I’ve learned a lot over the years. By my calculation, this is my 49th year of making Thanksgiving, not counting a few years when I was a guest at someone else’s table.
I remember when the torch passed and my parents no longer wanted the job. Suddenly, they were just as happy to eat my food. I knew at the time this was a significant change in our relationship, that something important had changed.
Since then — 40 years later — I’ve been making holidays. Although my son does the cooking, or most of it anyhow, he still doesn’t know how to make the holiday. How to set a table, figure out which dishes to use. Which flatware. Whether or not to put out the “good” glassware (but unlike me, he knows on which side the forks go versus the knives).
And despite them being among the easiest recipes in the world, no one but me can make the cranberry sauces.
Things I’ve learned after 49 years of family dinners:
- Don’t get a big centerpiece. It takes up too much room and will be in the way when people are trying to converse.
- Not only do place settings not have to match, making each setting different is a very cool “look” (though I didn’t do it this year).
- No matter how many people you have coming to dinner, there will be much more food than even the hungriest crowd can possibly consume.
- Don’t save the mashed potatoes. No one is going to eat them.
- The turkey will be fully cooked at least an hour before your calculations say it will.
- If you cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 180 degrees, it will taste like sawdust and no amount of gravy will make a difference.
- Buy a fresh turkey, not a frozen one. It’s worth it. Fresh turkey tastes so much better!
- Put a clear plastic cover over your good tablecloth. Your guests won’t mind and gravy does not come out completely, no matter what formula you use to treat the stains.
When I’m feeling ambitious, I get more creative with table settings. I have a lot of “fiesta ware,” bright, solid-color dishes that mix and match with other pottery. I’ve given away my 16-place-setting porcelain. Storing it took up more space than I was willing to devote to something I used maximum twice a year.
I don’t buy expensive stemware. It’s not that kind of crowd.
I don’t bother to point out no one is going to eat that much food. Don’t mention that nine pies for seven guests is a bit much. My daughter-in-law is Italian. I’m Jewish. My husband is Black. Excessive food is a cultural and genetic mandate. Please eat. Please overeat. If you don’t leave the table feeling slightly ill from over-consumption, I haven’t done my job.
The good news? I can put together a nice looking holiday table in under 20 minutes. Add on another half hour because I have to wash everything. I haven’t used it since last Christmas and dust will have its way. Still, that’s pretty good.
Gone are the big floral displays, the fragile serving dishes. The stemware broke and was never replaced. Ditto the serving dishes. A nice table is welcoming. A super fancy, overwhelmingly elegant table is less so and can be off-putting.
Less fuss means I don’t end the holiday exhausted and cranky. I might just survive through Christmas. Imagine that!