I guess this makes me a Pilgrim!!!
I may have mentioned this before, but my family speaks to each other in bitchy or snappy tones like…50 percent of the time. It’s especially bad on holidays. It usually goes like this: my grandma works on holidays (she’s a nurse, so she can make mad overtime, and we’re all old enough to not really mind) so my mom does the cooking. She doesn’t eat anything all day because she’s too busy, plus she forgot to buy real groceries when she bought all the other groceries, so there’s not enough food (or time) to make a damn sandwich. Plus, if it’s Christmas, she’s going on about three hours of sleep, due to a late night of wrapping. She’s trying to cook all by herself all in one day to get ready for a ridiculous eating time of like 4:00 in the afternoon (I’m sorry, but dinner should be eaten at dinner time!), and she’s got Preston to entertain, and, well, the kid’s a handful. Then my grandma comes home from work, like, 15 minutes before we’re supposed to eat, and asks something innocent like, “Did you make the mashed potatoes yet?” At this, my mom blows up about why she didn’t make the mashed potatoes (“NO I DIDN’T! First I had to do THIS and then Preston wanted THAT and I still have to take a SHOWER“) and my grandma snaps back, and the bitch-fest just takes off. Five minutes later, my aunt and uncle show up with their kids and so then you’ve got kids running everywhere, meaning there’s more bitching. Then the uncle everyone hates (legitimately so — he’s like the worst person in the world) shows up, so things get even more tense and awkward, plus now the dog is barking, so everyone’s screaming at the dog, and our house and kitchen is just too small, and the fact of the matter is, no one in my family drinks (except for me, obviously), so everyone’s just PISSED.
And then there’s me, usually straight chilling on the couch, reading or typing, and not flipping out, cause, well, it’s a holiday and I’d prefer not to go there. Usually I’m just trying to distract myself from thoughts of how many carbs I’m about to consume, carbs I don’t even like all that much. Sometimes I can’t resist taking a shot at my mom’s poor time management skills, and then more bitching ensues. Sometimes I just start drinking alone at this point, cause it’s just the only way to deal. (Yeah, I said it.)
We finally sit down to eat, at a not-beautifully set table with no music playing (because no one in my family appreciates this), and everyone is rocking hoodies and elastic-waist pants (NOT OK) and things are still relatively tense. My grandma will suggest we say grace, and, to be a pain in the ass, I will roll my eyes and take a bite of mashed potatoes before anyone can make the sign of the cross, pointing out that we never go to church anymore or do anything remotely religious ever. The food is fine, but relatively boring, because no one in my family likes trying new things, and I’m annoyed at having eaten 1,200 calories of food that I didn’t even like that much. Dinner is finished by 5:00, so no one knows what to do for the rest of the night, and at 7:00 we just have to eat leftovers, because now it’s actually dinner time and all the white carbs have made us hungry again. And, well, there you have it. Happy Holidays.
If my mom and I venture to the other side of the family’s house for a holiday (my dad’s family), at 4:00 PM, the relative who was supposed to be doing the grocery shopping will have not returned from the grocery store yet, because the fact is, old-school black people are just not timely (YUP). By 7:00, maybe the turkey will have gone in the oven, but no one’s made the mac and cheese yet. If at 10:00 PM my mom gets a little impatient, because, you know, her three-year-old daughter should be in bed, she’s “disrespectful” (and, well, white), so she bites her tongue, and doesn’t say anything when we eat at midnight. (TRUE STORY.)
So this is why I decided to take over the holiday planning and cooking a couple years ago. I finally just said, Enough! It’s a holiday — it should not cause this much stress and drama! Everyone get out of the kitchen…I got this! And I’m happy to do it. In 2007, I did a Christmas party a few days before Christmas (and forced everyone to dress up, because I can do that when I’m the hostess) and then an amazing brunch on Christmas day (and told everyone to wear PJs, which is totally fine in that case). Last year, I did a smaller brunch and then a big Christmas dinner (served at 6:00 PM, as it should be). Each time I hostess, I make new foods that are not crazy outside-the-box but still a good break from tradition. Everything is always delicious, but uses slightly less butter, and has a bit more color and fiber. My family is happier (they try to still find reasons to bitch, but I shut it right down because you can do that when you’re the bitch with the spatula) and I’m in my element, because the I’m-still-a-feminist-but-sorry-it’s-true fact is I love cooking in heels.
