Friday, November 28, 2008

How to Host Your First Thanksgiving: Part V

You could have guessed that preparing your first Thanksgiving (or any Thanksgiving, really) requires plenty of planning. And I’m the queen of planning when a project tickles my fancy.

Once the menu was settled, I plotted out my week (hour by hour by Wednesday night) to ensure I picked up ingredients and managed prep time with style and grace.

Oh, and that I’d squeeze in enough time to sleep and run the Turkey Trot on Thursday morning!

Granted, I didn’t get much sleep, but cutting out of the kitchen for a couple hours to drive downtown to race the 5-miler only kicked energy into the day. My back and legs were pretty sore from Wednesday’s endless standing in place (while my upper body was cooking, whipping, whirling, salting, rolling and kneading away), so the race was a welcomed change.

And I even hit noon (my secondary start time after the race) well ahead of schedule. Until water took revenge on me. Even atop full blast, my pots of water just wouldn’t boil. For an hour. They teetered on the brink of boiling, but took an eternity to get there. So, the potatoes and sweet potatoes, which diced early that morning before the trot, put me behind almost immediately out of the gate.

Not to be deterred, I stuck to my schedule and tried to speed up the things for which I allowed plenty of extra time. Like the flatbread baking and cheese chopping. But what I didn’t account for were my little oopsies, like forgetting to thaw the chorizo or pit the dates.


Nevertheless, I was only five minutes behind hors d’oeuvres when the first wave of Neil’s punctual family arrived (while I fully expected them to be on time, there’s the part of me that’s used to a family who’s a little more fashionably late). Lucky for me, most hadn’t seen our house yet. So while Neil conducted tours, I got busy!

It’s the difficult balance of hosting, though: you want to entertain, but you have the million things to do in the kitchen, as well as in the eating area.

My mom was fantastic enough to really fill in the vital holes in my first-time planning—like seating for 12 and centerpieces, nice dishes and fine silverware—and to execute it without batting a lash. Not surprisingly, too, she came over with the turkey we roasted in her oven all done up well and beautiful while I was still running around in fuzzy yoga pants and an old Georgetown T-shirt.

The plan had anticipated guests at 1 p.m. and dinner at 3 p.m. I thought it would make great bonding time for Neil and his family, but I forgot one important details: they’re card players.

It’s a fundamental difference in our families, too. They play cards; we eat, drink and talk too much. In fact, we talk for hours. We eat some more. And then we just keep talking.

You can imagine the ruffle in my feathers when they started looking at the set table extension (we added our kitchen table to the end of our dining table) for a game. I almost cried. At that point in the afternoon, I had “set table” checked off the list and the thought of putting it back on might have broken this camel’s back.

I’m sure it miffed a few guests, but Neil was able to find a drafting table in the basement that suited their euchre-playing needs. And as we cleaned up the house after dinner, I made a note with Neil that we should find a card table before our next gathering to avert future disasters.

To my delight, we were barreling toward 3 p.m. and I was merely balancing the warmth of food waiting for two turkeys’ temperature gauges to pop. It’s a delicate balance, though, that I imagine will take years to master. Unless, of course, I take the lessons I learned from this year into the purchase of my next generation of cooking appliances.

While my Mr. Fix-it spruced up the oven just in time for the big day, its absence gave me plenty of time to think about buying a new oven and what types of oven-related appliances I might need. And if I continue to host Thanksgiving, I think a double oven (big enough for turkeys, obviously) and a warming drawer would be perfection.

Perhaps then we wouldn’t have to serve so much food lukewarm.

By 4 p.m. the turkeys had popped and my mom and step-father got carving. They were totally in turkey-carving zone, so I felt a little disruptive when I offered to take over or help.

Not that I didn’t have plenty to do. I was using the legions of serving dishes my mom let us borrow for Thanksgiving, and was grateful with each bowl of stuffing and each dish of potatoes and eat boat of gravy that I had such a valuable resource.

Finally, by 4:15 p.m. we were seated (there was a brief moment of scurrying as my mom and dad rushed to block the sunset beaming into one side of the table’s eyes) and ready to begin. None of us had been in this situation before—Thanksgiving at this new generation’s home—and were a little confused about who would lead what. Neil’s sweet, sweet grandmother nudged me and said, “It’s your Thanksgiving, Gina. You get us started.” And I did.

I didn’t really know what to say. Well, I knew what I wanted to say; I didn’t know how to say it without excessive use of such Thanksgivingy words like grateful and appreciative and thankful. But it was all I could say.

We have a great life. Neil and I are really lucky to have great families. It may not have been the perfect piping hot meal I imagined as I planned for weeks and weeks, but I had all the people I love around me, hungry, and waiting to eat.

So, I did tell them we were just grateful for them being there and thankful for all they had done to get us where we are today. And without any closing remarks prepared, I stumbled over my mom’s favorite Thanksgiving prayer: “Good food, good meat. Good lord, let’s eat!”

Happy Thanksgiving.