Hello from the Slob Sisters!
We left you last time thinking about your mailbox. We planned to tell you about front doors and entries, but being genetically sidetracked, it's our duty to stay true to our birthright and do something entirely different. (We'll tell abou front doors and entries next time.)
For now we want to share some holiday brain storms we had in a hour-long phone consultation with a woman who needed some advice. She is planning to have about 35 people for Christmas dinner, and in her pre-consultation letter, she outlined her concerns. "Every year my whole family comes to our house for the holidays. I'm always frazzled by the time everyone arrives. If I don't burn the gravy, the mashed potatoes are lumpy or I forget to season them. The main meat, like turkey, ham or roast beef is never piping hot and the dinner is always at least an hour late. I want this year to run smoothly and I want to be a relaxed and gracious hostess."
We think the ideas we gave her might help you too. Now is a perfect time to make your plans.
First, we told her to give up on the idea of a huge sit-down dinner. That only happens in soap operas. She didn't have a big enough table or the room to seat everyone together, and trying to pull off a stunt like that (without Martha Stewart and her staff) would be impossible.
We decided that a buffet would be the best solution, set up on one side of the kitchen where the counter is a pass-through to the dining room, creating a two-line flow. We suggested that, since she had told us she hates to cook and admitted she's not very good at it, that she purchase the dinner ready-made. Many large hotels (the Red Lion chain in the Northwest, for instance) offer a take-out turkey dinner with all the trimmings and even the pie for a little over $50 (serves up to eight people). Grocery stores with a complete deli counter also provide the same service.
The reason this wonderful woman was panicky every holiday season was because she was out of her element in the kitchen. The family all wanted to come to her house for dinner, because she is the "cement" that keeps everyone coming together, but they also worried about all the stress the get-togethers caused her. We reminded her that people love to help and love to be given specific requests on what to bring and do. It would be her job to make a list of hors d'oeuvres, salads and side dishes. Be eliminating the cooking, this woman would be free to be a gracious hostess. We reminded her that her gift to the family was to provide a warm, cozy, festively decorated home and plan some activities for the kids (All of those things she loves to do.) we suggested having a couple of jig-saw puzzles in progress in the basement to snag teenagers.
Since she is the family cement, she will orchestrate the day. After dinner, we thought it would be good for everyone to get some fresh air and exercise. Her husband is going to put up a volleyball net in the backyard and she is going to tell all the parents to bring outdoor play clothes for the children.
With the menu planned, we all agreed to let the teens eat downstairs in the large rec room by themselves, the younger children sit at the kitchen table supervised by a couple of pre-teens and visible by the parents and the twelve adults would site at the dining room table. We told her to lavish the adult table with her good china and crystal and purchase special holiday paper goods for the younger crowd.
We suggested that convert her laundry room (just off the kitchen) into a mini kitchen. we told her to have the laundry tub filled with hot, sudsy water for dirty dishes, pots and pans to soak. we told her to provide a large trash bag for garbage so guests could do their own clean up, keeping the kitchen counters clean. All of the drinks were to be put in the laundry room to keep traffic to a minimum in the buffet area. Fresh hot coffee and hot-spiced wine would go on top of the dryer and cans of pop would go in ice in the washing machine.
We suggested that she enlist the help of a couple of teenagers to take the guest's coats and get them something to drink. Simple hors d'oeuvres would be served in the living room until everyone arrived and the buffet was ready. Keeping the ham and turkey hot was one of her concerns, but we reminded her that even at a fancy brunch, where there's a flock of servers and carvers, the meat is never hot by the time you get your plate to the table. The only things that have to be hot are the potatoes, gravy and vegetables. Since she confessed that she always burns food on the stove, we gave her permission to keep the potatoes and gravy warm in a 225 degree oven while the family is at church. The vegetables can be jolted with heat in the microwave at the last minute.
As the family "cement" this wonderful grandmother can enjoy the day without her usual nervous tension. By realizing she can let the professionals do the cooking, she will be free to express her talents in other areas.
Maybe you are a fabulous cook, but you hate to clean -- hire help. Maybe you love to clean, but don't have any talent decorating -- ask someone to help you who does. Doing everything ourselves when we can't possibly be good at everythin we do, is a dangerous trap we women tend to fall into. Ask for help and have a great Thanksgiving.