, who sent me an email imploring me to use real china (quick vocabulary lesson: folie a deux: delusion or mental illness shared by two people in close association). See? It’s not just me. But here is the difference: My sweet husband stays cheerful the entire time, and doesn’t stress to the point of eating everything in sight. One year Mac couldn’t seem to stop inviting people, and we ended up with 60 people for a sit down meal. There was the year a couple of the guys decided to build new tables a few hours before dinner was going to be on the table. There was the year I drank waaaay too much. The ensuing shame sent me straight to the food for days and weeks to follow. Then, the worst one: the year I cooked Thanksgiving for 40 people two days after I had a miscarriage. I simply didn’t know what else to do.
So. Thanksgiving is fraught. All the food. The hard physical work. The high expectations, the bar I have set for myself. My endless drive to do everything perfectly always ALWAYS leads me to overeat. Then: all the leftovers. All the goodies people bring me. All the wine. Damn. How am I going to get through this one? How will this year be different? After all, this year there will only be eight house guests. Um, and 54 people for dinner.
Well, it will be radically different, and I am excited.
Here is my plan, and it is a true departure for me. I will write more details in my next post, but here’s what I’ve got so far. The first part of the plan is logistical: I am buying already prepared mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy (Oh, Trader Joe’s, I love you!). My husband and some of our guests are making dessert. We are renting glassware and linens so I don’t have to spend hours fooling with either of them. I am roasting turkey breasts instead of whole birds and buying Honey Baked Ham. I’m putting some effort into pretty veggie platters, so I can have something healthy to nibble on all day long. I am scaling back on the sheer variety and amount of food served. There is always waaaaay too much.
Part two of my scheme is to take some time for me, to rest, to really appreciate the holiday. I have early morning walks planned on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I am inviting my family and guests to join me, but am going regardless of who tags along. I have a pretty new dress to wear; the smallest dress size I have worn in twenty-something years. I am delegating more, fretting less. I am asking for help. And I am focusing on why we do this every single year.
Because, lest you think it is all drudgery, I am delighted to have a house full of people we love. I like my friends all crowded around my kitchen, helping out, laughing, telling stories, making a feast together. We play games after dinner; a friend or two usually plays the piano; someone always does a killer magic trick. I DO love that we all sit down at pretty tables; that tradition stays. My husband will make a toast, everyone will raise a glass, and this year I plan to make time, on Thanksgiving, for gratitude. What a concept.