Pulling off the dynamics of a “stress free” Thanksgiving seems to be an oxymoron. There’s the fractured family members, the loud screams and rambunctious nature of over-caffeinated children, the overwhelming opinions of various culinary talents and the extra canine companion brought by a favorite cousin not comfortable kenneling his pup. You roll with it, live in the present, while being grateful for having such distractions.
It’s a day of friends and family, all coming together and bringing their own traditions through your front door. When hosting, I like to accept helping hands, delegate a bit, not focus on a seating schedule, ignore the drama while enjoying a glass (or two) of Sauvignon Blanc for good measure. Although these tips are helpful, it’s easier said than done. There’s always the debate over how long Half & Half can sit at room temperature, the compromised physics of dishwasher loading and the minutes-per-pound of properly cooking a turkey.
Our house hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year. I shopped, cooked and presented for 26 hungry family members. Although this is considered culinary suicide in most homes, it was a welcome challenged. The adventure entailed three trips to Costco, two to the grocery store, one trip to the liquor store and a drive to Ekonk Hill in Moosup, CT, a turkey farm where we ordered and purchased a delicious, free-range turkey.
Family members began arriving Wednesday evening and Thanksgiving morning, all bearing baked goods, adult beverages and overnight bags filled with clothing and humorous stories of eccentric family members and Thanksgivings past. As the oven preheated and giblets simmered, the turkey was repeatedly violated with handfuls of moist stuffing. The truth of feeding a houseful became more of a reality. Yet, it was heartwarming seeing their happy faces, watching them relax after long travels, while conversations competed with echoes of the televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I was honored and thankful, looking at each guest while striving to savor the moment and memory. Some are living and fighting with advanced stages of cancer, others expecting their first child. Here we were, all living in various stages and challenges of life, coming together to give thanks and remind ourselves of why we love one another.
As meal time drew near, trying to coordinate the platters of food and hot dishes was the only time I lost my cool, literally. The annual family photo around the Thanksgiving table was not exactly a welcome distraction. After hours upon hours in the kitchen, gazing upon the steaming dishes, their temperatures dropped while my internal temperature rose. Capturing the perfect family photo opportunity with all 26 guests was the least of my concerns.
Bellies were full, belches released and the apocalypse of dishes were exhausting to even gaze upon. The dishwasher was loaded, unloaded and reloaded. As soon as the kitchen was cleaned, and the second string of leftover eating ended, the kitchen resembled post Thanksgiving dinner, yet again.
The once swept floor is littered with crumbs and spills of leftover gravy requiring a hammer and chisel. Don’t be alarmed by family members' plate cleaning methods, i.e. the dogs. This practice is not a normalcy in my house. Although I silently objected, Tuff was in heaven sticking his entire head inside a stock pot, licking chunky remnants of mashed potatoes. It wasn’t until Tuff's morning walk with Uncle Mike that I was informed (in detail) of the consistency of my dog's abnormal bowels. “Must of been the stock pot of mashed potatoes. I had to use leaves to clean it up,” he reported. Only family would be so comfortable and candid discussing such topics.
Large family get-togethers are loaded with the candidness of humanity mixed with questionable social graces. In all honesty, it’s the best part of the unscripted holiday of being thankful. I’d rather cook like a well-oiled machine, let the house turn upside down, touch a pregnant belly and listen to Uncle Mike discuss my dog's digestive habits. I’m thankful for a family that lives in the moment and keeps me laughing.