We’re in the midst of the fall holiday season, the time of year when we’re stashing away the plastic skeleton that was taped to our light post and trying to avoid the glittery Santa Land display at Target. We’re focused on the holiday in between. We’re talking turkey.
We’ve both been married long enough that we no longer have to argue over going to his parents’ house or ours. Now we are the parents. We’re the sandwich generation, and many of our parents are living the good life at Leisure World. Their downsized digs don’t include a dining room table that expands to seat 24.
When our mothers presented us with their Irish linen banquet tablecloth and their “good china,” they were passing the baton. We have been elected to host all future family feasts. And we do enjoy it. We’re grateful that our guests generally go home after dinner, unlike one of our friends, whose extended family members like her house so much that they usually bring a bottle of wine and a suitcase and move into one of her spare bedrooms for the long weekend.
We’re seasoned enough to know we’ll end up buying a new tablecloth at the last minute because the old one was put away wrinkled and with a big wine stain only partially washed out. We know that when someone asks what to bring, we’ll say, “whatever you want,” but we really don’t want their broccoli and mushroom soup casserole. And when our husbands ask if we are hosting the next event, that means they will do their part and bring up the extra folding chairs from the basement.
But if you’re hosting Thanksgiving there are other pressing dilemmas:
How much do you have to channel Martha Stewart? The diva of domesticity has an entire website devoted to Thanksgiving, from how to scoop out a squash to how to turn your leftover turkey into Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. She advises that “fabric glue, glitter, and masking tape are all you need to add understated glamour to your Thanksgiving table runner.” The last time we tried one of her projects we ended up with glitter in the mashed potatoes.
If you are sick of serving exactly the same menu every year, how many substitutions can you put on the table before people notice and start to yell? We remember the time we substituted roasted kale with pancetta for creamed spinach or butternut squash gratin for mashed sweet potatoes topped with mini-marshmallows. Our kids still haven’t gotten over it.
Can the supermarket’s advertised take-out dinner for 10 possibly taste as good as it looks on the poster? We read the circular from the local organic specialty market and saw that for $20 per person you can get an all-natural turkey with cider-pomegranate glaze, traditional side dishes included. For just a penny less ($19.99) you can select a vegan main dish. But who will call the police to break up the riot when we place the platter of Tofurkey, that popular soy-sauce-colored tofu shaped like a turkey, in front of our guests?
Which brings us to the question of credit. How many side dishes can you purchase and dump into your own china bowls, yet still claim you made the whole meal? What if you made all the sides but bought the turkey, the star of the show, preroasted for you at the market? Taking credit for everything on the table becomes problematic when a guest raves about the not-from-scratch dish and asks for the recipe. “Oh, it’s not hard, you just chop the onions first,” you may say, modestly glancing downward. “I forget what comes next. I’ll just e-mail you the recipe.”
Every year we’re tempted by those restaurant ads that promise to welcome all the members of the family on the big day. We wonder what it would be like on Thanksgiving if there were no dishes, no cleanup, and a waiter to serve us.
But our families are too noisy to be in a restaurant. We don’t want to disturb the other diners, who will also be quizzing their college kids about roommate troubles, listening patiently to their sister’s travel plans, and telling their mother-in-law for the third time that no, Michelle is not engaged yet, just living with him. In a restaurant, we couldn’t leave the room to check the football scores on TV, and our kids wouldn’t be able to play “Thanksgiving Tango” on the piano for their cousins.
Most important, leftovers would be scarce. We would miss eating pecan pie and cranberry sauce for breakfast on Friday morning.
But don’t let us fool you. When our kids phone home from faraway locales and say they can make it, and they’re bringing friends, we’ll say, “Sure.” And when our sisters ask a month ahead what they can bring, we’ll say, “Whatever you want.” And we’ll tell our husbands, again, to please bring up the chairs from the basement.
But mostly, we’ll be thankful we can all be together.
Note: This first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/16