After a few years of spending more time in a vehicle than time with families at Thanksgiving, Andy and I decided to take the plunge and host.
It made sense. We were the halfway point to both sides of our families, and with our work schedules, traveling to everyone was just too much. With the exception of 2020, we have now hosted every year since 2013. Here are our takeaways.
There will be a mess.
I’m not just talking burnt croissants (two years in a row) and dishes for days (thankfully, the grandmas handle this catastrophe). I’m talking BIG mess. An example would be what we affectionately call “Andy’s Splash Down Turkey.”
My husband’s main responsibility for our first Thanksgiving was the turkey. He had a plan – brine it for 24 hours, cook it in the roaster set up in the garage, let turkey rest, then carve and serve. Simple enough.
On Tuesday night, he poured all of the ingredients for the brine into a five-gallon sideline cooler (he’s an athletic trainer, so we have these handy). Then he unwrapped the turkey, removed the bag of parts, and prepared it for its soak.
All I heard from the other room was “SPALOOOSH – THUD” and cursing.
What I witnessed next was brine all over the kitchen – the ceiling, the walls, the counters, the fridge, and Andy too. I found spots of brine and herbs in random places for YEARS. But according to our family, it was some of the best turkey they’ve ever eaten.
Timelines are key.
I like lists and schedules. I worked backward from when we wanted the meal served (noon) and plotted out everything from initial prep to a break to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
What to consider developing the timeline:
- What is the real estate in your ovens like? What sides can be made at the same temperature or have the time adjusted to make at the same temperature as something else? We are lucky that we have a double oven which gives us a lot of flexibility.
- What can you do the night before? Can you make dishes in advance? For the dishes you can’t make in advance, set out the serving dish for each menu item and place the non-refrigerated ingredients in or near the dish along with any utensils you’ll need for stirring, mashing, and measuring.
- Set priorities – if something just doesn’t get made, it won’t be the end of the world. Also, watching the parade is a must-do for me.
Not everything (or anything) has to be made from scratch.
For our first year, I really wanted to do something to make the meal ours. I did some research and found that the pilgrims actually served lobster on the first Thanksgiving. Now we couldn’t serve everyone lobster tails, BUT I could make lobster bisque.
The night before T-day, I got all my ingredients and made a monster pot of bisque from scratch. I treated myself to the first bowl, and it was perfect— a little spice, some good lobster, and lots of warm fuzzy feelings. The bisque was a hit – with my dad and me. Since I don’t eat turkey, it stayed on the menu going forward.
Two Thanksgivings later, I went store-bought. I had tried it before, and it was tasty – so in an effort to save time, I went this route. As my dad ate his bowl, he looked up and said, “This is better than last year’s; what’d you do differently?” I simply gave him the container from the store and walked away. Lesson learned.
It’s about the memories.
We cram up to 13 people in our tiny house with just one full bathroom, and I’m exhausted at the end – but at least we don’t have to do any more traveling.
For many years we had our neighbor, Pat, over. Her daughter worked, and we didn’t want to see her eat alone. In her memory, we now toast with wine glasses she gave us.
We announced our son Josh’s pending arrival at Thanksgiving 2015 with announcements that would make any DIY person proud.
So yes – take the plunge and tackle turkey day – even if it doesn’t convince you to do it every year. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to know you can do it if you need to.