If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you’re collecting recipes, deciding what time to serve dinner, and figuring out how many wine glasses you need. Rather than add to the stress with the recipe straw that breaks the camel’s back or serve up a list of “must dos” for the perfect meal, here are a few tips that help me get through holiday meal preparations.
Cue the music from Saturday Night Fever – the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive
Advance Preparation Calms the Nerves
When it comes to large dinners, the freezer is your friend. Even if pies are best made the day of, or the day before, you can always prepare and freeze piecrust dough long in advance. Cranberry sauce freezes well too. For last minute gravy made from the drippings in the roasting pan, setting aside the ingredients and even measuring them out beforehand, avoids frantic rushing around to find them at the last minute.
Holiday Preparation Lists
I would be lost at holiday meals without to-do and timing lists. We always used to forget a dish or two until I started making list of items to be served, to ensure that no appetizer languished forgotten in the back of the refrigerator and no dessert remained off in a corner, unnoticed while we gorged ourselves on the ones I had remembered to bring out. The time estimates help remind me when each one that requires cooking should be started in order to finish all of them at the appointed dinner hour.
It’s All a Matter of Where You Set the Bar
I learned this from former President George W. Bush. He was a lot smarter than many people gave him credit for; he never claimed to be an orator and made fun of his own college career. When former President Bush spoke eloquently or showed that he understood a complex subject, he got a lot of credit.
If I fancied myself the next Martha Stewart, I’d be in trouble if the pie crust got burned or the tablecloth wrinkled. By my reckoning, if we have a good time, no one gets food poisoning, and there haven’t been any major crises in the kitchen or at the table, then I’ve had a major success. It’s not false modesty – it’s commong sense. I haven’t made a table decoration yet that caused anyone to think I should inherit Martha’s mantle and that’s fine by me.
Ditch the Type-A Control Freak Persona
I can be way too Type-A and controlling when it comes to holiday meal preparation – just ask my family. But even I have realized the need to accept help in preparing the meal. Almost inevitably, a helper will do something wrong. Whether “it” is a small thing that only you notice or a major faux pas, whether the helpful person has recognized the problem or remains blissfully unaware, the one sure thing is that you’re having a breakdown over “it” won’t improve the situation.
So my advice after years of self-study is to meditate, drink, or medicate yourself into a state of calm and accept the reality – that how much everyone enjoys himself or herself is unrelated to whether the turkey platter is properly garnished or the stuffing is burned. Telling someone else to relax rarely works. I can only hope this is the exception, when I urge you to enjoy yourself in the company of family and friends, secure in the knowledge that the sun will still rise next Friday morning no matter who didn’t do stir the gravy right or how much better the sweet potato casserole would have been if only ….