The Big Dinner…



Trying to create the perfect day can end up making it a disaster.

Thanksgiving is coming and, for those of us who thrive under stress in the kitchen, the day can’t come fast enough.  While this year I will not be hosting Thanksgiving, I love being in the kitchen creating a huge meal that everyone will enjoy.  I am up by 7am sautéing onions and peppers in mounds of butter to add to my seasoned breadcrumbs to create a sumptuous stuffing.  By 9am, the bird is stuffed and in the oven.  I use red bliss potatoes so I don’t have to peel them and I wash and put them in the pan the night before.  Brown and serve rolls are the easiest way to get warmed rolls without all the fuss.  Assortments of frozen vegetables are placed in microwave safe dishes and topped with butter and seasoning, lined up and ready to be nuked.

By 10am the table is set, the wine is chilling, the desserts (prepared a few days in advance) are safely tucked away and I am in the shower.  I am nothing if not efficient, coordinated…and well, a control freak.

I have come to realize a couple of things about Thanksgiving.  One is this holiday can cause such tremendous stress that it could potentially cause divorce.  Point in fact, many years ago my ex-brother-in-law and his wife were hosting Thanksgiving.  For some reason I cannot recall now, we were not there, but we did hear about it the next day.  Long story short, rolls were burned, words were said and separations occurred.  This is an extreme example, but it goes to show how personally we take hosting this once a year event.

The second thing I have come to realize is that this holiday is about being thankful for what you have.  It shouldn’t be stressful.  As I have aged, I hope I have also gained some wisdom in these things.  My ex’s family was always in competition with each other; one always trying to outdo the others.  Growing up as an only child, I am always at a loss as to why siblings do this to each other.

My advice, to anyone who wishes to take it, is to relax.  If you are hosting the big meal and you are not the organized control freak that I am, don’t try to do it yourself.  Give away some of the work and look for shortcuts on the chores you choose to keep.  There is nothing written that says the in-laws can’t bring a large bowl of mashed potatoes instead of dessert.  Depending on how many people you have coming, delegate as many of the pieces of the meal you can.

Make it fun.  Challenge family and friends to come up with a recipe that no one has tried before.  See if guests can come up with a creative side dish or dessert.  If your kitchen is big enough, invite everyone over early and get cooking.  Make it clear that the kitchen is a judgment free zone and that no matter how the meal comes out, you are thankful just to be in each other’s company.

Plan ahead.  Make a list of all the tasks you need to get done including shopping.  Break the list down into doable chunks by day.  Having one or two things to do each day is better than trying to cram it all into one.

Delegate!  Give kids age appropriate tasks and if you have a significant other in your life, make sure they are putting in equal time.  Don’t refuse help.  If a family member offers to come over early and help set the table, accept.  Make it a family event where everyone pitches in.

If you are not hosting the event this year, then offer help early on.  If the person hosting is a control freak (yes, like me) then offer to bring the wine or other beverages or perhaps an appetizer.  Don’t take no for an answer.   Suggest ideas to make the event fun.  Be a co-host.  Show up a little early and help set up, or help clean up after the meal.

Most of all…Breath!  Stop, take a moment, and remember that through it all, you are lucky to have friends and family to surround yourself with, even if some of those people drive you a little crazy.  If being with these people causes you too much stress, don’t go.  We eventually stopped going to my ex’s family’s house for holidays all together and went to a friend’s instead.  It was much more fun and relaxing and we found other ways to spend time with the in-laws that were much less stressful.

There are no hard and fast rules here people. Trying to take this one day and make it perfect is pointless.  Keep the perspective where it belongs.  Smile, have fun and enjoy!  Life is too short to be upset over a bunch of burned dinner rolls.


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