I saw no reason to break from this new and lovely tradition this year, but this is the first time since it began that I’ll be home for Thanksgiving. (I didn’t fly home from NYC last year.) I figured I’d do Thanksgiving, no biggie, and it’s sort of been on my mind. I talked to my uncle at the Halloween party because unlike everyone else in the family, he actually drinks, and he understands the importance of good entertaining. (He loved my Christmas dinner last year, and in May we put on a fabulous Mother’s Day brunch for my mom and grandma at his place.) His house is fantastic and way better suited to having a big dinner, and I could cook there all day in peace, so it would just be better all-around! OK. Sweet! But then I realized I had to plan a Thanksgiving menu, and, um….I don’t love Thanksgiving!
I love holidays but I just find Thanksgiving so boring because you’re so locked into certain traditional foods. I think turkey is pretty lame. My family is attached to turkey and certain side dishes that I just find really boring. And I don’t like pie. It’s just not my favorite holiday. But, well, I had to come up with something!
One thing I told my mom is that I’m not making a full turkey. Even when it’s good, it’s not that good, and I’m sorry, but I’m just not willing to rip the neck out of something I don’t really like. I said she can either make it in our roasting oven and bring it over, or I’ll make a turkey breast. But then, ugh, I had to think about stuffing. And gravy. I was just over it! (I’d really like to say screw the bird and make a major baked pumpkin pasta dish, but I knew I couldn’t get away with that.) I also said that I’d do most of the cooking at my uncle’s house but there are a couple of our traditional things I am not going to attempt, and if she wanted them, she or my grandma could make them and bring them along. The terms were accepted.
So, since it’s just a little more than a week away (!!) I spent this morning with my stack of cookbooks and magazines, orange Post-Its handy, planning the menu and making a grocery list. (Kind of insane. I’m not used to cooking pounds of food.) I polled the family for any input on dishes they can’t live without, and while everyone says it doesn’t matter, I know it does. I don’t need to hear a disappointed, “Oh, you didn’t make…?” so I’m not introducing too many new dishes. (I will at Christmas, so watch out!)
My biggest issue with my family when we entertain is that we always have way too much food — there are always just too many options and leftovers usually get tossed; it’s a waste of food and money! I like a day of leftovers, but after that, enough is enough. I also try to be very thoughtful and plan things so each base is covered (sweet, savory, healthy, carby, indulgent, seasonal, new, traditional, etc.) but I don’t like to have too much of similar things. So, well, that said…here’s my menu!
- Cranberry walnut baked brie and crackers (A new recipe and I’m so, so excited about it!!!)
- Bacon-wrapped dates (there are a million recipes floating around; I’ll probably just keep it basic and not stuff them with cheese or anything)
- Veggies and homemade dip (from November Cooking Light)
- Turkey Roulade with Apple-Cider Gravy (from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave, it’s healthy, pretty, looks tasty, and, more importantly, solves my turkey, stuffing, and gravy issues!!)
- Sweet potato casserole (my mom’s recipe, so she’ll make it)
- Baked mashed potatoes (I’m combining/healthifying a few different recipes, but this will work out well, cause it’s going to be a make-ahead)
- Green beans with bacon (I hate green bean casserole, so I’m putting my foot down)
- Homemade cranberry sauce (I never liked cranberry sauce until I had it homemade last year; now I love it and can’t wait to make it!)
- Fruit salad (my grandma’s marshmallow, fabulously 1960s recipe; she’ll make it; I don’t think it goes with the meal at all, but whatever)
- Homemade bread or rolls (haven’t chosen a recipe yet)
- Pumpkin ice cream torte (I think I’m most excited about this one, and it’s also a make-ahead recipe!)
- Something chocolatey (I don’t care that much or think we need two desserts, so I might let my mom make a chocolate raspberry cheesecake if she insists on having chocolate; I’m also checking out MarthaStewart.com)
Sadly, I’m not going to make a punch or anything since most people won’t be drinking. This will change if I find out my grandpa and his wife are coming; otherwise, I’ll just stick with wine. My uncle will take care of the table, the china, the decorations, etc. After dinner he wants the kids to help him decorate one of his Christmas trees. (He’s gay, by the way. But a gay really-into-outdoorsy-and-Southern-memorabilia trucker. So…interesting combo.)
I’m glad the menu is set, but now comes the tough parts: first, doing the shopping (hoping to con my mom into helping with that); next, figuring out when to make everything, and getting the timing right; finally, reminding my family members that I don’t prepare elaborate meals so they can show up in clothes I might wear when I’m washing my dog. Oh and the toughest part of all….dealing with my mom as she says, “Are you going to make…?” or “I picked up some shrimp cocktail in case you want to have that…” or “Did you think about…?” My favorite is, “Well, people are going to want…” and “People like to have…” It’s always “people,” as if all these strangers are showing up! Drives me crazy. That’s when my inherited bitchy, snappy tone comes out, and I shut her down and reminded her that when I’ve got the apron on, I call the shots, and, ultimately, she can give thanks that all she has to do is show up and eat.