Friday, November 16, 2007

Finding the Simple in Thanksgiving

I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.

I know. I only started eating meat and poultry again 8 months ago. I'm a novice. I haven't hosted Thanksgiving dinner in more than a decade. That was an amazing vegetarian feast, with appreciative guests. It's easier to please people when they aren't expecting a traditional turkey dinner.

So here I am, making lists, scheduling out my tasks for the next week, and basically trying to avoid a panic attack. I've sent a good friend several email messages already, knowing full well that she won't be reading them tonight or possibly even this weekend. So here I am at the blog, trying to talk myself down, trying to remember what I want as a big picture.

I'm actually not afraid to make the turkey. Well, maybe that's because I am making a practice turkey tomorrow. I remember roasting my first chicken, with an audience, and it was nerve wracking. No, I'm roasting a bird tomorrow. It's my style anyway; I want homemade turkey stock for the gravy. Sometimes I make extra work for myself and it is 100% worth it.

But there are a plethora of side dishes to make, and I have to figure out when each one goes in the oven. I keep trying to simplify it, and other people's expectations jump out at me and require that I squeeze in one more item.

I am going insane over sweet potatoes.

Really. Papa wants praline sweet potato casserole, the one I make. Of course, I always make it and take it with me, snug in a little thermal carrier that keeps it hot so my host doesn't have to use his or her oven to warm it. This casserole is pushing me over the line from can-do to can't-possibly-do. I don't have a double oven, or even a toaster oven. My oven is booked solid all day: pumpkin pie, turkey, dressing, rolls.

(Note to self: Dad needs a toaster oven. Can I buy one to use on Thanksgiving and give it to him afterwards so it doesn't clutter up my house? Does anyone else I know have one I could borrow?)

It's not like my marriage is going to fall apart over sweet potato casserole. But Papa wants it ~ it's the dish that says Thanksgiving to him.

Is this really all about sweet potato casserole anyway? Could it be that I let simple get away from me? Am I being haunted by the ghost of Thanksgiving past? I think I am, and I don't like it. Everyone is bringing their expectation of what Thanksgiving should be, especially when it comes to food. We have ardent roasters in the family, and confirmed BBQ aficionados. There is a contingent that definitely prefers marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. No one in my family has ever made a fresh, not frozen, turkey. Some people definitely prefer their cranberry sauce to be can-shaped.

Then there are ads and magazines and TV shows trying to make me believe that Thanksgiving has one look, and only one look: perfect. Crisp table linens, gleaming china and silver, dining rooms that hold tables that seat 24. Backyards with fountains and gardens and ponds, outfitted with redwood decks and teak furniture, on rolling acres of grass and meadow. There are no smudges on the windows (the kind that appear when little boys press their noses against the glass, willing their visitors to arrive), no finger prints on the door ways, no pencil marks on the walls. The dogs are always purebred.

I can't please everyone, period. So here is my Thanksgiving manifesto for 2007:

1) I will make 10 pounds of mashed potatoes for 23 people. I will not make 15 or 20 pounds of potatoes just to be certain that everyone needs to unbutton their pants after dinner and leave with leftover potatoes. 10 is enough.

2) I will make one batch of sweet potato casserole, not two. If we run out, there will be other food.

3) I will make simple green beans or a green salad. I will not make both. I will not let myself believe that greens beans must be roasted or covered in Hollandaise sauce. I will not fool myself into thinking that a green vegetable will somehow undo the indulgence that a Thanksgiving feast is. I will embrace the indulgence.

4) I will buy an oblong tablecloth or a sheet for my oval table, being that I can't find an oval tablecloth at a decent price, and I only need the bigger cloth a few times a year. I will stop trying to make it perfect.

5) I will not fret over the fact that the carpet in the family room really needs to be cleaned. I will remind myself that it would need cleaning again afterwards, anyway. There will be children here.

6) I will not go out and buy new bedding for the master bedroom. I will not. I can't get what I want, and I haven't made it yet, and I have to be okay with that.

7) I will remind myself that I don't need matching, holiday-themed dishes for one meal. I will acknowledge that the only way I could afford to do so would be to buy Chinet, and I don't want to do that.

8) I will not give in and buy Coca-Cola and bottled water. I thought I could, I can't. I feel better already.

9) I will not lose myself this week. I will stay available to my children and I will not let stress overwhelm me. I will attempt not to yell at anyone.

10) I will remember that I love to cook, and I will have fun.

So, to recap: no paper plates, no plastic forks, no bottled water, no made-in-China centerpieces and decorations, no stress. Yes to being who I am, yes to having fun, yes to imperfection, yes to friendship, yes to laughter, yes to love.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not much of a commenter usually, but had to chime in here. SIMPLE is important! Given that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I was nominated a few years ago to be the one who holds it, and, as a non-chef (in a big way!) here's what I've done to make it work:

    Butterball Fully Cooked Turkey. It's WONDERFULLY delicious and simple, only takes 2 1/2 hour to heat. That means no getting up at 5am to start the Turkey. They only come in an 8lb size, so it also means that I have to buy 3 of them to feed everyone and have enough for left-overs, but 2 fit in my oven at once, and since they are fully cooked, I just slice up one of them the night before and it's already to go into the send-home leftovers packages that everyone goes home with.

    Mashed Potatoes and Stuffing from Boston Market. Totally cheating, totally delicious, TOTALLY SIMPLE. I just scoop them out of their containers and into a caserol dish, which can go either in the oven OR in the microwave. Voila, perfect side-dishes, no muss, no fuss. And they have an OUTRAGEOUS cranberry sauce that looks and tastes like homemade, all it needs is to be served in a nice cut-crystal dish.

    I do make my hallmark holiday cinnamon bread from scratch, so that takes time, but can be done a day or two in advance. Likewise, the kids make festively decorated sugar cookies in advance. Marie Callendar makes an OUTRAGEOUS apple pie -- straight from the freezer into the oven as the Turkeys are coming out, and we've got hot apple pie for desert.

    All the rest of the sides and breads and deserts are brought by others. I play to their strengths, my mom makes a killer Green Bean Casserole, my MIL is reknown for her Sweet Potato Casserole, my BIL is a bread maker, and my sister has a famous Pumpkin Pie.

    Mulled cider in the crock pot -- easy simple! That, and a couple bottles of table wine, and we're good to go.

    Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for the blog, I quite enjoy reading along with you and your family's adventures!